Back in March of this year, Internal Audit in it’s quarterly report (see page 8) made it clear there were twenty four active procurement cards [read credit card] issued to Council Officers to allow them to purchase goods and services.
On June 8 2022, nearly six weeks ago, Charlotte Spendley (pictured) – the s151 officer who is the statutory officer responsible for the council’s finances and money – made it clear there was a gap in the Transparency data the council must publish, For near on eight years the Council has not published the data for their procurement cards, even though this became a statutory obligation in 2014. So eight years worth of data, hidden from the public; which we believe is not very transparent of the council at all.
We ask what is taking Ms Spendley and her team so long to upload this data?
Given there are officers suspended, and there are a number of investigations into financial and contractual issues relating to procurement, this data should be released as a matter of urgency to dispel any possibility of potential further wrongdoing by council officers.
The longer this takes, the more the residents of the Folkestone & Hythe District might suspect that something nefarious could be going on. After all, the Council have had eight years worth of opportunity to comply with the Transparency Code – first introduced in 2014 – but have somehow overlooked this necessity to publish this data.
In the same report issued by Internal Audit, it made clear the council’s website and the staff intranet should be updated to include the current version of the Procurement Strategy, and also the result of the monitoring that is being carried out, to ensure compliance with it. Yet as of today we note this has not happened.
We are not aware of any Cllr, regardless of their political affiliation, who is pressing for this data to be released. They are after all the guardians of the public purse, and ought to ensure the council publish all the data – in accordance with their statutory obligations – and that instructed by the Internal auditor, sooner rather than later.
This lack of transparency and compliance comes as no surprise to The Shepway Vox Team, nor we suspect to many residents of the district.
Ever since the local elections in 2019, there have been more meetings held behind closed doors than ever before. This is because there has been a higher use of working groups, such as the Folkestone Town Centre Working Group, the Climate and Ecological Emergency Working Group, and the Task and Finish Group – Waste Contract, for example. These are not broadcast via the council’s webcast system and the public can only see the minutes, which of course, say very little.
If faith is to be restored in local democracy, then all Cllrs should push for more transparency rather than less. They should renege on hiding behind closed doors when there is no necessity to do so.
We suspect in the run up to the local elections in May 2023, we’ll here lots from the incumbent cllrs about how well they’ve done, and all their successes, but let us remind them all, regardless of party, you have overseen the darkest days of democracy in our district. It is time you allow the disinfectant of sunlight into each and every corner of our council. Until this happens, trust in local democracy will continue to ebb away, just as it has at national level.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful