Local government transparency & information access rights

A guide to help potential contributors develop their skills.

If you are considering contributing to Exeter Observer please see our contributors guide.

Local government transparency

Access to local authority meetings and documents and reporting rights

  • Relevant Exeter local authorities all leader & cabinet/executive local government model (vs directly-elected mayor) under Local Government Act 2000 (since amended by Localism Act 2011) but root legislation remains Local Government Act 1972 as amended by Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985.
  • Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 and Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 additionally allow audio/video recording, live blogging etc.
  • Meetings of decision-making bodies must be open to the public (but position re. semi-formal or multi-authority meetings is unclear).
  • Minimum five clear days’ notice of meetings & agenda inc. reports publication required (then decisions record/minutes).
  • BUT public may be excluded from parts of the meeting if either confidential or exempt information would be disclosed (or to maintain order).
  • Confidential information has narrow definition.
  • Exempt information has wider definition (see below) - and is arguably misused.
  • A public interest test can be applied to exempt information claim to challenge redaction, esp. when significant public money involved.
  • Freedom of Information requests might be used to obtain exempt information.
  • Registers of member’s interests and personal expenses must also be made publicly available.
  • Where local authority is the copyright holder, documents/reports may be reproduced (with some privilege rights).
  • 1972/1985 acts apply to fire authorities and some joint committee and board meetings.
  • Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 applies to local health authorities and NHS Trusts.
  • Health and Social Care Act 2001 gives powers similar to 1985 act re. local authorities with social service responsibilities, but with extended exemptions.
  • Also specific provisions for Police & Crime Commissioners & police and crime panels.

Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972

Part 1 - Descriptions of Exempt Information: England

  1. Information relating to any individual.

  2. Information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual.

  3. Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).

  4. Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or office holders under, the authority.

  5. Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings.

  6. Information which reveals that the authority proposes-

    (a) to give under any enactment a notice under or by virtue of which requirements are imposed on a person; or

    (b) to make an order or direction under any enactment.

  7. Information relating to any action taken or to be taken in connection with the prevention, investigation or prosecution of crime.

Part 2 - Qualifications: England

  1. Information falling within paragraph 3 above is not exempt information by virtue of that paragraph if it is required to be registered under-

    (a) the Companies Acts (as defined in section 2 of the Companies Act 2006);

    (b) the Friendly Societies Act 1974;

    (c) the Friendly Societies Act 1992;

    (d) the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Acts 2014;

    (e) the Building Societies Act 1986; or

    (f) the Charities Act 2011.

  2. Information is not exempt information if it relates to proposed development for which the local planning authority may grant itself planning permission or permission in principle pursuant to regulation 3 of the Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1992.

  3. Information which-

    (a) falls within any of paragraphs 1 to 7 above; and

    (b) is not prevented from being exempt by virtue of number 8 or 9 above,

is exempt information if, and so long as, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

Local Government Transparency Code

Commercial confidentiality:

“The Government has not seen any evidence that publishing details about contracts entered into by local authorities would prejudice procurement exercises or the interests of commercial organisations, or breach commercial confidentiality unless specific confidentiality clauses are included in contracts.

“Local authorities should expect to publish details of contracts newly entered into – commercial confidentiality should not, in itself, be a reason for local authorities to not follow the provisions of this Code.

“Therefore, local authorities should consider inserting clauses in new contracts allowing for the disclosure of data in compliance with this Code.”

Exclusions and exemptions:

“Where information would otherwise fall within one of the exemptions from disclosure, for instance, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) Regulations 2009 or fall within Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 then it is at the discretion of the local authority whether or not to rely on that exemption or publish the data.

“Local authorities should start from the presumption of openness and disclosure of information, and not rely on exemptions to withhold information unless absolutely necessary.”

cf.

Public accounts inspection aka audit rights

Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 & Local Audit (Access to Documents) Act 2017:

  • Conveys the right to examine and/or copy records of all transactions referred to in statement of accounts covering previous financial year.
  • Covers bills, invoices, receipts, deeds, property transactions, books, contracts (inc. commercial, exc. staff) etc.
  • Covers most public authorities except health service.
  • Only applies for six weeks in June/July each year, must be advertised inc. contact details (press officers must not be involved).
  • Local electors have additional right to ask questions (inc. of the auditor), object to auditor, request investigation.
  • BUT some commercial confidentiality (and personal identification) exemptions apply.

cf.

NB the government announced a review of local authority financial reporting in July 2019.

Information access rights

Freedom of Information Act 2000

Environmental Information Regulations 2014

NB covers more bodies than Freedom of Information Act 2000 with fewer exemptions.

