‘We have failed them dismally’

Bexhill Town Hall SUS-150415-150407001
Bexhill Town Hall SUS-150415-150407001

A councillor says taxpayers in Rother have been ‘failed dismally’ by their local authority, which was chastised by a government minister over its lack of transparency.

Rother District Councillor Stuart Earl called for a meeting after the council received the highly-critical letter from Kris Hopkins MP of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) last month.

The letter accused Rother of failing to publish data on the council’s website in a number of key areas and said Central Government would withhold some funding to RDC.

Several of Rother’s own councillors criticised council leader Carl Maynard, telling the Observer their own questions often went unanswered.

At Monday’s meeting at Bexhill Town Hall, Lord Ampthill (Cons) said it was ‘sad’ that members should ‘run to the press’ - even though some councillors knew nothing of the letter until they were contacted by the Observer.

Cllr Charles Clark (Ind) said the saga had been “badly handled” by council officers.

He said: “If this was a matter for the whole of Rother District Council, why did they not call a meeting of the leaders?

“Residents have been ringing up and saying ‘what’s this all about, there’s no smoke without fire’.

“They think Rother has not been open with them with regards to the council.”

Cllr Sue Prochak (LibDem) highlighted the difficulty in finding information on the RDC website.

Cllr Prochak searched the Hastings and Wealden council websites for information about senior officer salaries and benefits, finding the data with ease within a few clicks.

But after a time-consuming search on RDC’s website, Cllr Prochak eventually found the information she was looking for via a Google search. But even then she could only find band gradings and not specific officer salaries.

Cllr Kathryn Field (LibDem) said one constituent, keen to find information about Rother’s redundancy payments, waded though one online document before finally finding the information she required - on page 46.

Cllr Field said it was “embarrassing” councillors could not provide answers to constituents.

She said: “If the council decided it was confidential information, I would disagree with that but respect the point of view. But the members need to know so we can inform our constituents.”

Cllr Tony Ganly (Cons) said: “It may not be presented in the way the councillor wanted but if it’s there and you take a bit of time, you can find the information.”

Cllr Earl (Ind) said: “What I am so sad about is those who are currently standing for election or re-election have got to stand on the doorstep and be asked by members of the public what is going on and we can’t give answers.

“We are keepers of the public purse. They have every right to ask us how these figures were arrived at.

“When we were elected, we stated to be honest, open and transparent to those who elected us.

“I believe on this occasion we have failed them dismally.”

Councillors backed a motion proposed by Cllr Earl for RDC to put in place procedures to avoid any future noncompliance of transparency regulations.

All of the outstanding information is now available on the RDC website except two items - both awaiting action from Central Government.