John Clark writes…
First published: June 2013 – Gazette & Herald
Who does the council belong to? Does it belong to the officers? Often that impression is given. Does it belong to the councillors? Often that impression is given. Does it belong to the people? Usually no.
This doesn’t just apply to Ryedale District Council, many councils are similar. It applies most often when there is a powerful controlling group or when this group is weak and pushed around by the officers. The result is the same. Things are done that wouldn’t normally be tolerated; slush funds created; toys for councillors; votes taken so that councillors can go home rather than allowing issues to be debated; councillors taking on paid council positions and then announcing they haven’t the time to do them.
Some of these may sound familiar. One little trick on some councils is that councillors make themselves invisible. The council website says Councillor Smith. His address and telephone number are both given as the Town Hall. This achieves complete control for the Council. When the public are cross about a development or a school or some other issue, they can’t make direct contact with their councillor. Contacting their councillor in confidence about Council business is impossible.
The latest piece of council control comes in the form of councillors email addresses. Councils now insist on councillors having council email addresses. This means that the council can monitor, censor and control all the electronic communications between councillors and their residents. On this basis confidential information is no longer confidential. No wonder RDC (and central government) are keen on forcing councillors to go down that route.
I have asked to be taken off this control system. Will they please publish my email address as JohnClark@RyedaleLiberals.org.uk? So far the answer is no, you have to go down our ‘route’. You must use our council computer, with our address etc. I have a simple one word answer for that “No, No and No.”
A council computer can only be used by the councillor for council business. This is understandable. However it does mean that the councillors business, personal or voluntary work would have to be on another computer. If the councillor uses their own computer and their own email address they can use just one computer (their own) and file each lot of information separately. This would keep issues confidential, involve just one computer and save Ryedale council tax payers £20,000.
What is the reason given by RDC for this expensive system? They say “When we put confidential material onto an email it must stay confidential.” In other words they are the only important people and theirs is the only important confidential material. This implies; confidentiality is not important for the public; confidentiality is not important for the councillor; confidentiality is of course vital for the council. Back to the original question. Who does the council belong to?
P.S. The latest email from NYCC states “there will be a survey in relation to members ICT equipment needs. The conclusion from the pilot will be used to put together a business case for……..”. Here we go again.