Sunday, November 11, 2018

Inscrutable scrutiny at Kingston Council

A few weeks ago a Freedom of Information request was made to Kingston Council asking for email correspondence in my official role as a councillor.   

I firmly believe in openness and transparency in government – it is after all a key Liberal Democrat principle.  So I fully expected Kingston Council under the new Lib Dem administration to take such requests seriously and answer them in the spirit of open government.

Local people should be able to scrutinise the decisions elected representatives make on their behalf and importantly also how those decision are reached.  In this the seven Nolan principles of public life are vital.  These are: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership and they feature prominently in Kingston Council’s own code of conduct.

Sadly, the response to the Freedom of Information request the Council has released is incomplete. This is not my decision and I would have hoped a Liberal Democrat council committed to openness would feel they have nothing to hide.

For legal reasons I feel unable to share the email in question, given RBK has refused to release it - not once but now twice. However, I can confirm the email (sent by the Lib Dem group secretary about the Murray House decision in July) links who can sit as an alternate on the Scrutiny Panel with the group line - AKA a "whip". 

Local people need to be confident in the decisions their elected representatives make – whether they agree with them or not. It is clear that many committee decisions require a group line to allow the administration to get the job done and their manifesto commitments carried out.

But scrutiny is differentAs scrutiny is residents' last opportunity to have their views heard they need to know they will be listened to - and where decisions have been poorly executed - they can be looked at again.  So councillors have a duty to weigh up the evidence in front of them with open minds. It is why Scrutiny Committees are legally supposed to be non partisan and not pre-determined. It was clear the email undermined this important principle.

In May the public voted to change the way Kingston was being run. There frankly wasn’t a lot of difference between the parties’ manifestos, so the Lib Dems overwhelming victory was down to people seeking a more transparent, open and compassionate team to lead the borough.

The refusal to release this email highlights an unfortunate unwillingness among the Lib Dem leadership to be held accountable for their decisions and be subject to the openness and transparency outlined in the Nolan Principles of public office. 

I believe that enough is enough. Its time for administration to publicly admit they've got this wrong and simply release the email. Kingston Council has been reported to the Information Commissioner at least twice for its lack of transparency on this issue. This is damaging our council's reputation, pure and simple.

If the Lib Dem leadership continue to allow this matter to run and run - they risk having the next three years dominated by campaigns centring on the councils lack of transparency. So it really is time for them to step up and do the right thing.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Radio Jackie interview

I was interviewed earlier today by the lovely Henry Riley at Radio Jackie.  He was epitome of professionalism - particularly as we discussed some particularly difficult issues. You can hear the full interview here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

100 days and counting - an update

Today I am resigning from the Liberal Democrat group on Kingston Council.  I remain a Liberal Democrat and strong supporter of Ed Davey MP and will sit as an independent Lib Dem in the Guildhall.

My reasons for leaving the Lib Dem group are as follows:

After 100 days it is clear there is a lack of vision at the top of the administration.  Manifesto and other commitments have been junked in favour of uninspiring, bureaucratic, more of the same.  It’s as if Kevin Davis is still in charge.  I was particularly upset at Liz Green and other very senior councillors breaking their promises to the elderly residents of Murray House and on the failure to reimburse the initial fines for drivers on Surbiton Crescent which was dismissed without even a feasibility study into the cost.  However, cost wasn’t an issue when dismissing former Chief Executive Charlie Adan.

By resigning the Lib Dem whip I can speak up more strongly for the residents of Alexandra Ward
  • Local school budgets are at breaking point and councillors of all parties need to work together – with Ed Davey MP – to demand a fair deal from government.  Sitting back and wringing hands is not a solution.
  • People in Alexandra and across Surbiton have repeatedly demanded a 20mph speed limit on residential streets – we shouldn’t be wasting money on yet another consultation when it is clear local people want action now.
  • We need real action to cut air pollution.  I’ve argued within the Lib Dem group (and before I became a councillor) that we need to do much more – but my ideas were dismissed.  I will be speaking out in favour of increasing car parking charges for the most polluting vehicles and using this revenue to build up a fund to pay for the radical initiatives we need to make a difference on air pollution.  Initiatives like no idling zones outside schools.
  • I want to see real community engagement on the Tolworth Area Plan.  This important plan will determine the future of Tolworth Broadway and shouldn’t be rushed through by officers.  I have been urging Cllr Malcolm Self to properly consult on this but so far he hasn’t listened.
  • Earlier this year I organised a crime summit with Ed Davey MP, the local police and Alexandra residents.  There has been a spate of burglaries - particularly along the A3 – and we must do more to give the police the support they need.  I’ll continue to back Ed Davey’s campaign to get the Mayor and the Government to properly fund the Met Police.
I know some of my fellow Lib Dem councillors will be let down by my decision – which hasn’t been easy – but I can’t sit back and see all the goodwill the Lib Dems had from local voters be frittered away without making a stand.  There is huge talent and experience among the 38 strong Lib Dem group – particularly among the 26 councillors elected for the first time in May.  But the old heads remain in charge and this talent and creativity isn’t being used properly – instead the officers appear to be in charge.  And that’s bad for democracy.