A SENIOR Dorset councillor has warned that holding more meetings behind closed doors can lead to mistrust from the public and could be seen to be less than democratic.

Councillor Pauline Batstone, the council’s first chair, made the comments after it was suggested that more workshop-style meetings might be the answer to developing Dorset Council policy.

She said: “Working through working groups is brilliant and it can move us forward, but what concerns me is that we have had considerable criticism, as Dorset Council, particularly during our use of virtual meetings, about how we do, or do not, involve the public and how we respond democratically. The more we do in working groups, the more we do, effectively, behind the scenes and the more difficult it is to involve the public.

“Formal committees have an importance because they give a formal right to be involved to members of the public who wish to come and have questions, or make statements.

“It is a balance between getting on with the job and actually ensuring that we are seen to be offering an opportunity for the public to be democratically involved,” she said.

The council has been criticised during its first year for the way it manages some meetings and the Cabinet-style of administration it has chosen which results in an all-Tory Cabinet making the majority of policy decisions.

There has been further criticism since lockdown that members of the public are not being allowed to ask their own questions, or make statements, at any online meeting. At planning committees only the first three comments to be submitted in favour of an application are read out, together with the first three against. Further comments are available only to read online.

Other complaints include the claim that more councillor meetings are now held in private than in public. No timetables, agendas or paperwork are published either before or after these Executive Advisory Panels with panel membership being selected by the controlling Conservative group and some of the meetings open to people who are not councillors.