A culture of secrecy

For the past fifty years, under national governments of both parties, there has been a trend towards making local councils more open and transparent.

One of Mrs Thatcher's first acts as a backbench MP was to propose an access to information act so that the public could find out what their councillors were doing.

Sadly government of both parties have generally been less willing to apply the same principle to their own activities than to local authorities, but I think more information about what councils do is very helpful.

I strongly support the rule which has now come into effect requiring councils to publish details of all their spending above £500.

This has already resulted in greater scrutiny of some of Copeland Borough Council's decisions in the local press.

Sadly that has gone down very badly with some people. It is very easy for national politicians, councillors, and the managers of public services to develop a "siege mentality" with regard to local media.

If the paper or radio station concerned has made some irritating mistakes - and of course, most news media, being staffed by fallible human beings, will have done so occasionally - and has written or broadcast things which an MP, PPC, or councillor doesn't feel gave him or her a fair crack of the whip, it is all too easy to start thinking of the press as the enemy.

Copeland BC has a bad case of this disease.

The council also has an self-defeating tendancy to be very restrictive in applying rules about what should be published. As I mentioned in response to a recent comment, this can have the counterproductive result that when CBC refuses to release information, residents usually assume the council has something to hide. Sometimes when the council refuses to publish something, the conclusions people deduce from this are far more negative than the truth would have been.

A more open attitude to the local media and a more positive approach to putting information into the public domain are two of the many ways in which Copeland Borough Council desperately needs a fresh start.

You can see the information which Copeland council has published on how they spend your money by clicking here.


Anonymous said…
Chris, you and your fellow Councilors (of all persuasions) have done nothing rid Copeland BC of this disease.

Copeland BC needs more than a fresh start - a significant number of senior officers need kicked out.
Chris Whiteside said…
Your first statement would have been true if it had not included the words "of all persuasions" - it is the the present majority group which has done nothing to rid the council of this culture.

If the council majority changes I am convinced that you will see a change in the culture.

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