LETTER: Council business in an open way

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In view of your campaign for freedom and democracy, you may be interested that Billingshurst Parish Council has declined to speak openly for the people that it represents, as will be seen from the minutes of its last meeting.

The impact of its attitude is indicated by my Freedom of Information request and the response, where the PC has spent approximately £16,500-plus of taxpayers’ hard earned money on HR Consultancy services since July 2013, but there is apparently no written record of the Terms of Reference, or Scope of Work.

One might well ask why the consultant has apparently been given a blank cheque?

I have been trying to establish that the expenditure represented value for money for the taxpayer but, with no audit trail, it has not been possible to determine that.

That is clearly unsatisfactory, particularly as councillors are apparently asked to limit what they say in public.

Needless to say, it is also of concern that, if there is no post project review of value obtained, then it is likely that lessons will not be learned.

A more reasonable response from the PC, would have been, ‘we agree that the scope of work should have been formally set out and agreed. We apologise for that and will put in place means to avoid a similar failure in future’.

One might have expected to see a desire for continuous improvement from a ‘quality council’ such as BPC and I will be calling on those who confer that accolade, to reconsider whether it is justified, in the light of this evidence.

It is also interesting that when I asked the Sussex Association of Local Councils to let me know what advice it had given BPC in this context, it declined to do that, because it says it is not obliged to provide information in response to an FoI request. Yes, you may well ask, what have they got to hide?

I will be writing more about the lack of evidence of value for money from BPC in the coming weeks, but thought that your readers should be aware that at least one parish council has decided not to pursue its business in an open and transparent way and is not apparently interested in continuous improvement.

If democracy has a cost, then so does the cost of no democracy.

M.D. SMITH

High Street, Billingshurst