The minutes of the council cabinet revealed that the council had discovered that it had not budgeted enough money to develop its own cemetery in the town.
It had bought the site of a disused colliery for £500,000 and had a budget of £1.5 million to turn it into a burial ground and crematorium. But it then discovered that it was actually likely to cost another £300,000.
Rather than find the money from its own funds, the council leaders revealed in the “confidential” section of the minutes of their cabinet meeting that they had decided to hire a private firm to build, run and operate the cemetery.
Paul decided to call the decision in to the scrutiny committee so that the decision would get a second hearing by a different set of councillors and he won enough votes from councillors of other parties to succeed.
He then wanted to publically reveal Labour’s secret privatisation plan. There seemed no reason that the details were in the confidential part of the minutes, other than it would embarrass the Labour administration.
So he approached the democratic services manager. This officer said the document was confidential because the companies involved in the discussions were named. Paul went off to see the Cannock Chase solicitor: “Surely the names could be redacted without affecting the content of the report?” argued Paul.
The solicitor agreed but said that it was the £300,000 budget shortfall that could not be revealed.
“But then any public procurement process would have to be confidential,” said Paul. The solicitor finally accepted Paul’s argument and gave the go-ahead for Paul to use any of the information in the “confidential” minutes, whose confidentiality will now have to be lifted.
Paul said: “Next stop is to ensure the scrutiny meeting is held in public. The authority solicitor has gone away again to research this and advise the council accordingly.”
All of which goes to show, said Paul, that even a lone Green councillor can shine a light on the dark places of council decisions by asking the question others don’t bother to ask