Councillors were not given an opportunity to block plans to slash council funding for the town's theatres, a meeting has heard.

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Gavin James hit out at the council's ruling Conservative administration for the move, which he claims gave public representatives no chance to debate, discuss or block the controversial move.

He said that the decision to cut funding for Anvil Arts, the charity which runs the Anvil and Haymarket, was not put to public consultation and not even mentioned until after councillors had approved the budget.

The move was a controversial one, with councillors of all parties condemning the cuts.

It was approved at a full council meeting in February, in which Cllrs Elaine Still and Andy McCormick spoke out against the cuts, but no mention to it was made at the meeting of the authority's ruling cabinet just two weeks earlier.

Speaking at a meeting of the audit and accounts committee last week, Cllr James said that "we need to get better" at ensuring openness of key decisions made.

He said: "The budget goes through a process, it goes through a committee, it goes out for consultation, the consultation takes place, the responses are looked at, it then goes back through scrutiny, goes back to cabinet and it then goes to full council for debate and that happened [this year] like it does every year.

"At no point in any of those things was it mentioned Anvil Arts and the substantial cuts that would be made to their budget. It was saved until two weeks after full council had voted through the budget and the last opportunity to make any amendments.

"None of the amendments included anything because it hadn't been mentioned, and then cabinet announced a large cut at short notice just as we went into purdah.

"It came as a big shock to opposition councillors, Anvil Arts and everybody.

"There should never be shocks if you are ensuring openness and stakeholder engagement, so I would like to understand how it happened and why it is not reflected in here as a real challenge and something we need to get better at."

He also mentioned the decision to approve a change of use to a property on Culver Road to a halfway house as a further case where "sometimes we get things wrong".

Cllr James said: "It was a short decision made at cabinet about changing the use of a building with the substantial different it would make to residents who live in the area.

"It didn't go through any committees, no scrutiny, it was a cabinet decision that was not cross-party.

"There is lots of evidence that things aren't transparent, aren't open and don't have any stakeholder involvement.

"That is a concern and I am worried that we are going to present a report saying we are very good at this kind of thing, and we are in many areas, that is not highlighting the fact that sometimes we get things wrong."

It comes after The Gazette reported earlier this year about concerns raised over the scrutiny processes on the council.

A report found that the authority's cabinet in 2015-16 "ignored" constructive challenge over the regeneration of the leisure park, with one member of the group saying that the cabinet "didn't pay attention of the concerns being raised and those concerns continue".

"Decisions shouldn't be taken by a cabinet member on their own. There [should be] engagement so it isn't left to a single cabinet member," Cllr Paul Harvey said.

Responding, Cllr Ken Rhatigan, the leader of the council, told The Gazette at the time: "Better scrutiny of whatever we do is good to the public and also for the council in terms of getting the decisions right."

But when asked by The Gazette whether he would be working with the group to ensure better scrutiny, he said: "Not all decisions, that would be crazy. We can't scrutinise all decisions made, you have to make decisions without the oversight of all of the council, that's why we have a cabinet.

"The reality is, can we do better? Yes we probably could.

"We are not going to look backwards all the time, that is not productive. What is productive is making sure that all group leaders and the public understand what is coming forward at any given time."