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News and Comment December 2012

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11 December (Part 2) - Safe houses

Teresa O'NeillBexley council’s Monitoring Officer’s decision to allow eight Bexley Conservative councillors exemption under Section 32 of the Localism Bill such they need not make a declaration in the Register of Members’ Interests has been challenged in two ways.

Firstly an FOI request for their submissions relating to the nature of the “violence and intimidation” allowed by the legislation which could persuade me to rethink my own listing of their addresses. At best the answer is likely to be ‘names redacted’ which will make revisions impractical.

I imagine most councillors have at some time or another received minor abuse but it would have to be very specific to be a real threat. Since Bexley councillors have a track record of reporting even imaginary threats to the police - pitchforks, torches, dog faeces anyone? - I rather doubt that the claims for exemption are anything other than pure fiction.

The second is a plea for exemption for members of the public who are compelled by Bexley council to have their home addresses published irrespective of what risk that may impose on those who ask questions at council meetings. When Mick Barnbrook reported all those fiddling MPs to the authorities the privacy of his address was respected. Bexley council has no such scruples and put him under threat. He has since been treated to what councillor Melvin Seymour wasn’t.

The decision to curtail questioning as much as possible and publish addresses was taken at a special meeting on 27th April 2011 chaired by Controller and purveyor of false information to the police, Teresa O’Neill; the detail being…

• Disallowing the recording of meetings because the result may be edited.
• The mayor may disallow questions from anyone he/she has previously deemed troublesome or in the language of the time, had expressed “parsimonious appreciation”.
• Questions which are in any way similar to another asked within the last six months will not be permitted.
• Residents whose questions are accepted will have their personal details, name and address etc. published.
• Questions relating to staffing levels and salaries will not be permitted.
• Questions about operational matters, i.e. not policy, will be disallowed.
• If the questioner fails to attend the meeting his/her question will be rejected.

Since then unofficial changes have crept in. The current excuse for not recording meetings is, ironically, that the public’s privacy might be compromised. Questions are allowed when the questioner fails to appear but only if the question allows a favourable answer, and most recently, policy questions are disallowed if the answer is likely be prove embarrassing to the council.


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