7 June 2010

Is it corruption or is it daily life?

M&B receives emails from near and far and a common theme is concern about the relationship between Councils and some aspect of the property industry.

In response to criticism of the activities of Councils, specifically local town and parish councils, the regular defence of councillors is that they are volunteers and therefore somehow beyond criticism. But the fact is that volunteers or not, there are rules, regulations and guidelines which are meant to regulate the activities of councillors and councils. If a volunteer ignores a regulation, is that any different to anyone else ignoring a regulation? I'd say not, especially where public funds are concerned. I'd say that volunteer councillors, whilst I applaud their selfless action, are accountable to law and legislation in the same way that any other individual is accountable. Yet they don't seem to be accountable.

The regular theme of emails is that many councillors and councils: act in secret; don't consult; exclude the community; don't disclose interests and, generally, use their positions of influence to promote self-interest. Councils acting like this seem, commonly, to include in their membership councillors with direct or indirect links to the property industry be it as contractors, developers or agents.

What makes the situation more difficult is that the checks and balances that, one assumes, are meant to regulate councillors seemingly don't work. 'Declarations of Interest' which councillors make within Council Meetings are seen as a 'get out of jail free' card. A councillor can have been involved directly or indirectly with a project for months or years and, as long as they declare an interest at the meeting where the project or proposal is discussed, then they are seen to have done no wrong. In the background, if they have failed to 'register an interest' in the Register of Member's Interests (another way that the public might be able to find out what councillors are up to) there is no significant penalty.

So why does government allow this situation to continue, especially when, at present, there is such an interest in 'cleaning up politics'? The answer is that, most probably, the situation within Parish and Town Councils mirrors the situation in Westminster and Parliament. Its all about vested interest and any effort to change that perspective will be met with resistance.

So I guess that the emails will continue.

Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly