Part 4 - Rules of access to information about the County Council's formal business
Below are the rules of access to information about the County Council's formal business.
- 1 - Introduction
- 2 - The public's right to attend meetings
- 3 - The public’s right to obtain copies of the agenda to meetings and reports and documents that are to be discussed at meetings
- 4 - Sub-committees, panels and groups
- 5 - Decisions by the Leader of the Council, Cabinet Members and Officers
- 6 - Minutes of meetings and executive decisions
- 7 - Charges for the supply of agenda, reports and background papers
- 8 - The special rules that apply to “key decisions”
- 9 - Exceptions to the need to publish notice of a key decision 28 days in advance
- 10 - The general exception rule
- 11 - The special urgency rule
- 12 - Scrutiny committees
- 13 - Elected Members’ additional rights of access to information
- 14 - Additional rights of access to information by Scrutiny Committees
- 14 - Elected Members’ duty of confidence
- Appendix to rules on the public's right of access to information about the council's formal business
- Under the Local Government Act 1972 all elected Members (“County Councillors”) have all the rights of access to information about Council business that are enjoyed by members of the public. In addition all County Councillors are entitled to see exempt information which comes under the following categories:
- information relating to the financial or business affairs of any person (including the Council itself) but not including information relating to the negotiations for a contract; and
- information relating to a notice given by the Council under any enactment which imposes requirements upon a person, or the making of an order or direction under any enactment
- In addition to the rights mentioned in paragraph 21 of these rules County Councillors may look at other information contained in any document, including exempt or confidential information, if they are able to establish a “need to know” what is in it to carry out their business as an elected Member of the Authority. The same rule applies in relation to any meeting or part of a meeting of a committee, sub-committee (except an informal meeting of the Cabinet or a Cabinet committee), panel or group, even if it is concerned with exempt or confidential information, provided a County Councillor is able to demonstrate they have a need to know about its business to carry out their duties as an elected Member.
- It is not possible to lay down any hard and fast rules about what a “need to know” means and when it may be said to arise; this will always be a matter of fact and degree, to be decided in the light of all the circumstances attaching to a particular request. Judicial decisions, however, indicate that a need to know does not arise merely because a County Councillor would like to know what is in a document or may be said at a meeting. Nor does a need to know enable a County Councillor to “rove through” the Council’s files in search of information that it is thought might be helpful to them (this is sometimes known as “fishing for information”). On the other hand, a County Councillor will often be able to demonstrate a need to know about matters affecting their electoral division or that relate to a Council body or informal working group to which they belong.
- Access to draft documents can present particular difficulties. They may be looked at if they are identified as background papers to a report. In other cases, draft documents will not normally be made available to County Councillors; if it is proposed to publish a document for debate (either in its own right or in relation to a particular decision), a County Councillor will rarely be able to establish a need to know what is contained in an unfinished version of it.
- A County Councillor should normally ask a Head of Service for any document they wish to look at because of a need to know what is in it. If the Head of Service is unsure whether the document should be provided, they will consult the Monitoring Officer, who is responsible for adjudicating on whether the information should be made available in cases of uncertainty.
26. A County Councillor should normally ask the Chair of a body that proposes to hold a meeting that is not open to all County Councillors for permission to attend, explaining why they have a need to know about what is to be discussed. Any dispute should be referred to the Monitoring Officer, who is responsible for adjudicating on whether a County Councillor may attend a meeting when this may not otherwise be clear.