CONCERNS have been raised over the accuracy and availability of public town council documents.

Members of the public have challenged Christchurch Town Council on its recording of meeting minutes and the timing of the publication of the meeting reports.

Christchurch Town Council meetings are open to the public, with the exception of ‘closed session’ meeting items.

Members of the public may make representations, answer questions and give evidence at the meetings.

At the June meeting of the resources committee, a member of the public flagged issues relating to meeting minutes – a written record of meeting details.

These were ‘the failure to record public questions fully and accurately’ and ‘the omission of negative comments’.

The person also said that summaries given in meeting minutes ‘lacked vital points’, and emphasised the importance of making councillor contributions fully available for the public.

According to the minutes document for that meeting, the member of the public was told by meeting chairman Cllr Michael John Tarling: “Minutes are formal records of actions and decisions.

“There is no need for minutes to be a literal report of discussion. Minutes are formal records of decisions taken and not meant to be a verbatim record of a whole meeting. Some background context of the decision taken may be necessary.”

Cllr Tarling added that the town council intended to introduce audio visual facilities and video recording once in its permanent office premises.

Acting town clerk James Atkinson then referred to recommendations made in the Internal Audit report (2023): “The minutes of the council should record decisions. They should not record the comments, statements, or discussion of non members.

"The minutes of public session may include a brief summary of the topics raised, but no speeches or statements should be included.”

Other members of the public at the meeting raised concerns regarding the publication of documents.

One flagged an issue with the timing of the publication of committee reports, and suggested town council members needed 'at least a week' to review reports before voting at any meeting.

Another member noted the town council had failed to publish the internal audit report and AGAR (annual governance and accountability return) reviews alongside the annual council agenda, preventing public review before or during the meeting.

The same individual raised concerns about the non-publication of meeting agenda items.

The Daily Echo contacted Christchurch Town Council on the concerns raised by the public.

Zeynep Aktuna, Acting Assistant Town Clerk, said: “Openness and transparency are fundamental to Christchurch Town Council's operations.

"The Town Council acknowledges its minutes as precise records of actions and decisions.

"While local council minutes vary in style without a prescribed format, the Town Council is committed to providing formal records that outline decisions, including essential background information and debates leading to resolutions and actions.

“Following the Town Council’s internal auditor’s recommendations, the minutes exclude comments, statements, or discussions from non-members, focusing instead on providing summaries of public sessions without detailed speeches.

“The Town Council is currently exploring the installation of AV facilities in prospective premises to broadcast meetings, aiming to maximize resident accessibility and enhance transparency.

“We regret recent delays in publishing some minutes and agenda reports due to our team's heavy involvement in business activities and events.

"Committed to transparency and continuous improvement, the Town Council aims to enhance communication practices for better resident service.

"We deeply appreciate residents who take the time to review and provide feedback on our minutes.”