COUNCIL chiefs are under pressure to start releasing private papers to members outside the cabinet amid concerns the Labour-run authority has made some ‘embarrassing decisions’.

Cabinet meetings are often split between Part 1 and Part 2 items. The latter entails agenda items of a confidential nature, during which it is likely that the meeting will not be open to the public and press as there would be a disclosure of what is deemed to be exempt information.

These have often included multi-million pound deals the council is signing up to on behalf of Warrington’s taxpayers.

But the issue has caused concern in the Labour group – with private e-mail exchanges on the matter seen by the Warrington Guardian.

In one e-mail, deputy leader Cllr Cathy Mitchell (LAB – Burtonwood and Winwick) says ‘in an ideal world’ she would like members to have easy access to Part 2 papers.

She said: “When Together Energy came before the cabinet, the whole Part 2 agenda had been leaked to the media.

“Much of the leaked information does not belong to us.

“The risk is that the council could be sued for breach of confidence and damages awarded against the council, which we just cannot afford.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Cathy Mitchell

Cllr Mitchell also said she understands concerns about the authority’s financial approach but emphasised the current portfolio generates a net revenue totalling £20 million.

And she told members it gets ‘more and more difficult’ to find things to cut and there are not any ‘quick wins’.

“There is no automatic access to Part 2 papers for councillors outside of cabinet,” she said.

“Part 2 papers were sent out automatically to councillors who requested it to demonstrate transparency but we had to revert back to basic disclosure of Part 1, following leaks, to preserve the council’s position.”

But Cllr Colin Froggatt (LAB – Poulton South), former portfolio holder for children and young people’s services, said scrutiny saved the council from an ‘embarrassing situation’ in the past

In an e-mail, he added: “Should the cabinet insist on restricting Part 2 items, I have already advised how Part 2 items can be better scrutinised.

“Put them on the scrutiny committee agenda, who can then decide how far and deep they wish to scrutinise the issue.

“There are currently some embarrassing council decisions which, if they had been scrutinised in a more thorough way, we would have dealt with differently.”

Cllr Froggatt said there is no evidence over who is doing the leaking, otherwise action ‘would have been taken’, and to ‘pick on backbenchers only’ is ‘misguided’.

While calling to have Part 2 matters ‘available again’ to backbenchers and not just the cabinet, he said the decision to restrict is ‘based on a false premise’.

Cllr Jan Davidson (LAB – Culcheth, Glazebury and Croft) also put her views forward in an e-mail.

She said she knows she is not alone in feeling that members of the Labour group are ‘not made aware of developments’.

Cllr Davidson also thanked Cllr Froggatt for ‘standing up for the elected representatives of the people of Warrington’.