I am not saying individuals shouldn't challenge those in authority, I am just trying to remind them that they do so as individuals. If you want your voice to count as more than an individual, you need to win an election.
One clear thing that the Wi-fi debacle proved is that just because you are a Member of the Council (a Councillor to you and me) it does not mean you can influence the decisions taken by the few.
Just how many of the then 59 Councillors knew about the Wi-fi pRoject?
Just two of them, not even the Cabinet were briefed.
This was an arbitrary decision taken by just two people, but the question we must all ask is WHY was it necessary to be so damned secretive about it? We know the EXCUSE was one of 'Commercial Sensitivity' but was this really necessary because the Competition might ridicule it for lack of Capital to be invested or was it to protect the egos of those involved? I wonder if those two Councillors and subsequently the Cabinet would have been so enthusiastic with 'investing' our money in this joke of an enterprise had they been liable to Surcharge for the value of the lost investment?
The Decision to hand over the second tranche of £250,000 was taken at Cabinet on March 31st 2010 and here are the minutes.From the Cabinet Minutes March 31st 2010
PRESENT:- Councillors Roderick Bluh (Chair), Fionuala Foley (Vice-Chair),
Mark Edwards, Peter Greenhalgh, Colin Lovell, Brian Mattock, Garry Perkins,
David Renard and Keith Williams.
Mr. Richard Symonds, Shaw, Swindon
I would like to ask the Cabinet, and each Cabinet Member, if you make the
decision recommended in Agenda item 6 are you prepared to be jointly and
individually liable and responsible for any losses incurred should this company fail?
The Chair thanked Mr. Symonds for his question. He advised that the
Cabinet was required to make decisions involving significant amounts of
expenditure all the time, and always did so with care and after careful consideration
of the risk involved. It acted in the best interests of the Council and local residents.
This project represented a new approach to investment for the Council and this, and
the greater risk that was associated with such an investment, was recognised.
However, due to the constraints on local government funding and the budget
pressures facing the Council, new ways of delivering services and of raising income
had to be considered. This project provided an investment opportunity that had the
potential to deliver savings in the Council’s costs greater than its investment, bring
in additional income from a potentially hugely successful project and company, and
have significant benefits for local residents. It is the Cabinet’s role to make difficult
decisions and to be accountable for its actions. Cabinet Members, technically,
would not be personally liable if the company failed.
Mr. Symonds, in a supplementary question, asked whether it would not be better for this matter to be referred to the full Council meeting so that all Councillors could be involved in the decision?
The Chair reiterated that he believed it was the Cabinet’s role to make
decisions on this matter and to be accountable for its actions. The Cabinet always
sought to do what it believed was in the best interests of Swindon. He advised that
there had been significant favourable feedback regarding this project, particularly
from the business sector. It was disappointing that its success and the benefits it
would bring for many residents and the local economy was now being put at risk by
wrangling not over the project but over the internal process adopted within the
Council to approve it. He referred to the security that the Council had to protect its
loan and that even if the project did fail the Council’s interests were protected by the
terms of the loan agreement. He reiterated that the Council did not wish to see the
project fail rather it wished to see it succeed and deliver real benefits to the Council
and local residents.
Rod Bluh's answer to my first question, differed in reality from the record in that he only said these words 'No we are not' and then sat down. Rod Bluh certainly did not thank me for my question and you wonder why this is still so fresh in my memory Spunky?
As we know the rest is history, but what upsets me about this whole unsavory business is that at no time did those involved seem to pause and think and then having committed us to it did absolutely nothing that is apparent to protect the investment made on our behalf. Perhaps the above replies might provoke further discussion?
At the time the then Lead Member for Finance, Mark Edwards, said in his budget speech that the Council could no longer afford to just look to Council Tax as its sole means of income and therefore had to look at other means. In this he meant the likes of Wi-fi and it is interesting to note that no mention has been made of this policy since!!
Now back to influence in Council.
So getting elected does not mean you get to be briefed about anything and when I do get elected I would not expect to be part of the inner sanctum but that will not stop me from doing my best to represent the people who elected me and that means asking searching questions, which I shall continue to do that is not in the better interest of the people of Shaw in particular and Swindon in general.