Posted: Fri 19th Jun 2020

Transparency questions raised over committee of North Wales councils which oversee Deeside incinerator

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jun 19th, 2020

A councillor believes there should be “more transparency” within a committee after it emerged almost 40% of new agenda items were heard behind closed doors.

The North Wales Residual Waste Joint Committee has met on average around three times a year since starting in January 2015.

The group contains representatives from five of the region’s county councils and oversees Parc Adfer residual waste management site on Deeside Industrial Park.

Project leader Flintshire council said agenda items were held back from press and public “due to the commercially sensitive nature of some of the information discussed”.

Flintshire council makes the final decision on what discussions should take place in public.

However Flintshire county councillor Bernie Attridge believes part of the deal for having the plant on his constituents’ doorstep should be more democratic accountability.

He said: “I’m disappointed that almost 40% of new agenda items are being held back.

“Where’s the openness and transparency within that?

“Flintshire took the lead and we ended up with a burner on our doorstep so it should be open and transparent.

“I appreciate commercial sensitivity but, with almost 40% of agenda items held back, some of that should be in the public domain.

“I’m always dubious when there are a large number of items heard behind closed doors.

“We have to put up with this burner for years to come so we need as much information as possible in the public domain.”

While there’s no suggestion of anything untoward being done by the councils or the contractor for the site, the number of items held behind closed doors concerns advocates for open democracy.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) looked at all agenda items for meetings held by the group since it began.

Housekeeping items, such as apologies for non-appearance, confirmation of minutes and declarations of interest, were discounted.

It found that, out of 70 new agenda items before the committee, 27 excluded press and public for “commercial reasons”.

The items were considered exempt under Paragraph(s) 14 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).

On each item the explanation reads: “The report contains details relating to financial affairs of the five councils.

“Those details are commercially sensitive and the public interest in protecting that commercial position outweighs the public interest in revealing the information during the lifetime of the contract.”

Items discussed in private ranged from “commissioning updates” and “community benefit fund discussions”, to annual accounts and verbal updates about other counties’ waste transfer stations.

Sarah Clarke of pressure group Unlock Democracy said “commercial sensitivity shouldn’t override democratic accountability”.

She added: “When private companies get into the business of local democracy, they should expect openness and transparency to be part and parcel of doing business.

“Press access to meetings is a vital part of doing democracy, supporting the public to scrutinise services that are being run on their behalf and funded by their tax.”

A Flintshire council spokesman said: “The North Wales Residual Waste Treatment Project partner authorities have always been open to scrutiny throughout the whole process and have engaged the media, public and interested parties throughout.

“We aim to keep to a minimum the number of papers that are in Part 2 where members of the press and public are excluded.

“We have even invited members of the press to ask any direct questions they may have prior to going into Part 2 in previous meetings.

“Given the commercial nature of the project it is to be expected that a proportion of the reports will be confidential.

“We have always and always will welcome members of the press and public to the Joint Committee.”

Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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