It would seem that secrecy is becoming more transparent at Boston Borough Council – thanks to something called the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 – which came into force on 10th September.
In the past, certain business items have appeared at the end of the agenda below an announcement that the public and the press will be thrown out and unable to hear the debate.
Now, an additional piece of bureaucracy requires a public notice on the borough website.
Such a notice has been issued for today’s cabinet meeting for items involving the Princess Royal Sports Arena and an “options paper” on closed circuit television – although only the latter is mentioned in the meetings and agendas section of the website.
At its meeting on 10th October, the cabinet authorised the Chief Executive to seek quotations and employ appropriate lawyers to draw up leases for the continuing operation of this sporting white elephant – which has so far swallowed up more than £8 million of taxpayers’ money – and also to review the current constitution of the Boston Sports Initiative in light of the changing requirements of the Charity Commission and the needs of the operator.
Your guess is as good as ours as to what that means – but you can be fairly certain that it involves even more money from Boston council taxpayers being frittered away by a council that seems unable to say no to the PRSA.
At the October meeting, the Chief Executive confirmed that a full report on the matter would be submitted to the appropriate scrutiny committee before being considered by today’s cabinet meeting.
We’ve tried to find some sign that this has occurred, but there have been no appropriate meetings between cabinets – unless, of course, it has been done in secret.
As far as CCTV is concerned, the options could prove interesting.
Back in March council leader Peter Bedford told the authority’s annual budget-setting meeting that it was looking to cut its spending on CCTV provision.
He called for businesses to foot some of the bill – and singled out Boston Mayflower housing association as a particularly "big user" of the cameras to cover its properties in Fenside.
Councillor Bedford said Mayflower had "never paid a fee" and warned: "If they are not going to pay, the cameras will have to be removed."
After the meeting a council spokesman added: "As part of our on-going efficiency programme the council is considering the future of its CCTV coverage of the Fenside Estate.
"Fenside has the highest level of CCTV coverage of any residential area in the borough which, as a consequence of our on-going review, has prompted us to question the value for money these cameras return.
So once again, two major issues affecting the town and its people are being discussed behind closed doors.
However, there may be a silver lining to this latest cloud.
The new regulations require all officers taking “executive decisions” to make a written, publicly available statement of the decision. And this record must also be published on the authority’s website.
The statement must contain details, including the decision, its date and reasons, any alternative options considered and rejected, any conflict of interest declared by any executive member consulted by in relation to the decision and any “note of dispensation” concerning any such conflict of interest granted by the authority’s head of paid service.
We’ll wait to see what happens – though we’re sure that if our leaders can worm their way out of complying with this particular rule they will surely do so.
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