Two massive banners currently hang at the front entrance to the Civic Centre listing the 'Great Eight' that are "Creating a better and fairer Salford". One eighth of the slogan refers to 'A transparent effective organisation'...Anyone who has had any dealings with Salford City Council might well object.
This week alone there have been two important decisions, the details of which have been kept totally secret. First up was a 'memorandum of understanding' concerning "potential proposals for the future use of Buile Hill Mansion and former Parks Depot", signed by City Mayor, Paul Dennett, yesterday.
Before the Property and Regeneration Briefing that rubber stamped the 'understanding' there was absolutely nothing in the public domain, bar the agenda item itself.
Afterwards, a decision notice was posted on the Council's website stating that approval had been given "for Salford City Council to enter into a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Salford Red Devils Foundation and Capital and Centric", noting that "it will allow Salford Red Devils Foundation and Capital and Centric Group to sufficiently develop their proposals"....
Proposals for what? Despite Buile Hill Park being a 'public' park, and despite Buile Hill Mansion being a 'publicly owned' mansion, the community is being kept in the dark... "The relevant documents contain exempt or confidential information and are not available for public inspection" sniffs the decision notice.
The Salford Star understands that the deal includes the developer building houses in the park on the site of the old greenhouses and stables and, in return, the Mansion will be handed to a consortium, led by Salford Red Devils Foundation, fired by National Lottery grants, for potential community use.
However, these kind of deals, done behind closed doors, lead to suspicion within the community, particularly when no-one else has been included or consulted.
Today, the Deputy Salford Mayor has been busy approving a 'business case' for Derive, the Council's 'wholly-owned housing/development company' which is set to use millions of pounds of public money for community housing.
Nothing wrong with that, except the total secrecy that surrounds the finances and plans. The details were hidden from the public, with a public 'checklist' answering the question 'Is there a clear and coherent reason why the community in general would benefit more from information being withheld?' with a sharp 'Yes'.
The only justification the Council gives is that the document 'Contains commercially sensitive information'...
The Salford Star understands that the Council has set aside £2million of its £3million 'anti-poverty strategy' budget for the housing project. But the only details on a Derive project so far, is a plan to buy eight homes built by Great Places Housing Group in Duchy, a mere four of which will be for social rent, while the other four will be for the more expensive 'affordable rent' (80% of market rent). There might well be more housing in the pipeline – but no-one from the community is allowed to know.
Meanwhile, tomorrow, there is a report being considered by the Council's Audit and Accounts Committee, which states "The achievement of the Council's corporate objectives requires all areas of the Council to work effectively and efficiently in its use of resources whilst demonstrating transparent governance arrangements..."
The Draft Internal Audit Plan measures Salford Council deeds against its 'Great Eight', including 'A Transparent effective organisation'; and, under 'Governance
Arrangements' lists the risks of non-compliance... "Loss of accountability; lack of corporate ownership of decision-making; and possible failure to deliver the expected level of services to residents..."
On the evidence of Salford Council actions this week alone - never mind failure to make developers' viability assessments public, failure to make information available even under the Freedom of Information Act and constant secrecy of reports - the community might just take its 'Great Eight' banner with a pinch of salt, if not offence...