28 February 2010

Whither democracy

My recent experience of the democratic process, or, more accurately, the regulation of the democratic process has offered me little comfort with regard to what we may expect of both our elected representatives and of those who are meant to regulate them.

As a result of my Freedom of Information enquiry to Somerset Waste Partnership , I lodged a complaint against ex-County Councillor Pauline Clarke with regard to her activities in acting as a go-between on behalf of Mr A H Canvin and in respect of his development proposal for a Household Waste facility at Badger's Cross. I wasn't very surprised to receive a letter dated 12th February from Somerset County Council's Monitoring Officer, Ms Catherine Witham, informing me that the Assessment Sub-Committee had concluded that there was no evidence to support the complaint.

So, from this decision, it is now fair to assume that all County Councillors are willing to undertake promotional activities for private developers without informing their electorate.

The second interesting enquiry relates to the Register of Member's Interests held at South Somerset District Council and specifically relating to the entry in that Register made by DCllr A H Canvin. In early February, I was informed by the Monitoring Officer at District, Mr Ian Clarke, that DCllr Canvin had been requested to update his entry in the register. On the 5th of February that entry registered 'no interests' and on the 24th February SSDC emailed me the updated Register entry which, again, disclosed 'no interests'. Now, as I understand it (and I'm sure that the legal beagles will correct me if I'm wrong) landholdings comprise an interest which should be declared and, although I'm no expert on these matters, DCllr Canvin does own significant landholdings within the SSDC administrative area. So what do I make of this?

Well, its difficult to understand how such matters are regulated but it does make me wonder just how much faith I can put in the 'Register of Member's Interests' currently held and maintained by SSDC. There are 60 DCllrs sitting on SSDC and I wonder if there are others who, similar to DCllr Canvin, have 'no interests' to declare? Is it that there is no penalty likely to be applied to any oversight with regard to the Register? Its hard to tell but this is just another example of how the electorate, if they care enough to enquire, will find out precious little, leaving them completely in the dark until the planning application falls through their letterbox.

Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly