Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dismissed with a wave of the hand

That's it. With a disimissive wave of his hand, Leicester City Council's Director of Legal Services has consigned our concerns about openness and transparency to the bin.

Like an exasperated Victorian parent faced with one question too many from a recalitrant child, the director has answered: 'Because I say so.'

He repeats his assertion that there is no unlawful blanket policy of taking discussions of certain sorts of financial information into private and refers me back to his original letter without dealing with any of the details we put before him.

'At the Cabinet meeting on 3rd August, when your reporter was present, I explained clearly the presumption that all business must be dealt with in public unless there are good reasons why information in a report should be dealt with as “exempt” and that the public interest in maintaining a statutory exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing information.'

And so he did. But, once again, he doesn't explain how the 'balancing' act between openess and privacy was done. That, in my view, is because it wasn't.

It would have been quite easy to set it out with a list of the things which were said to be on the side of openess, followed by a list of the those which demanded secrecy and an explanation of why. But it's not going to happen. The director has spoken.

So, is that it? Well, possibly not. As I mentioned before, the leader of the city council, Councillor Ross Wilmott, also wrote to me and although he said much the same as the council's legal advisor, he did at least offer to meet with me to discuss the situation. I've accepted, suggesting that we meet one to one. Councillor Wilmott is, of course, the key to all of this - as leader of the council he could easily persuade those around him to be more open and I will take the opportunity to ask in detail the questions we have already raised in the hope of persuading him that the decision on Bowstring could have been taken more in the open and that, in future, a more rigorous questioning of reasons given for meeting in private might lead to more transparency.