This week's Councillor Column is written by George Freeman, independent councillor for Lomond North.

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As with most councils, trying to obtain information from Argyll and Bute Council can be very difficult, even for councillors themselves.

That is why I often submit Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the council as I believe that this is the only way to obtain the information I want.

I believe that I am the only Argyll and Bute councillor who uses the FOI system on a regular basis. It also allows me to appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner if I am unhappy with the way that the council has dealt with my request.

Constituents often seek information from me relating to council business, and I do all that I can to help them. Unfortunately, even at council meetings, it appears that it is now being made much more difficult for councillors to ask questions in public about reports on the council agenda.

At the latest council meeting, held on April 18, there were four important reports where the recommendation from officers was for councillors to simply note the contents of each report.

In the past, even when the officer’s recommendation was for councillors to note the contents of a report, councillors could still ask questions on the topic the report was dealing with.

For the first time that I can remember, the words ‘Reports For Noting’, in large, bold print, were included on the agenda before the reports on four items – the One Council property update, Community Empowerment, the latest from the Live Argyll leisure and libraries trust, and the annual report on the NPDO schools project.

These reports contained important information and I had arrived at the council meeting ready to ask questions about the millions of pounds listed in the report relating to the disposal of a large number of council buildings and properties within my ward and beyond.

Also, given my own concerns and the concerns that members of the public continue to raise with me about the council-created Live Argyll leisure and libraries trust, I had planned to ask a number of questions on this issue.

At the council meeting, however, the provost and the executive director made it clear that the four reports should be noted, and that no discussion or questions would be allowed.

A number of councillors were surprised and concerned at this ruling. A cynic may wonder whether the council was trying to avoid transparency and embarrassing questions being raised in public.

Openness must prevail.