Is this a game you’re playing?
Following on from my previous posts about the East of England Co-op’s application to build a shop on Queen Street in Stradbroke, and Stradbroke Parish Council’s unanimous (except for one abstention) refusal of planning permission, and the Diss Express’s reports of the issue, I went to Mid Suffolk District Council’s planning web site (still open for comments until 25th February 2015 – go here) and was very surprised to see a letter from Stradbroke Parish Council to MSDC which said that the parish council was supportive of the plans for a Co-op in the village but that it recommended refusal. This, I thought, was very odd. So I went to the recording of the parish council meeting of 9th February to see what was actually said and agreed and, most importantly, voted on. What I have discovered has, and this is no exaggeration, shocked me. Because, although there was a vote on the planning application, there was no vote on the parish council’s response to MSDC on the matter.
Now, and this is relevant, I manage a registered charity which makes grants to many organisations, and if I want to put anything about that charity into the public domain, any such statement must be drafted first and then put to a vote by the board of trustees and passed before I can publish that statement, especially on substantive issues. I would have assumed and hoped and expected that the same process would apply to local governance. The note sent to MSDC does not reflect in any way what was said and, more to the point, agreed by the parish council on 9th February (listen to a recording of the meeting here).
I am expected to run the charity I manage as a business. I am publicly accountable for my actions. I expect other charities, especially ones which wish to be taken seriously and which wish to receive a grant, to be run like businesses, too. I expect a parish council, which comprises members elected by the inhabitants of that parish, to represent the interests of that local community and to run itself like a business. The parish council manages a budget, its accounts have to be audited, it too is publicly accountable, it can make a difference to people’s lives, it is a voice for the populace. This latest episode suggests otherwise. It suggests that here is a parish council which does not understand its role, which is prepared to do things half-heartedly and reluctantly, which is happy to send communications out into the public domain which have not been voted on (and which distort the content of parish council meetings), and which do not voice the serious and justified concerns of the majority of the electorate.
One short excerpt from the parish council’s letter to MSDC reads “The Council would like to see the Co-op work with SCC Highways to try and address the issues highlighted by SCC and look forward to seeing an amended proposal.” At no point during the meeting on 9th February was this what might be interpreted as encouraging comment about the proposal and the suitability of the site in general voiced by the parish council, nor was this what might be interpreted as encouraging stance of the parish council voted upon, nor was there any statement at any point that the parish council would like to see an amended proposal, nor was any such statement voted upon.
In my view, Stradbroke Parish Council’s response to MSDC is wholly unacceptable and should be immediately retracted because it was not agreed and voted on and passed as an official parish council communication to MSDC on what is a very substantive and significant issue. Furthermore, if the minutes of the meeting of 9th February are brought to the council containing passages from the communication to MSDC they should not be passed as true and accurate minutes. It is seriously beyond belief that such blatant misrepresentations can happen in this day and age, especially when everyone knows that parish council meetings are being recorded, that every point of order and process is under the microscope and can be replayed and analysed over and over again.
The truth will out.