Saturday, 23 May 2009

Council clams up on the day communal bins reach Walpole Terrace

Unbelievable, isn't it. On the day a shiny new communal bin turns up in Walpole Terrace, I hear that the hapless cabinet member responsible for the new rubbish regime is refusing to answer councillors' questions.
And not just once - he's said he won't answer any in future, too.

Green councillor Jason Kitcat has been doggedly pursuing faults in the new communal bins at council and cabinet meetings, raising concerns about noise, ease of use, cost to the local taxpayer, the bins' impact on recycling - and future plans for the bins.

Geoffrey Theobald, the cabinet member responsible, has never been over the moon about facing such such scrutiny: but has, generally, tried, at least, to answer Jason's questions: but it all changed on Thursday, when he gave a single answer to five questions about the negative fallout from rolling the bins out, saying he would neither answer the questions, nor any in future.

In his written reply, he says:

I firmly believe that the interests of the hard working Council Tax payers of Brighton & Hove is better served with officer time and resources being spent in delivering the service rather than having to research and answer an endless list of questions that add no value to the service.

I have always treated questions from Members and the public with respect and answered them. However, given what I have just said, and having taken advice, I do not feel it would be appropriate to continue to reply to a constant and endless list of questions on this subject from one Member.

And concludes:

I do not therefore intend to answer your questions on communal bins.

I'm not sure where this leaves us, to be honest. It's apparently every councillor has a right to ask questions on behalf of residents at cabinet and council on any aspect of service delivery - but there is no commensurate duty on cabinet members to actually answer them.

If we can't get answers as elected members it proves to me the this Tory administration has decided the best way to avoid difficult discussions or any scrutiny of the way, for example, communal bins are managed, is to shut down debate.

Hardly an open and transparent approach to local government. Is it any wonder most people are disengaging with a political process mired in sleaze, scandal and opacity.

Perhaps the way forward, if the Tories are refusing to answer questions from Green councillors, is for the same questions to be asked using the Freedom of information Act - making any future refusal to discuss the issues a breach of law.

You can see the bizarre spectacle of Jason being allowed to ask so-called supplementary questions even when the first weren't answered in the clip below. The first viewer to spot the Tories' confirmation that they aren't bothered about improving the city's recycling rates gets a special prize!

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