Transparency in Local Government
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD.
‘Transparency’ has become something of a buzz-word in local government circles; everyone professes to uphold it – until it comes to disclosing information that is potentially embarrassing.
In a political context, ‘Transparency’ is defined as:
The right and the means to examine the process of decision making is called as transparency. In politics, transparency is used as a means of holding public officials accountable and fighting corruption. When a government’s meetings are open to the press and the public, its budgets may be reviewed by anyone, and its laws and decisions are open to discussion, it is seen as transparent, and there is less opportunity for the authorities to abuse the system for their own interests.
The Four Pillars of Democracy are generally acknowledged to be:
In my view, Transparency is the foundation upon which these Four Pillars stand.
But in a less elevated and more pragmatic context, how well is the principle of Transparency upheld here in our Borough of Scarborough?
I decided to find out.
So I asked all of our local Councillors and Council Executive Officers a “yes/no” question:
Here are the results from Nigel’s recent transparency in local government campaign. To date there are very free responses indeed. Nigel’s initial email to all members of SBC is shown below.
To:The Councillors and Executive Officers of Scarborough Borough Council,andThe Councillors and Clerks of Whitby Town (Parish) Council,Many of you will have heard, or read of, the Prime Minister’s remarks on the subject of transparency and accountability on the part of those in public service, as reported in the Guardian and Observer newspapers a little over a week ago. I reproduce them here for your convenience of reference:
- “For too long, those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account. This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture – and it’s called transparency”.Some of you may also have seen my widely reproduced remarks in email correspondence with Mr Robert Goodwill (Con.), MP for Scarborough and Whitby, shortly thereafter. For those of you who have not, I reproduce those remarks here:
- “In the coming ‘winter of discontent’, there will be a sharply defined polarization amongst all who are engaged in public service – those who are ready to throw open the shutters of governance versus those who batten down the hatches.”I regard it as a matter of profound public interest to determine which of you uphold the view of our Prime Minister.Being mindful of the fact that elections for the Borough Council will take place on Thursday 5th May 2011, I have undertaken to publish, in newspapers and on the internet, two lists of incumbent Councillors and Officers – those who DO uphold the PM’s statement, and those who DO NOT uphold the PM’s – so that the electorate may form an opinion before voting takes place.Certainly, past experience leads me to the conclusion that the default position on this question is that very few in public service truly do uphold the words of the SBC Constitution as published via the Council’s web-site, dated Monday 5th July 2010, which, once again, I reproduce here for your convenience of reference:
- “The purpose of this Constitution is to provide a framework which will enable the Council to provide clear leadership to the local community and efficient, effective, transparent and accountable decision-making . . .”Therefore, I would be most grateful if you would each be so good as to respond to this email, as duty requires, at your earliest convenience and not later than midnight of Thursday 30th September 2010, making it known whether or not you DO uphold the PM’s statement. As stated, the default position is that in the event that you do not respond on this question your name will automatically appear on the list of those who DO NOT uphold the PM’s statement.An appropriate form of words would be either:
- a) I DO uphold the PM’s statement calling for transparency.0r
- b) I DO NOT uphold the PM’s statement calling for transparency.For clarity, the default position is that in the event that you do not respond on this question, your name will automatically appear on the list of those who have foregone the opportunity to confirm that they DO uphold the PM’s statement and therefore have indicated, either by design or default, that they DO NOT uphold the PM’s statement.The email address to which your response should be transmitted is: email@example.comLadies and gentlemen, the choice is yours. Your response is awaited.Kind regards,Nigel