Bristol News

Councillor Insists There Will Be Bristol Safety Valve Scrutiny

Bristol Safety Valve will face ‘scrutiny’ according to a councillor at City Hall this evening.

Green party Councillor for Southville, Tony Dyer, submitted a statement to March Member Forum, following fall-out surrounding his decision to allow a controversial secret paper to go to Cabinet.

Dyer had sent in a written statement to the meeting at City Hall after what he called ‘considerable discussion’ around his decision to agree to late publication of Cabinet papers. This was regarding Bristol City Council’s secret application to the Department for Education’s (DfE) Safety Valve programme.

He wrote: ‘This is understandable given the sensitive nature of the proposals, the considerable level of secrecy regarding the Safety Valve process, and the impact it is likely to have on a large number of children, parents and others, many of whom already feel considerably let down by the council.’

As chair of Overview Scrutiny and Management Board, Dyer said that he received an email from Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees on 01 March 2024, asking his permission to invoke APR16 to allow an urgent cabinet decision to be made.

Rees wanted to publish a late paper regarding the Safety Valve for the meeting on 05 March 2024.

Dyer says he was told the agenda item could not be deferred because the DfE needed to have Bristol’s secret application agreement returned to them by 11 March.

Bristol says it had engaged in ‘confidential negotiations’ and was unable to make their decision to apply for the controversial Safety Valve public until the DfE had given the city ‘consent’ to ‘make public the decision’.

Dyer wrote: ‘Also copied into the email were the Cabinet Members for Children Services, the Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Finance, the Chief Executive, the s151 Officer, the Monitoring Officer, the Executive Director for Children and Education, and the Director of Education and Skills.

‘Unless I was willing to accept that not only the Mayor of Bristol but also several senior officers were complicit in creating a false narrative around the urgency of the decision required by the Department for Education, then I had no evidential reason for refusing to agree to APR16 being applied.’

The Safety Valve Cabinet paper was not published online until 24 hours before the meeting which took place on the 05 March. This was despite Dyer having given permission some days before, meaning that the paper was published far too late for members of the public to properly take part in public forum.

Dyer said that the decision to allow APR16 was entirely his decision alone and that he is ‘solely responsible’ for the decision to allow the late publication of the papers.

APR16 comes under the council’s Access to Information Rules. Councils should produce a Forward Plan which is required to give at least 28 days notice of decisions coming to Cabinet. APR16 allows late decisions to be taken if the chair of a relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee agrees that the decision ‘cannot be reasonable deferred’.

At Member Forum, Dyer said: “There is a further decision to be made about the Safety Valve. If and when that comes to Cabinet we will scrutinize that decision. If it comes after the election then it will be automatically scrutinised as part of the new system.”

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