Saturday Satire. What’s Going On Behind The Closed Doors At Our Council?

The culture of secrecy around some local decision making in WLBC is preventing the public from understanding how their council tax is being spent and the risks involved.

There is a worrying lack of transparency and accountability being exposed. And asking about it often infuriates, even stresses, our jobsworths. Why should the public, people, have to battle for openness and scrutiny? They are, after all, available to us because the WLBC Website, A-Z T for Transparency takes us to Open Data, which in the public sector is about increasing transparency and sharing the information we hold with the wider community. It’s all listed, below. So why the reticence?

Council expenditure; Procurement information; Payment Performance; Organisation chart, salaries and pay policy; Fraud, Details of the anti-fraud information that the Council has to publish under Transparency requirements; Land and property ownership; Social housing assets; Trade union facilities; Council constitution and meetings; Council tax; Elections; Jobs; News and press releases.

Perhaps it is employees further down the pecking order wanting advancement? Whatever, the losers are taxpayers. Moving on…From Jacqui Sinnot-Lacey 9 November 2020

“Many thanks for your email on the 27th October. Further to your correspondence on the Council’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, I have set out relevant details below.

“The Council has provided a large scale package of financial support for our local economy, with the main initiative being cash grant funding for businesses, and so far this year £21.5m has been paid out. We have also reduced the business rate bills that our businesses have to pay and the cost of the reliefs and discounts provided this year is expected to be £9.9m. This demonstrates the Council’s commitment to helping local businesses in the current challenging financial climate.

“Additional spending on our Covid response this year is expected to be £1.7m. This covers a wide range of expenditure including: providing food to vulnerable residents; supporting homeless people; providing advice, guidance and support to residents and businesses; and spending to enable service provision to continue such as the provision of PPE, enabling home working, and additional vehicles.

“In terms of the Council’s usable reserves, it is important to recognise that the majority of this funding has already been allocated to specific projects such as the redevelopment of Skelmersdale Town Centre and the provision of two new leisure centres in Ormskirk and Skelmersdale. In addition there are also statutory restrictions on how these funds can be used, for example Housing Revenue Account monies can only be used on the Council’s housing stock and its tenants (such as continuing to build new Council housing), and the Capital Receipts Reserve can only be used for capital spending on long term investment in assets or for the repayment of debt. Details on the Council’s reserves policy are reported to the February Council meeting each year to ensure proper scrutiny and transparency.

“We are closely monitoring new developments and will look to put in place further measures as appropriate to respond to a rapidly changing situation”.

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Response to J S-L 10 November 2020 “Thank you. It seems I am not making my point clear enough, which is that the history of the West Lancashire Borough Annual Accounts has not, to my knowledge, ever shown reductions of the “useable reserves” of the scale or order you mention.

“They should perhaps best be described as “allocated reserves” with details of what they are allocated to, so that we council tax payers know we can’t seek the use of them for temporary and humanitarian support for those in need during a pandemic the like of which I have never known in my 81 years.

“But to return to your Covid response, it will be the government that funds your £1.7m spending, yet more taxation, necessary but hopefully temporary.

“You mention long term debt requiring long term investment in assets. Again, that isn’t relevant to present needs. Nor is mention of new leisure centres in Ormskirk and Skelmersdale, especially in view of the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill royalty scandal. If ever there was a need for full, open, public, proper scrutiny and transparency you mention it is that appalling continuing episode.

“But you know I’ve been deemed to be vexatious about that subject, so that’s my last word on it to any WLBC Officer. In public it will be ongoing!”.

And it will. There is no reason for our local public servants to be obstructive or secretive, we pay them to be transparent. Which is where we came in!
If you believe this, a local need and a local response are incompatible. That can’t be right?

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