I arrived to the meeting late as I had come from a Feniton flood defence meeting elsewhere in the building. I arrived, incidentally, at the beginning of the relevant agenda item.
Roger Giles was already asking a question about why the audit report relating to Graham Brown, was confidential when I sat down. The answers that came back from a senior officer was that it was: written for management, contained risks and could be taken out of context, or selectively reported.
I put up my hand and asked whether all auditor reports were confidential. Chairman, Cllr Ken Potter said that they were not and seemed to be open to the idea of publishing the report. Why was this report being treated differently, I asked?
Cllr Peter Bowden scolded me for blogging about the report being confidential before addressing the issue with the audit and governance committee. “Sadly, you put your comments in the media first,” he said. I replied that I was within my rights to blog about the issue.
I continued that there were rules for publication of papers – either they were in part A of agenda papers (public) or in part B (confidential but available to councillors only). This report did not fall into either category.
The auditor stepped in at this point and said he was happy to release the information. He said he was quite satisfied that the council had followed the correct procedures.
He added that he would be happy to read it out and proceeded to do so. I didn’t make notes here but his audit appeared to relate to checking the register of interests, talking to the democratic services team and looking at the constitution. The auditor said “in most cases” the former Cllr Brown had declared his interests.
After the report had been read out, I asked now it had been read out in the public domain what was to stop the report itself being made public?
Chairman, Cllr Ken Potter told me I should have arrived at the meeting on time (I am not a member of the audit and governance committee). I replied I had been at another meeting. This meeting should have been your priority, he said. I replied that my priority was attending a Feniton flood defence meeting.
There was still reluctance to make the report available, although senior officers said councillors on the audit and governance committee could be sent a summary.
Cllr Ian Thomas argued that the notion of reports being taken out of context was not a reason for not publishing a document. He said there was no justification for not putting into the public domain.
But Cllr Bob Buxton said he was worried about the publication of such a report prejudicing the police investigation.
There was then a discussion among councillors, who on the whole thought the report should be made public because it showed that the council had followed procedures, but one or two had anxieties about “certain councillors picking it to pieces.”
A vote was then taken, which seemed to be unanimously in favour of publication.
I was not convinced that a full copy of the report would be published, following words like “summary” and “version of” being mentioned, so I clarified with Cllr Potter that the report would be published in full (cue loud groans from several of the conservative group). Cllr Potter replied that it would be, but with the 14 November audit and governance agenda papers.
My view is that there is no reason why the report should not be made available immediately and I have emailed senior officers and Cllr Potter to ask for this.