Fed-up of being excluded from meetings when councillors go into private session, Ripon and Littlethorpe residents have had enough - taking to Ripon Facebook forums and contacting the ‘Gazette to say it is happening all too often.
In November’s full council meeting, members debated the future of Ripon’s Â£20,000 railway feasibility study in private, and members of the public were frustrated to hear the verdict without the full context as to why it had been dropped.
And on December 4, the council went into private session for what residents said was more than one hour. A statement on Ripon City Council’s website regarding the item debated in private has created concerns among residents.
It reads: “Having received legal advice, Ripon City Council have agreed to pay an invoice relating to a contract that has been formed outside of its financial regulations. The council have resolved to self refer to the External Auditor. No further statements will be made until the External Auditor’s response is received.”
John Edmonstone, who was among those waiting outside, said: “There is a continuing culture of secrecy and of the council going into private session. It’s disheartening and disappointing, it could be so much better. There’s a growing disappointment, and certainly on forums like the Blow Your Horn Ripon Facebook page, you can detect that.
“You look at places like Boroughbridge and Knaresborough, and they seem to flourish in ways which Ripon does not. They have a policy of cooperating with Harrogate, whereas Ripon is still existing pre-1974 before the local government re-organisation, which I think they see as a golden age where they felt they could control their own destiny, but times have moved on. You have to work with people to get the best deal.”
Speaking on behalf of Ripon City Council, Coun Andrew Williams said: “We conduct as much of our business as is legally possible in open session and members of the public are welcome and indeed encouraged to come to our meetings and see debate and decision making for themselves.
“In respect of the current issue surrounding payment of an invoice we have attempted to be as open as we can currently be whilst having to follow due process which will enable Ripon City Council to issue a full statement when they have concluded.
"That is why we took the decision to self refer to our external auditors to ensure that in the fullness of time there can and indeed will be full transparency on the matter.”