This afternoon, at 2pm precisely, the great democratic process of Salford City Council swung into top gear with its Sustainable Regeneration Scrutiny meeting. The forum was set to discuss Central Salford URC's much maligned Irwell River Park project, amongst other things. And everyone was invited to ask questions…
…Except that there are no relevant papers to be found anywhere on the web page… No `Report from last meeting'…No `Report on the Irwell River Park Project'… No reports on anything. How can we ask questions on things we have absolutely no information about? Are we supposed to be psychic?
Still, it could be worse…anyone who wishes to look up info on the equally badly titled `Strategy and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee' will find absolutely nothing at all – not even an agenda or a web page…
That's what we like – democracy at its best. In Salford.
Meanwhile, more and more of Salford Council's more juicy business is being discussed in committees under what it calls `Part 2', which means that the public and press is excluded, and no paperwork is shown at all.
Things like the discussions around the huge loan given to the Salford Reds Stadium, the finances of the Central Salford URC, Council financial dealings with the New Deal for Communities, extra payments to Council employees – in fact, most things that have a financial element are taken away from any accountability and scrutiny… and all people get to see is a `decision notice' which has only the scantiest details on it – except to say that it's gone through and been approved. And by that time, it's too late.
Alan Westwood, Salford City Council's Strategic Director for Customer and Support Services, who is the officer responsible for how the council conducts its business, said: "It is an exception for the council to conduct its business in private but there are specific provisions within the Local Government Act which allow us to do that as some matters may be confidential.
"There are good reasons for these provisions and the law is there to protect the interests of the council and taxpayers, as well as those of third parties where necessary. On the occasions when it is justifiable for the council to discuss matters in private, we are still obliged by the Act to weigh up the public interest. Is the public interest better served by the matter being discussed privately or by it being discussed publicly?
"In the cases you are interested in, the decision was made because the nature of the business to be discussed would have included matters that were commercially confidential and the public interest was best served by that being discussed privately."
We would argue that they were `best served' by the public being kept in the dark. A £20million loan to Salford Reds Stadium - shouldn't we know about it, without having to rely on leaks? It is our money after all…
Date Tuesday 25 May 2010
Location THE SALFORD SUITE, SALFORD CIVIC CENTRE
B Part 2 Items not open to the Public
B1 Exclusion of The Public
B2 Community Stadium