Climate change council meetings held behind 'closed doors'

Climate change council meetings held behind 'closed doors'

Published by Maria Greenwood at 8:05am 25th November 2019.

Climate change activists say they fail to understand why Dorset Council continues to discuss its response to the declared emergency behind closed doors.

But the councillor heading the panel says private meetings help ‘free-flowing’ discussion and claims they are making good progress.

Cllr Ray Bryan (pictured below) says the climate change executive advisory panel, where the membership is not known, where agendas are not published, and where findings are not reported in detail to the public, will continue as it is.

Cllr Ray Bryan
Cllr Ray Bryan

He says it will also look at a request from Extinction Rebellion to add the declaration the council has made on climate emergency, to also include ‘ecological’ emergency.

Caz Dennett, from Extinction Rebellion, says using panels,

"Can effectively block the opportunity for full council to discuss, debate, review and make decision.

"Adding to the potential reduction in democracy is the panels’ lack of transparency and openness."

Caz Dennett
Caz Dennett

She says meeting dates are hard to find, minutes are not published and meetings are not open to the press or public, adding

“this lack of transparency if a genuinely serious concern. Surely there is no need for Dorset Council’s climate change panel to be so covert.”

The group staged a small demonstration outside County Hall on Thursday evening as councillors met for their full meeting – later listening from the public gallery.

Cllr Bryan acknowledged there was “misunderstanding and suspicion” around the council’s use of executive advisory panels (EAPs).

"They are not decision making meetings. Instead they are advisory meetings led by a Portfolio Holder on a specific issue.

"The panels are made up of councillors with particular skills, knowledge or interest in a subject area and they are supported by officers with the relevant knowledge and by anyone else that the Cabinet member believes may be able to contribute to the work of that EAP.

Dorset Council meeting Nov 21 2019

"The use of EAPs to explore and develop policy ideas on a ‘task and finish’ basis is standard practice in local government and is used primarily for councillors and officers to have free flowing discussions ahead of bringing any proposals to the more formal decision making structures of the council.

"They can make recommendations which will then be taken to the appropriate committee, Cabinet or full Council for discussion, debate and review, enjoying the same level of openness and transparency as any other decision made by the Council…

"We have recently published information on the panel in our Dorset Council News magazine, which is posted to over 200,000 Dorset households."

He said the council has also published information after each Climate Change EAP and has uploaded supporting documents onto the council’s webpages.

In response to another question he said he expected that action plans as part of the climate change strategy would be presented in April.

"At this stage we will have a clearer idea of a sensible target date for meeting our zero-carbon goal."

By Trevor Bevins, Local Democracy Reporter