Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Questions, questions.

The report that was presented to Sheffield's Cabinet about the leasing of Burbage, Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors raises numerous questions, not least about the way this decision is being handled and the public being informed. Several of the most important issues are not resolved yet the decision is 'final' and Sheffield is now committed to go through with this. These other matters will be apparently resolved at a later date doubtless by being signed off by a Cabinet member. More evidence of the top-down approach of SCC's administration, never keen to subject decision making to the scrutiny of the public gaze.

In the section of the report (5.3 to 5.5) dealing with public responses to the advertising of the proposal reference is made to the objection that .....
The public has not been provided with the opportunity to examine the full terms of the proposed lease.
 ..... and in response to this Council officers and directors claim that "details contained within this report provide a comprehensive overview of the main lease terms" and they go on to refer to "proposals for a Key Partner's (sic) Forum, a Stakeholder Forum and an Annual Meeting open to all interested parties". 

Passing by the obvious questions about which individual is considered to be a Key Partner, how he manages to be the sole constituent of a Forum and what the difference might be between a Partners Forum and a Key Partners Forum, what does the document actually say about these supposed safeguards for the public? 

Well, looking back to section 4.2 under 'Representation' we learn that  ....

The proposed lessees will be required to make proposals for a Key Partner’s Forum, a Stakeholder Forum and for an Annual Meeting open to all interested parties, for the approval of the Council.  The proposals are to cover: frequency of meetings; terms of reference; representation and protocols
 Sounds OK? - and that is what is intended. But wait a bit. All that is being asked of the lessees is that they make proposals. Nothing about the details; all very general. Plenty of scope for this being interpreted in the loosest possible way by those who wish to evade searching questions. Nothing here says what might or might not be acceptable.

All goes to show that those of us who have been asking for reassurance that we get something much better than our experiences before are being fobbed off with a mere sketchy outline that certainly does not amount to a public examination of the full terms. Once again our officers and our supine councillors have given us short change.

Just take one example for now. Could this proposed Annual Meeting turn out to be a guided walk? That is not a joke. SRWT's new Users Forum for Blacka ( happily sanctioned by Chris Heeley author of the present report ) has now had two meetings since 2012. Both have been guided walks!

The point is a really crucial one, a major issue about the way our society chooses to run local governance and whether we are truly a democratic society with public involvement. Checks and balances are vital and there's no better check on the power of vested interests than genuine transparency. That is why all sorts of sophisticated strategems have been developed over the years by private organisations to evade transparency and gull the public. At the same time they are at pains to tell us they are being truly open. These practices and the culture that promotes them have spread well beyond the obvious suspects in large competing corporations to be now commonplace within  our supposedly open and democratic councils and apparently benign charities. These bureaucracies don't like scrutiny*** either and we have an important job to do to be sceptical about their every statement. Sometimes our suspicions may be unfounded but at times they will prove accurate. If they don't like it they know what to do.

It's called transparency.



*** Anyone inclined to be sceptical about the scepticism being expressed here might investigate this link:


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