A FORMER Labour city councillor has renewed criticism of the use of 'secret panels' by the city council.

Patrick Davies asked why informal working groups had been used in the latest review of Winchester City Council's constitution. 

He referenced the Claer Lloyd-Jones report which called for greater openness in decision-making on the back of the collapsed Silver Hill scheme in 2016.

This was the predecessor of Central Winchester Regeneration currently being planned. 

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Hampshire Chronicle: Patrick Davies

Speaking at the full council meeting on Thursday, November 30, Mr Davies said: “Why in the review of the council’s constitution did a secret panel of councillors meet many times without any public notice or involvement? Why was the existence of panels, reference groups and other informal bodies never considered in the review of the constitution at these secret panel meetings? Why did the audit and governance meeting not respond properly to the representations on this issue I raised at their last meeting and how do the minor changes now suggested in the proposals before the council on November 30 represent genuine and open public involvement in council decision-making at the vital early discussions of important matters?”

Cllr Kathleen Backer, cabinet member for community and engagement, said: “They are far from being a secret process. This administration is fully engaged in public engagement. The review of the constitution has been light-touch, not full-scale.”

Mr Davies said that he had been raising the issue of informal working groups for many years and that the Claer Lloyd-Jones report criticised their use. 

Cllr Becker added that the groups work cross-party and said: “I'm aware you have raised these issues over a number of years. No decisions are taken at informal working groups. They are common practice for local authorities across the country.”

The city council unanimously agreed to support the review of the constitution.