31 December 2009

What do they stand for?

Having received what can be assumed to be the first batch of election literature, this has made me wonder how any candidate could convince me that theirs was a 'safe pair of hands'. Its a tough ask because we have plenty of experience, both locally and nationally, of politicians and representatives seeking our vote then executing their own individual and exclusive agendas.

Whilst its very comforting and seductive to read that someone 'cares about the community', what is much more important, after the charade of the last few years, is whether or not candidates (when elected) understand the rules governing their activities as councillors.

Who will set the standards of behaviour within the 'new' Town Council, especially when so many councillors will be completely new to the work of being a councillor and unused to their new responsibilities?

What point is there in a 'code of conduct' if it isn't understood, respected and enforced? The 'conflicts of interest' that were so evident within the Council pre 27th October went unaddressed by any of the then councillors or by the Town Clerk. There was an almost complete absence of competitive tendering with regard to the so called 'community hall' project (predicted in public by the then Chair of the Council, Cllr Keenan in November of 2006) and that went unaddressed by any of the then councillors or by the Town Clerk.

The 'experienced' councillors, Neale and Harrison, cannot be relied upon to set the highest standards of conduct because they turned a blind eye to the activities which were commonplace within the Council pre 27th October. Sadly, the same can be said for the Council's 'responsible officer', the Town Clerk, Roger Calderwood.

So our new councillors, when elected, will be very much on their own, inexperienced and without any guidance as to how they should behave. In such a circumstance, it will be hard to blame any of them if they get it wrong and it will be in the interests of the rump of the old Council, Messers Neale, Harrison and the Town Clerk, to allow them to make mistakes which could be then interpreted as the new councillors sharing the low standards of the previous administration.

So when I read about candidates 'caring for the community', it gives me little comfort. What I hope is that the successful candidates, when elected, will seek out sources of credible advice such as the National Association of Local Councils, and ensure that Somerton Town Council affiliates to that organisation and signs up to its standards. I hope that the successful candidates, when elected, will read the code of conduct and take it seriously. I hope that, when elected, the successful candidates will appreciate that declaring interests in the Register of Members Interests isn't the 'optional activity' that the Town Clerk currently believes it to be.

The forthcoming election will only be a very faltering first step along a road littered with obstacles. It is going to take real courage for the new councillors to challenge to poor standards of behaviour embraced by the previous administration. I hope that they have the courage.

Till next time.