Royal Borough accused of imposing 'gagging order' on councillors

James Harrison

James Harrison

The Royal Borough has been accused of attempting to force a ‘gagging order’ on councillors.

Concern has been expressed that the terms of a new ‘Councillor Duty of Confidentiality Declaration’ could severely limit principles of open government.

According to the document, councillors would automatically be considered to have a ‘duty of confidentiality’ for ‘any information’ they receive or access in the course of council business.

Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green), one of just three opposition members in the Borough, called the scheme ‘worrying’.

“We already have quite strict rules about what the council can make confidential, but they seem to be going much further,” he said.

“This agreement basically seems to say that anything we’re told as councillors has to stay confidential until the council says we can talk about it.

“It turns things around so that rather than the council deciding what is confidential, it makes everything confidential until the council says otherwise.

“The public has a right to know all information, unless the council makes an agreement as to why the public shouldn’t know.”

He added: “As it’s written, I find it very worrying.

“There’s already a culture of secrecy and this is going to increase this.

“Nothing will be in the public domain until the council can decide it should be – that’s not how open government is supposed to work.”

The scheme also includes a separate ‘Commitment to Security’ document, requiring councillors to make sure all official information held by them is stored securely.

Cllr Werner said he had no objection to measures designed to ensure potentially sensitive information did not end up in the wrong hands.

He added he had sought to have the terms of the agreement clarified, but had so far only received verbal assurances and nothing in writing.

However, Cllr Simon Dudley (Con, Maidenhead Riverside), the leader of the council, hit back, claiming the documents simply represented ‘standard policy’ handed down by Royal Borough monitoring officers.

He said: “There’s a significant amount of highly sensitive information which protects our residents and which councillors are party to, but some councillors may not fully understand its sensitivity.

“I think every councillor should be prepared to account for themselves in a proper way and I think if anyone has an issue with that then they’re probably in the wrong business.”

He also said the new agreements were not intended to overrule the Royal Borough’s existing policies for whistleblowers.

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