CONCERNS have been raised about changes that could see Powys County Council’s (PCC) future finance panels meetings held in secret.

On Monday, September 30, the democratic services committee discussed the proposals.

At a meeting of the group leaders on August 30, it had been suggested that holding finance panels meetings in public meant they were unable to discuss matters such as budget proposals as robustly as they could in private.

The issue is supposed to be discussed by the finance panel at their meeting tomorrow, Wednesday, October 2.

Head of legal services, Clive Pinney, stressed the suggestion had come from the group leaders as it “inhibited” the council business.

He also wanted to remind members that the finance panel is made up of the group leaders as the recommendation was coming from someone there.

But it was pointed out to Mr Pinney  that chairs of scrutiny committees also sit on the finance panel.

Cllr Jackie Charlton (Liberal Democrat – Llangattock) said: “I am feeling uncomfortable about this.

“This panel was set up with a scrutiny role and each scrutiny committee is charged with doing budget scrutiny in future. Scrutinising draft budget proposals could be put in confidential session.

“What else does this scrutiny panel do that would need to be done in private?”

Head of Democratic Services, Wyn Richards, said he was “not  100 per-cent certain”.

Cllr Roger Williams (Liberal Democrat – Felinfach) said: “I don’t see the sensitivity of the matter.

“Unless we’re talking about making a lot of redundancies as part of the budget, that might have impact on staffing.”

Mr Pinney added: “The finance panel will know whether this is a good thing or not and I suggest we leave it to them to decide.”

Committee chairman, Cllr Elwyn Vaughan (Plaid Cymru – Glantwymyn), is also a member of the finance panel.

Cllr Vaughan said: “I’ll  be there and I can relay some of the concerns that have been voiced today.”

Following the report that the finance panel could meet in private, its vice chair, Cllr John Morris, (Liberal Democrat – Crickhowell) who is also the chair of the Audit Committee contacted the Local Democracy Service with his concerns.

Cllr Morris said:  “I would have thought the views of the panel and the chair would have been sort first.

“The previous panel (finance scrutiny panel) sat in closed session but, following the move to this panel, it was felt that a more open approach to finance scrutiny was needed, and it should sit in open session.

“I believe that it is important that the financial position of the council is discussed in open session so that members of the public whose money we are spending can understand and get explanations from portfolio holders and senior officers.”

“I believe it is a retrograde step to restrict open debate on Powys’s finances as any sensitive information could be dealt with through the normal confidential protocols that already exist.”