Press excluded from council rates meeting
CRAIGAVON Borough Council’s ‘in committee’ meeting on Monday night pulled the projected rates rise down below the three per cent mark - but the discussion was inconclusive with so many members missing due to the bad weather.
And the bad weather “excluded” the Press from the entire meeting. Beforehand, the council said there would be a presentation by the Royal Mail at the start of the meeting. Journalists were told the presentation would last 40 minutes.
But the Royal Mail people did not get through, due to snow elsewhere. By the time journalists arrived, the council was firmly ‘in committee’ and journalists were stopped at the door of the council chamber, as they had not been told of the changes.
The main business in the secret session was the striking of the local rates, and another series of cuts trimmed it from a projected 3.5 per cent to around 2.8 per cent, the main additional expense being whether all households in Craigavon would be given the latest ‘brown bin’, those used for garden waste and compost.
The cost of providing them to everyone would be around the £300,000 mark, and the consensus among councillors was that anyone who wanted them could have them, on the anticipation that many would not require them.
However, the Press - excluded from the session - had to glean this information from unofficial sources. And Alistair Bushe, regional editor of the Portadown Times and Lurgan Mail, said it was not acceptable that so much council business was now being discussed ‘in committee’.
“My reporters are often being excluded with business taken mid-way through meeting - business that should be taken in public,” he added. “They often have to wait outside for over an hour while councillors debate issues that should be in open council, but they usually get the information through their own contacts.
“A few years ago, the papers reached an agreement that only confidential staffing matters and lands issues should be taken ‘in committee’, but nowadays far too much is finding its way into closed session.
“For example, the planned £6m project for Portadown People’s Park was discussed in secret session, but leaked to the Portadown Times. Issues like that are in the interest of the public - our readers - and should be totally open, as should the rates they are paying and the way in which the final figure is arrived at.”
A council spokeswoman said the concerns expressed by the media would be reviewed, “We very much embrace working with the local media on getting important messages out to residents and have recently worked with them on number of high profile public information campaigns such as the dog fouling and fly tipping which have been very successful.
“Council seeks to be as transparent as possible, but there are time when parts of the business have to be progressed during confidential discussions before being brought to public attention.
“These are a very limited number of issues usually to do with staff and economic tenders that remain confidential. The council is committed to reviewing the concerns expressed by the media at the earliest opportunity.”
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Weather for Portadown
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: North west