The Inspectorate has recently fielded enquiries from councillors and governance staff on our office’s standing to request information to assist in our investigations or examinations. This has provided an opportunity to remind the sector of our legislated powers under the Local Government Act and responsibilities under the Privacy Act to retain confidentiality of private information.
Council staff or councillors who disclosed confidential information to the Inspectorate would not be in breach of section 77 of the Local Government Act 1989 (which will be superseded by section 125 of the Local Government Act 2020 after 24 October).
While section 125 makes it an offence for a councillor to disclose information they know, or should reasonably know, is confidential information, section 125 (3g) provides an exemption in certain circumstances:
(3) A person who is, or has been, a councillor or a member of a special committee or a member of council staff, may disclose information that the person knows is confidential information in the following circumstances—
(g) to the Chief Municipal Inspector to the extent reasonably required by the Chief Municipal Inspector.
By an Instrument of Delegation in accordance with section 197 of the Act, the Chief Municipal Inspector has delegated powers, duties and functions to Inspectors of Municipal Administration (i.e. the majority of the Local Government Inspectorate staff). This includes the power to require a person to disclose information that the person knows is confidential information and to receive confidential information from them.
A recent example of this involved a councillor who was requested by the Inspectorate to provide confidential documents regarding a potential conflict of interest.
The councillor was unsure whether they could provide confidential documents without breaching the Act. This concern was shared by a council staff member.
The Inspectorate was able to clarify the relevant exemption and powers under the Act in order to receive confidential meeting material.