More guides

Guides covering other Exeter regional policy and practice areas are also being prepared.

Recent stories
Exeter City Council 2022 annual meeting 17 May 2022

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Labour councillors appointed to all fourteen city council committee chairs at annual meeting

Council leader falsely claims "overwhelming majority" voted Labour in Exeter local elections while circumvention of council decision-making scrutiny continues.

Exeter City Council party seat distribution after 2022 local elections

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Greens take three seats from Labour so Progressive Group replaces Conservatives as official opposition

Conservative loss in Topsham among significant vote share changes in 2022 Exeter City Council elections suggesting city's political landscape in flux.

2022-23 band D council tax charges ranges (England)

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Do Exeter Labour election campaign claims stand up to scrutiny? Coda: Council tax

The last part of our 2022 local elections series is a coda examining Exeter Labour's claim that the city has one of the lowest rates of council tax in the country.

2022 Exeter local elections guide graphic

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

2022 Exeter local elections guide

City council elections take place on Thursday 5 May. Our essential guide highlights who's standing where, wards to watch and what the results might look like and mean. We also outline their context and explain when, where and how to vote.

Climate delay discourse typology

ANALYSIS  ⁄  CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

Do Exeter Labour election campaign claims stand up to scrutiny? Part III: Climate & environment

The third in our 2022 local elections series examines Exeter Labour claims about climate crisis leadership, renewable energy, recycling, retrofitting and development standards as well as decisions to scrap council and city decarbonisation goals.

Exeter city councillors with low attendance levels during 2021-22 - stacked bar graph

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Low attendance levels among some councillors mean Exeter electors get varying value for their votes

As part of our 2022 Exeter local elections coverage we have assessed the past year's attendance figures for public council meetings as a measure of councillor commitment to their constituents.

Recent stories
Exeter City Council 2022 annual meeting 17 May 2022

Labour councillors appointed to all fourteen city council committee chairs at annual meeting

Exeter City Council party seat distribution after 2022 local elections

Greens take three seats from Labour so Progressive Group replaces Conservatives as official opposition

2022-23 band D council tax charges ranges (England)

Do Exeter Labour election campaign claims stand up to scrutiny? Coda: Council tax

2022 Exeter local elections guide graphic

2022 Exeter local elections guide

Climate delay discourse typology

Do Exeter Labour election campaign claims stand up to scrutiny? Part III: Climate & environment


Help power our public interest journalism

News
Net Zero Exeter 2030 plan cover edit

Exeter City Council abandons city 2030 decarbonisation "ambition"

Unannounced decision to exclude scope 3 emissions constituting around 43% of Exeter's carbon footprint from "net zero" plans effectively ensures city will not meet its decarbonisation goals.

Exeter Ukrainian refugee support hub Conversation Café

Ukrainian refugee support hub opens in Exeter city centre

Conversation Café pop-up offers information, resources, events and meeting space to help cut through the confusion surrounding the Homes for Ukraine scheme and enable Devon's response to the crisis.

Individual overseas ownership of Exeter property titles 2010 to 2021 bar chart

Individual overseas ownership of Exeter property triples in ten years

350% rise greater than in Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster, increasing housing costs, reducing home ownership levels and harming housing affordability.

Analysis
Exeter City Council 2022 annual meeting 17 May 2022

Labour councillors appointed to all fourteen city council committee chairs at annual meeting

Council leader falsely claims "overwhelming majority" voted Labour in Exeter local elections while circumvention of council decision-making scrutiny continues.

Exeter City Council party seat distribution after 2022 local elections

Greens take three seats from Labour so Progressive Group replaces Conservatives as official opposition

Conservative loss in Topsham among significant vote share changes in 2022 Exeter City Council elections suggesting city's political landscape in flux.

2022-23 band D council tax charges ranges (England)

Do Exeter Labour election campaign claims stand up to scrutiny? Coda: Council tax

The last part of our 2022 local elections series is a coda examining Exeter Labour's claim that the city has one of the lowest rates of council tax in the country.

