Since the local elections of May 2019, which ushered in 13 Tory Cllrs, 6 Labour Cllrs (one later became an Independent) 6 Green Cllrs and 2 Lib Dem Cllrs, 2 UKIP Cllrs and 1 Independent, the number of meetings held behind closed doors is at its highest level ever.
There have been 200 meetings (not including Q & A sessions run during Covid) of these two hundred meetings, forty five of them have taken place behind closed doors which is more than one in five meetings but not quite one in four. These meetings are
Folkestone Town Centre Working Group
Otterpool Park LLP – Members/Owners
Otterpool Park Working Group
Corporate Plan Working Group
Governance Working Group
Folkestone Parks and Pleasure Grounds Charity
Many of the opposition Cllrs campaigned on platforms of Openness and Transparency as part of their election campaign, yet soon after they were elected began sitting on Working Groups which hide behind closed doors. The Tories have hardly ever espoused openness and transparency
Secrecy creates an environment where the potential for the lack of accountability and abuse of power creates and encourages the public to be skeptical of discussions and decisions made behind closed doors.
Of course, there have been an increasing number of agenda items within meetings which have also excluded the public. The Council all too often citing paragraph(s) 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 for example.
Hiding behind closed doors and pretending to represent the residents of the district does not encourage openness and transparency, especially when those decisions are about Princes Parade and Otterpool. All to often the council claim commercial confidentiality to justify excluding the public from meetings. We can see that on occasions this might be justified but we believe that in the vast majority of cases the public interest of openness and transparency should outweigh the council’s commercial interests.
We doubt if Cllrs will withdraw from these meetings behind closed doors before the next local elections. As such, they ought to fully understand why so many residents are skeptical of their actions, especially when they renege of election promises.
The Shepway Vox Team
The Velvet Voices of Dissent