Wednesday, 8 July 2009
Memo to Nick Walkley: You work for us
Not The Barnet Times is alarmed to have received word that a reporter for the London Daily News website was apparently instructed by Barnet’s Chief Executive Nick Walkley (pictured hard left) to turn off his recording device at tonight’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Overview & Scrutiny Committee, which was considering the report into the council’s Icelandic investments.
Whilst there are signs outside the meeting rooms in the Town Hall advising that the recording of meetings is not permitted, council officials have clearly forgotten that we live in a democracy and the public have a right to know what is going on - especially in this instance where £27.4 million of our money was recklessly deposited in failing banks.
Other councils are happy to embrace modern technology and broadcast meetings live on the internet and also make podcasts available for download. But in Barnet, we are treated like mushrooms and kept in the dark. As a result of the journalist being required to turn off his equipment, he was unable to accurately report the details of the meeting because his article suggests that Deloitte’s exonerated Mike Freer and the other Members of the Cabinet Resources Committee, which they did not. Not by a long shot.
Yesterday, it was widely reported that the former Cabinet Member for canapés, Brian Coleman, was refusing to publish details of his GLA expenses. The London Evening Standard quoted Coleman as saying: “I won't do it voluntarily. It's none of the public's business.”
Coleman’s comments are symptomatic of the unhealthy culture of secrecy which permeates through every fibre of the council’s being. It goes without saying that dinosaurs like Coleman should not be allowed to run for public office again. But if the Chief Executive believes that residents are only entitled to read the council’s sanitised version of proceedings then he, too, should forfeit his place at the public trough.
POST SCRIPT: If you need just one good reason as to why council meetings should be recorded, it is this. When the Cabinet was discussing indemnities for officers during the Underhill investigation, they agreed to provide the money on condition that it was repaid if any wrongdoing was found. When the minutes of the meeting were published, the wording had been altered so that the indemnity would only have to be repaid if the people involved were found guilty of wilful misconduct - which was something quitte different.
For months the council denied that the minutes had been altered, but in the end it acknowledged that the wording had been changed. This council simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth, and in the interest of democratic accountability here should be audio/visual recordings of every council meeting.