Our Councillors have the right to access information held by the Shepway District Council (SDC). The powers that enable them are S.100F LGA 1972 and the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000. They can also use the common law ‘Need to Know’. Also like the rest of us our Cllrs have a right to access information using The Freedom of Information Act 2000 and EI Regulations and S.17 Local Government and Finance Act 1982
So to put that into context, those Cllrs who sit on the Licensing & Planning Committee as an example, can ask for and see the financial viability assessment which would inform them of how many affordable homes would be on the site and how much social housing will or will not be included.
Our Councillors could if they were so minded ask for information relating to Princes Parade, Otterpool Park, the Lorry Park and other developments across our wonderful district. Of course that said, they may be able to view the information but not necessarily be able to publish/share the information because of confidentiality.
A Cllr must not disclose information given to them in confidence nor disclose information acquired which they believe is of a confidential nature, unless they: a) have received the consent of a person authorised to give it; or b) are required by law to do so.
If on the other hand the councillor has accessed the information via the provisions of the Act or the common law ‘need to know’ then in some cases the information may still be confidential and the councillor bound by confidentiality. In that case they should not publish or otherwise disclose the information to a third party.
If information is accessed using the Freedom of Information / Environmental Information Regulations provisions the information can be regarded as public and the councillor may share the information with others.
How many of our Cllrs have ever used FOI or EIR’s to gain information? We know of one Cllr who sits on Hythe Town Council who has. As for the rest of our Cllrs we simply do not know but you could always ask them
Additionally there is a feature of Common Law called the ‘Need to Know’. Under common law principles members of authorities have the right to access information held by the authority where it is reasonably necessary to enable the member to properly perform their duties as a councillor (Ex p Hook 1980). The House of Lords coined the phrase ‘need to know’ in a case involving a councillor who asked for access to a social services adoption file in order to assist in making an informed decision on a housing matter. The HL found that even though the councillor wasn’t a member of the social service committee they had established a bone fide need to know the information due to their role as a councillor.
Councillors have a statutory right to inspect any books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts prior to the annual audit (Section 17, Local Government Finance Act, 1982). Meaning they can ask for our CEO Alistair Stewart’s expenses, or Dr Susan Priest’s expenses or Jeremy Chambers expenses as an example. They also have a right to inspect accounts and to take copies throughout the year (Section 228(3), Local Government Act, 1972).
So if you want your Cllr to become more proactive regardless of what committee they sit on, or party they belong to, you can now ask them to ask for information. Of course they may not always get it, but nothing ventured nothing gained.
Finally, we have sent information to Cllr Suzanne Brimm Cabinet Member of Housing for Thanet District Council, as a source has informed us of electrical safety issues in Thanet Council owned housing stock. WE do not suspect the Council to give her such information, so we thought we’d oblige, lets see if she acts on the issue.
The Shepwayvox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime
Parts of this article first appeared in The Local Government Lawyer and we are grateful to the author and the LGL for allowing us to publish.