Some snippets to keep you going until the New Year

29 Dec

Today’s Sunday Times:  Headline:  The Environment Agency faces criticism for putting businesses before residents. 

The story goes on to say that the Environment Agency has been accused of issuing an order to protect industrial units and high street stores in Tonbridge that were relying on post-Christmas shoppers.  David Cameron has said that councils must have robust arrangements in place should there be further problems during the holidays.

Pickles and Transparency

Interesting article HERE on transparency and how little Eric Pickles understands the concept.

Pickles wants local people to push councils to become more responsive. Greater scrutiny of the grants given to voluntary and community groups will help new ones break into sometimes cosy relationships between officers and established organisations. …  What remains unsaid is the real threat to openness in local government – the pressure from Pickles’ cabinet colleagues to water down the Freedom of Information Act. The Local Government Association has been gently undermining faith in FoI for some time. A BBC Newsnight investigation found that ministers are actively considering charging for FoI requests. They no longer need to act on “vexatious” claims after an upper tribunal decision, but while this will put an end to some trivial requests it is most likely to be misused by councils to weed out claims from good-natured local civic activists.

There is also Pickles’ own behaviour. Many government ministers have treated the right to freedom of information shamefully. Pickles in his own words, is supposed to be a champion for open government. He has said before that knowing about how taxpaters’ money is spent will “push central and local government into rooting out waste and duplication”.  “That’s why we’re throwing open the shutters and bringing the full glare of the public’s eye on to spending. This new transparent era means a new way of thinking for councils but I’m showing them it’s possible by publishing more of my department’s spending online,” he said.

However, as Labour’s Hilary Benn MP has pointed out, he has time and again used his ministerial veto to refuse inconvenient FoI requests. Pickles has a chance to prove he really is a champion of open government – he should tell his colleagues at the Cabinet table that there should be no charging, ever, for FoI requests.  He should make the work of private contractors implementing the contracts of local councils subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so people can find out exactly how their money is being used by the private contractors who run their swimming pools or look after elderly people. He should also stop using his ministerial veto.

Clinton Devon Estates

Interesting letter on Clinton Devon Estates HERE.

Cornwall Council “economical with the truth”

Story HERE.

Cornwall Council has spent around £1.3 million on the Eden Project over three-and-a-half-years, but some of the payments have been left off the local authority’s “transparency report” which identifies public spending.

 

 

 

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