Monday, 2 October 2017

Open Letter to Northumberland Tory Leader

Dear Councillor Jackson,

Having read your revelation on today’s Chronicle live I believe it shows how completely out of touch you are with the realities of how local government works. In all of your recent public utterances, you have failed to mention once the disastrous settlements your government has given Northumberland but you did mention in a council press release, the 'strong and stable organisation' left by ex CEO Steve Mason. Generating revenue was one of Steven's key assets.  

In your article you inform the public through the Chronicle who’s reporter asks a developer about a proposed loan from the Council. The developer states that he had a conversation with Officers of the Council, who thought it might be a good investment for the Council.

The then process in Local Government terms is that officers would look at the matter in the round and if they thought there was some viability in the process that would either benefit the Council or the people we represent, or hopefully both, would simply write a report for either Cabinet or Council and bring it to the Leader and Portfolio Holder for comments taking their comments to the Risk Appraisal Panel prior to its travel through the public process.

The item in question hadn’t travelled that far, so hadn’t reached myself or my team. We hadn't looked at it or did we have any detail of what the return of such a proposed loan would be to council tax payers.

At full Council in August where you made the first attempt to hit the headlines with this non-story, when challenged and asked to reveal the information in public you said you could not, but would tell Labour in private all about the matter.

My team and I note that your prime obligations to your other life, that of gentleman farmer Jackson who has a harvest to get in money to make, so when you didn’t bother to arrange a meeting with either myself or my team, we took that, not as a snub, but that the business you run takes precedence over the organisation you are democratically elected to serve. You may wish to consider your priorities in the future?

With the timetable of Council, where democratic scrutiny seems to come a distant second in the Conservative mind set, and now, seemingly, being geared towards the agricultural calendar with meetings being cancelled to suit crops and animals, we have a conundrum. Will you live up to your claim that you will be the most transparent council in the history of transparency? We now know why your Business Chair of Council, Councillor Dodd presented me with a copy of the Farmers Weekly at a meeting of full council. Looking back it was more than a subtle hint.

Tory sensationalism aside, I believe this open letter covers a process where I shouldn’t have to tell my granny how to suck eggs but that so many harvests have passed since you led Castle Morpeth, you may have 'forgotten' that even in difficult financial times that the process of report writing and democratic accountability is a matter of due process for a functioning council.

In the near future as the Leader of Council, you will have to make similar decisions towards Council business as Labour Group and I made on matters such as the purchase of PFI’s for Northumbria Healthcare and loans to build new hospitals in Berwick etc., where officers, many of whom still work under your administration investigated matters and wrote reports then followed due process. I hope you will consider the council's constitution when you do this.

I’m sure if you contact the Tory led Local Government Association they will send you a copy of their up to date handbook on how to be a councillor or you want to return to the independent Peer Review by the LGA on the council in 2013. It makes for interesting reading particularly about the council's finances and then 'small number of opposition members' behaviour towards creating reputational damage towards the council. 

Yours Sincerely

Grant Davey

Leader of Labour Group

Northumberland County Council

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