Word and deed

PUBLISHED: 16:16 04 December 2008 | UPDATED: 13:46 06 May 2010

SIR, — Please forgive me for troubling you and fellow residents yet again, especially in view of the growing distractions we are daily facing with the deepening credit crunch. I have read that St Albans District Council are intent on offering help in thes

SIR, - Please forgive me for troubling you and fellow residents yet again, especially in view of the growing distractions we are daily facing with the deepening credit crunch. I have read that St Albans District Council are intent on offering help in these hard times, but as many of us are learning, what they say in public and what they do in secret is not necessarily the same thing.

The momentum is growing that the cuts in the conservation team and the proposed further cuts in the planning department are bad news. Others may think that the council is trying to save money in these straitened times by cutting posts and need to discuss these in secret. However these assumptions I have found out are wrong.

Far from cutting posts the council are creating posts. We know we are soon to have a deputy chief executive officer as this was announced several months ago. But did you know we now have an "equalities officer" and a soon-to-be-appointed "sustainability officer" on a salary of circa £25,000 to "be part of the team which is responsible for the integration, development and delivery of sustainable development initiatives......"? I did not.

These two posts alone will use all the savings and more from the conservation cuts. Some may think these posts are necessary, others like me may consider the work could be easily accommodated within the relevant complement of officers in existing departments.

It is widely known now that the conservation team cuts were made in secret. The reason being, according to council leader Robert Donald - when questioned by Cllr Beric Read, chairman of the relevant scrutiny committee at last week's full council meeting - that all matters regarding named personnel had to be in Part 2 (council euphemism for secret) to protect their privacy. Quite understandable until you learn, as I did from Cllr Read's further interjection, that the whole of the conservation team had agreed to waive their anonymity before the scrutiny meeting as they wanted the matter discussed in public. All Cllr Donald could say was, "they didn't ask me".

Is this laissez-faire style the way to treat staff when facing the chop, or indeed residents, some of whom have been quite rightly outraged at these cuts? Especially without the stakeholder consultation the conservation team leader had requested!

Is our council becoming excessively secretive and bureaucratic? I accept there will always be some matters to which we cannot be privy. However I think it timely that a reminder is made to the council that thankfully living in a democracy, we have a right to know, and in cases consulted on, many of the decisions taken on our behalf.

To reinforce my concern over zealous secrecy, at the end of the council meeting last week, the mayor declared unexpectedly that the council would now be moving into Part 2 session. Swiftly my husband and I left the chamber gathering up our coats as we moved out. I was about to put my coat on in the lobby outside when a senior officer emerged from the chamber and politely but very swiftly "escorted" us out of the lobby saying that due to the new microphone system it was possible to hear the councillors from the lobby. I can hardly hear the councillors in the chamber at the best of times even with the new system.

He then positioned himself between us and the door to the lobby as if I might be tempted to bolt back in and eavesdrop. Hopefully, as I know and like the officer concerned, this was unintentional but the body language was clear. Would it not have been more gracious to residents if the microphone systems concerns had been mentioned when asking us to leave the chamber?

I will continue to observe council meetings. I will also continue, when necessary, to ask for more information, as I have on the conservation cuts to Cllrs Chris Brazier and Donald. To date they have not replied. Am I surprised? No I am not in this increasing-secretive atmosphere.

VANESSA GREGORY,

Tennyson Road, St Albans.


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