Bristol’s mayor has relented after banning councillors from meetings of controversial new boards, a step he took because one was “incredibly rude”.
Marvin Rees revealed the reason for the ban to a group of councillors responsible for scrutinising council business on July 17.
He said he needed to “safeguard” the meetings of the themed boards tasked with delivering his One City Plan, the council-led vision for Bristol in 2050.
The six multi-organisation boards bring public, private, voluntary and third sector partners within Bristol together to find answers to some of the city’s biggest challenges.
Two of the boards, the health and wellbeing board and the Bristol homes board, include councillors among their number and hold public meetings.
But, as it stands, councillors are not allowed to attend meetings of three of the boards.
The learning city partnership and Bristol transport board meet behind closed doors, as does the newly created environmental sustainability board.
A fourth board in the pipeline, an economy board, is not expected to be open to the press or public either.
The secrecy surrounding the meetings has sparked fears of a lack of transparency about how much power the boards have on the Labour-run council policy.
Rees told members of the cross-party overview and scrutiny management board that the meetings were open to begin with but he decided to exclude councillors after one was “incredibly rude” to an outside speaker.
“I said, ‘I can’t take that risk’,” the mayor said. “If we’re bringing in partners to talk about how we begin to have this cooperative work relationship and then someone starts to be rude to them…we can’t take that.”
But he appeared to relent after several members expressed their frustration about not being allowed into the meetings, even as observers.
Rees said: “We’ll talk to the board about attendance.”
He also assured them that they would have the ability to scrutinise any cabinet decisions arising from recommendations made at the meetings.
Scrutiny board chair, Conservative councillor Geoff Gollop, clarified that, with the exception of one, the One City themed boards will only have the power to make recommendations.
Only statutory body the health and wellbeing board has the authority to make decisions.
The health and wellbeing board, the Bristol homes board, the learning city partnership and the Bristol transport board pre-existed the publication of the One City Plan in January, whereas the environmental sustainability board and the economy board are new entities.
Later in the meeting, members heard that the mayor had asked One City officials to speak to each of the board chairs “about the ability to have councillor observers at those meetings”.
Andrea Dell, co-head of the One City office, added that the agendas and minutes of all the board meetings would be published on the One City website.
But Conservative representative for Horfield, Claire Hiscott, said she found that “really disappointing”.
“For me it feels very much as though these boards are dealing with some of the most important issues the city faces without elected members’ being even in the room or having easy access to what’s going on, and I find that quite disturbing.”
Amanda Cameron is a local democracy reporter for Bristol