COUNCIL chiefs have no plans to bring back the automatic release of private papers to members outside the cabinet as a row rumbles on.

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.

Senior figures at the Labour-run authority have been under pressure since the move to stop members being automatically provided with Part 2 papers came to light last month.

Deputy leader Cllr Cathy Mitchell has issued a statement on the matter.

She said: “Nobody has ever been prevented from seeing Part 2 papers and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise.

“After numerous leaks of confidential information, members are not now being automatically provided with the Part 2 items.

“All members retain their absolute right of access where there is a ‘need to know’.

“It is very disappointing that some members felt unable to protect the commercial confidentiality of the council and its partners – that is the real story behind this situation.”

The council says all local authorities are entitled to take a view on the wider circulation of papers based on ‘financial and commercial considerations’.

A spokesman said: “Other public boards including NHS, colleges and universities do the same, as does central Government.

“A decision to confirm this position was taken by the cabinet in the autumn of 2019. This matter will be kept under constant review as is best practice.”

But the move has sparked concerns from residents and councillors since coming to light.

Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, the opposition group, said: “It is not clear that the decision to withhold confidential Part 2 papers from all councillors outside the cabinet was correctly made.

“This decision does not appear to have been included in the agenda of any cabinet meeting, nor was the leader of the opposition group consulted on this change.

“It is quite wrong that a decision made necessary by a breach of confidence within the Labour group should be made in secret and without justification until this statement from the deputy leader.

“This brings into question the transparency, and the opportunity for scrutiny, of council decisions.

“It appears that the leader and deputy leader are authorising a largely officer-led strategy for the council in private.

“Public cabinet meetings are a ‘rubber-stamping’ exercise where little or no debate takes place and, at best, discussion comprises supportive or political speeches in favour of decisions.

“Backbenchers and the opposition are increasingly left in the dark until it is too late to affect decisions, or the direction of the council.

“The entire council is responsible to the people of Warrington for the council’s strategy and decisions.

“It is quite wrong to concentrate the power to affect those in so few hands with so little accountability.”