Comment
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

Net Zero Exeter logo

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Review suggests alignment with Devon Carbon Plan, currently aimed at 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, citing "technical and financial challenges ahead", although change in policy would require decision by councillors after 6 May local elections.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

All topics

ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY   AFFORDABILITY AFFORDABILITY AFFORDABILITY   AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY   ALPHINGTON & COWICK ALPHINGTON & COWICK ALPHINGTON & COWICK   ALPHINGTON ALPHINGTON ALPHINGTON   BONHAY MEADOWS BONHAY MEADOWS BONHAY MEADOWS   CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE   COP26 COP26 COP26   COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19   CITYPOINT CITYPOINT CITYPOINT   CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE   CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS   CO-LIVING CO-LIVING CO-LIVING   CONGESTION CONGESTION CONGESTION   COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX   COVERING CLIMATE NOW COVERING CLIMATE NOW COVERING CLIMATE NOW   CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE   CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING   DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT   DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE & CRIME COMMISSIONER DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE & CRIME COMMISSIONER DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE & CRIME COMMISSIONER   DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN   DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL   DEVON GREEN NEW DEAL DEVON GREEN NEW DEAL DEVON GREEN NEW DEAL   DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND   DURYARD & ST. JAMES DURYARD & ST. JAMES DURYARD & ST. JAMES   EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   ELECTRIC VEHICLES ELECTRIC VEHICLES ELECTRIC VEHICLES   EXE ESTUARY EXE ESTUARY EXE ESTUARY   EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT   EXETER CANAL AND QUAY TRUST EXETER CANAL AND QUAY TRUST EXETER CANAL AND QUAY TRUST   EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL   EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL   EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES   EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING   EXETER CIVIC SOCIETY EXETER CIVIC SOCIETY EXETER CIVIC SOCIETY   EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE   EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE   EXETER CUSTOM HOUSE EXETER CUSTOM HOUSE EXETER CUSTOM HOUSE   EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND   EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION   EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER   EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN   EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX   EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE   EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK   EXETER SHIP CANAL EXETER SHIP CANAL EXETER SHIP CANAL   EXETER ST. DAVID'S EXETER ST. DAVID'S EXETER ST. DAVID'S   EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY   EXETER UCU EXETER UCU EXETER UCU   EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE   EXWICK EXWICK EXWICK   FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT   FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION   FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER   GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS   GUILDHALL GUILDHALL GUILDHALL   HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS   HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP   HEAVITREE & WHIPTON BARTON HEAVITREE & WHIPTON BARTON HEAVITREE & WHIPTON BARTON   HEAVITREE HEAVITREE HEAVITREE   HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION   HOUSING HOUSING HOUSING   LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+   LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD   LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER   LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY   LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS   MAKETANK MAKETANK MAKETANK   MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON   MET OFFICE MET OFFICE MET OFFICE   MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON BARTON MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON BARTON MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON BARTON   MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON   MOUNT RADFORD LAWN MOUNT RADFORD LAWN MOUNT RADFORD LAWN   NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER   NEWTOWN & ST. LEONARD'S NEWTOWN & ST. LEONARD'S NEWTOWN & ST. LEONARD'S   NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS   OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE   PARIS STREET PARIS STREET PARIS STREET   PARKING PARKING PARKING   PASSIVHAUS PASSIVHAUS PASSIVHAUS   PENINSULA RAIL TASK FORCE PENINSULA RAIL TASK FORCE PENINSULA RAIL TASK FORCE   PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT   PENNSYLVANIA PENNSYLVANIA PENNSYLVANIA   PINHOE PINHOE PINHOE   PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY   PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY   PRIORY PRIORY PRIORY   PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT   PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION   PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH   PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM   PUBLIC TOILETS PUBLIC TOILETS PUBLIC TOILETS   PURPOSE BUILT STUDENT ACCOMMODATION PURPOSE BUILT STUDENT ACCOMMODATION PURPOSE BUILT STUDENT ACCOMMODATION   RAMM RAMM RAMM   REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING   RETROFIT RETROFIT RETROFIT   RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK   ROYAL DEVON & EXETER NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON & EXETER NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON & EXETER NHS TRUST   SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET   SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION   SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER   SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY   SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT   ST. DAVID'S ST. DAVID'S ST. DAVID'S   ST. LOYE'S ST. LOYE'S ST. LOYE'S   ST. SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST. SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST. SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE   ST. SIDWELL'S POINT ST. SIDWELL'S POINT ST. SIDWELL'S POINT   ST. THOMAS ST. THOMAS ST. THOMAS   STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST   TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL   TOPSHAM TOPSHAM TOPSHAM   UNESCO CITY OF LITERATURE UNESCO CITY OF LITERATURE UNESCO CITY OF LITERATURE   UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER   YOUTH STRIKE 4 CLIMATE YOUTH STRIKE 4 CLIMATE YOUTH STRIKE 4 CLIMATE  

More stories