CHESHIRE East today (Monday) had to abandon a committee meeting on proposals to improve its ‘inadequate’ children’s services because it didn’t publish the papers in time.

According to government legislation, all councils must publish agendas and papers for public meetings at least five working days before the date of the meeting.

The council did publish the agenda in time for today’s children and families committee meeting, which had been called solely to discuss the improvement plan to bring the service up to standard after Ofsted rated it inadequate.

But it failed to publish the appendices which detailed the improvement plan itself and the finance papers relating to it, until late Friday afternoon.

Committee chair Carol Bulman (Lab) was challenged about the legality of discussing the improvement plan as soon as the meeting started this afternoon.

Cllr Jos SaundersCllr Jos Saunders (Image: Cheshire East Council)

Cllr Jos Saunders (Poynton, Con) said: “Because the constitution has not been abided by, we shouldn’t even be discussing the item because none of my group have had time to read the paper and there is no scrutiny process in place.”

She proposed the meeting be deferred.

Cllr George Hayes (Congleton, Con) said there was no issue with the item per se ‘but we are sitting here in breach of our own constitution’.

Nantwich councillor Geoff Smith (Lab) said the improvement plan was important and time sensitive - as a decision on the improvement plan had to made quickly before going to full council next Wednesday to be rubber stamped and then presented to Ofsted next month.

Cllr Geoff SmithCllr Geoff Smith (Image: Cheshire East Council)

Cllr Smith said: “We have a responsibility to the children and the young people  to put an action plan together and this needs to go to council, in my opinion, as soon as possible.”

Cllr Mark Goldsmith Wilmslow, (Ind) asked for clarification regarding the constitution.

Cllr Bulman replied: “I did ask the monitoring officer about that earlier and apparently the appendices should have been issued at the same time as the papers.

Cllr Carol BulmanCllr Carol Bulman (Image: Cheshire East Council)

“The same rules apply - five days.

“So nobody’s arguing that they were compliant, it’s just that it did take me 20 minutes to read them… so it didn’t feel very burdensome to me.”

Cllr Janet Clowes (Wybunbury, Con) referred to the 2012 Local Authority’s Executive Arrangements Meetings and Access to Information regulations.

“[This] also states that five clear working days are required in order to give public access to the documents in public meetings, and I am concerned that not only are we attempting to miss our own constitutional process but we may actually be in legal contempt of the legislation,” said Cllr Clowes.

After about an hour discussing the constitutional, legal and other implications, the committee voted to adjourn the meeting to 5pm next Tuesday (July 16).