19 August 2009

Transparency and accountability

I can hear the collective yawn as Somertonians read that this blog is about 'transparency and accountability' but give it a chance, I'll keep it brief.

Over the last few months I've come to wonder how Somerton Town Council is regulated, by whom and against what standards. Initially I didn't think that there was any precisely defined answer because Town Councils are of greatly varying sizes and they seek to do different things, depending upon the ideas and ambitions of their members and the communities that they represent. But there is legislation and you can find some very good and informative guidance on the Society of Local Council Clerks website.

In the 'Public Documents' section of the site there is a fine publication titled 'Governance and Accountability - Practitioners Guide' and I would recommend this to all Somertonians, including our Town Councillors and our Town Clerk. The inside front page of this document sets the tone with the following:

Governance [guhv-er-nuhns] noun 14th Century
How local councils ensure that they are doing the right things, in the right way,
for the right people in a timely, inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner.

Accountability [uh-koun-tuh-bil-i-tee] noun 1794
Occurs when local councils that are entrusted with managing public funds to
provide public services explain to their communities how they have discharged
that trust.

And right there you immediately see where Somerton's Town Council deviates from the accepted norms. Do you associate Somerton Town Council with 'inclusivity' or 'openness' or 'honesty'. No, I didn't think so.

The saddest part of this tale is that most of Somerton's Town Council are, essentially, decent men and women. I'm sure that they try, in their own ways, to do their best but they are simply out of touch with their responsibilities. They are quite clueless when it comes to dealing with the network of 'conflicted interests' that is represented by Cllr A H Canvin's participation. And when they do try to set an inclusive, open, honest and accountable course, they face the wrath of Bully&Sidekick.

But there is one other player who deserves a mention here. The Town Council employs a Town Clerk and, in the language of the appointment, the Town Clerk is the 'Responsible Officer'. Its the Town Clerk's responsibility to, amongst other things, know the legislation and advise the Town Council on the appropriateness of its activities. In this regard, alerting the Town Council to 'conflicts of interest' between councillors and the Council, would be one of the Town Clerks duties. And I'll bet you a penny to a pound that Somerton Town Council's Town Clerk has never once advised Somerton Town Council that there might be a conflict of interest between Cllr A H Canvin's business interests and his activities as a councillor.

Till next time, may your God keep you safe.