On the 8th of October 2015 Cambridge City Council’s Community Services Scrutiny Committee considered the appointment of Conservators of the River Cam.
Councillors on the committee, and Executive Councillor Carina O’Reilly, decided to recommend the appointment of applicants 1,2,3 and 4. They did not name the individuals at their meeting, or in the associated papers, citing confidentiality.
The papers state that:
Applicant 1 is a current Conservator in his first three year term who serves on the finance sub-committee, who lives on the riverside, and has a wife called Pam.
This identifies applicant 1 unambiguously as Mal (Malcolm) Schofield.
Applicant 2 is “the majority shareholder and non-executive chairman of Scudamore’s Punting Company” and “CEO of a technology company called Isentropic”.
This identifies applicant 2 unambiguously as James Macnaghten.
Applicant 3 is the secretary of the Camboaters organisation and founder and chair of the Cambridge River Users Group.
This identifies applicant 3 unambiguously as Amy-Alys Tillson.
Applicant 4 is “the director of Riverboat Georgina Cambridge Limited” and “had worked on the river for three years [before 2013]“.
This is not accurate as the company has two directors but still identifies applicant 4 unambiguously as Lynden Golliday on the basis the other director had spent 14 years on the river crewing Georgina as of 2013.
Councillors and their officers apparently thought that removing prospective Conservators’ names from application materials included in the meeting papers was sufficient to anonomise them. It appeared councillors and officers had not considered the presence of personally identifying material would enable the identities of the individuals in question to be easily ascertained.
I would have expected councillors to have revealed the names of those they are recommending once they had made their decision but they did not do so. I expect when the full council is asked if they agree with the committee’s, and executive councillor’s, recommendation the individuals’ full names will be published in the papers for the full council meeting.
The Conservators are a public body and a list of Conservators is published on the Cam Conservancy website. The Conservators also meet in public and publish minutes of their meetings openly.
The meeting’s chair, Cllr Sinnott, warned councillors not to reveal the names behind the numbers on the basis that I was present observing the meeting, the chair stated:
I just want to … err a warning … so we have erm one member of the public here Richard Taylor and in order that we do not exclude him the candidates must be referred to by number only. There’s a number on each of them. Their names must not be revealed for the sake of confidentiality and to safeguard these individuals.
So we would like you to stay Richard but on the understanding this is what you must do so please do not breach that. Candidates are numbered and please refer to them.
It ought be immaterial if a member of the public is visibly present or not, or who any members of the public are, when it comes to what councillors do or do not say at formal council meetings in public session.
While I expect the chair was addressing councillors when she said “this is what you must do” the statement risked sounding like an attempt to impose reporting restrictions on the meeting, something chairs of council meetings do not have the power to do.
I do not think singling out and addressing individual members of the public observing and reporting on a council meeting is appropriate, particularly in this context. Councillors’ actions should not be influenced by the identity of observers.
I alerted the council to the potential problem with the material they published as soon as I identified it but no acknowledgement, reply or action followed.
The material published by the council includes information on political party and trade union membership which, if the individuals in question were not told it would be published, amounts to sensitive personal information.