ALARM has been raised after Bicester Town Council held a private meeting, excluding press and public, to discuss a payment allegedly worth tens of thousands of pounds.

The meeting was held last Thursday evening to ‘consider the approval of a payment’, but that is all the information the council will give.

This paper has been told that the payment was £22,500, or the equivalent of six months’ salary, to be made to an employee at the council who has resigned.

Insiders claim that the employee left after they experienced ‘bullying’ while working for the council and that the payment agreed at the meeting was connected.

The council has said that 'reasons circulating on Facebook' for the meeting were 'incorrect', but refused to give the correct reasons.

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Tax-paying residents say it is ‘shameful’ that Bicester Town Council is discussing ways to use their money without them knowing who or what it is going towards.

Bicester resident Iain Belton said that by holding private meetings, the council was creating a ‘culture of fear’.

The 69-year-old said: "I appreciate councils have to hold some meetings in private but when they are spending large sums on issues caused solely by their own incompetence, these should be in public.

"It’s our money they are spending. If, as is suggested these are payments to cover up bullying, then individuals, if found negligent or complicit, should be personally liable."

People took to Facebook by posting in the Bicester General Chat page, letting people know that the private meeting was held and suggesting reasons for public exclusion.

Mr Belton tried putting a post on Facebook about the alleged bullying, but it was not approved.

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He claims the council contacted the page’s administrator who then felt ‘pressured’ to disallow posts suggesting the council was up to no good.

Rachel Mallows, 47, from Bicester, managed to put a post on the Facebook page but it has since been removed.

She said: “After nearly a decade of cutbacks to public services, it is shameful to see our councillors sitting behind closed doors frittering away council tax payers' money.

“The people of Bicester deserve to know what is being done in their name.”

There have been reports that councillor Nick Cotter, who serves the South Ward, voted not to exclude the public and press from the meeting last week.

Mr Cotter was approached for comment but had not replied at time of going to press.

Sallie Wright, 75, a resident in Bicester who used to attend council meetings, also believes that all meetings should be open to the public.

She said: "There were quite a few [council meetings] that excluded the public and press.

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"I think that all these meetings should remain open to the public and press. ‘What are they trying to hide?’ is the first question that comes to mind. These meetings should be totally transparent.”

Bicester Town Council was asked what happened at the meeting but said it could not reveal any information as it involved a ‘confidential matter’.

It also denied some allegations about the meeting residents shared on social media.

It said: "The meeting was held in exclusion of press and public in accordance with the relevant legislation as it concerned a confidential matter. We are unable to advise the detail of the matter being discussed.

"We can however confirm that the reasons circulating on Facebook are incorrect."

The council was also asked whether an employee had resigned, but replied that it could not say.

It said: “The town council is unable to make any comment on matters relating to any staffing matters due to data protection principles.”

Leader of the council, Councillor Richard Mould was approached for comment but did not reply in time for print.