Seaton: Council decisions had potential to be 'illegal'

THE Audit Commission considers some decisions taken by Seaton Town Council during private meetings had the potential to be unlawful , the Midweek Herald can reveal.

THE Audit Commission considers some decisions taken by Seaton Town Council during private meetings had the potential to be "unlawful", the Midweek Herald can reveal.

However, there will be no official investigation - because of the substantial cost to the public purse.

Councillors and council staff have been advised to seek professional training.

Town clerk David Mears says a "very robust internal audit" has taken place, which showed no major issues.

In a leaked document, obtained by the Herald, East Devon District Council's monitoring officer Denise Lyon tells town clerk David Mears: "The Audit Commission do consider that there is potential that decisions are being made by the town council in private session unlawfully.

"They are clearly concerned about this and have considered whether there is enough evidence to warrant them conducting an investigation.

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"They have concluded that the substantial additional cost to the public purse mitigates against this course of action currently. However, they are very keen to see the town council organise a training session covering key administrative points."

The criteria for private session resolutions and the transparency of decisions were cited in the letter as areas that needed improvement.

Clarity and content of agendas and minutes have also come in for criticism, along with the availability of council information.

Ms Lyon was responding to complaints from Seaton residents.

She told Mr Mears in the letter, dated January 10: "I have carefully considered my role in these matters, as I would normally only get involved if there is evidence of a breach of the Code of Conduct by a Seaton councillors.

"However, given the number, and ongoing nature, of the complaints, together with the Audit Commission position, I have decided to write to you outlining each issue so that you can discuss these with your council and decide how to deal with them."

Mr Mears stressed the council acts in accordance with regulations laid down by Parliament and that Ms Lyon has no remit when it comes to the administration of the town council.

He told her in a letter: "Seaton Town Council is always willing to undertake training and is happy to take on board your suggestion.

"We are going to ask Mike Bartlett of the Audit Commission to visit us informally so we can learn from them too. I am also planning a members' training day, which I will invite the Devon Association of Parish Councils to participate in."

The letter expresses surprise at the nature of some of the complaints sent to EDDC.

Mr Mears told Ms Lyon: "This is the first time we have heard of or seen some of these allegations..."

He went on to reassure her that Seaton Town Council has "only maintained exactly the same confidentiality as other town, parish and district councils maintain in similar situations".

But he added: "There are, however, differences in rules and procedures between town and district councils, namely where town and parish councils get the power to exclude the press and public, and the period of notice for meetings is also different to our principal authorities, and this can lead to some confusion.