Fringe Box



Bad Tempered Debate on Transparency Gives Clear View of Bad Blood

Published on: 10 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 12 Oct, 2018

Cllrs Tony Rooth and Paul Spooner

A bad-tempered Guildford Borough Council (GBC) meeting revealed the bad blood that remains between the Tory leadership and Cllr Tony Rooth (Ind, Pilgrims) who quit the Conservative Group at Millmead in May to become an Independent.

Today (October 10, 2018) Tony Rooth said: “In 15 years on the council, I have never seen such disregard and disinterest from the council leadership, and many councillors, in letting our residents get involved in council decision making and know what’s going on.

“I was ridiculed for requesting more council democracy, transparency and accountability to avoid bad decisions like the “Pop Up Village” which has lost £1.1 million. We need residents to help get it right – councillors don’t have a monopoly of good ideas.”

Council Leader Paul Spooner (Con, South Ash & Tongham) responded: “I was hoping that Cllr Rooth would reflect on his motions, amendments and comments and upon reflection understand why many of his former colleagues, as well as opposition councillors, reacted in the way they did. Clearly and sadly that has not happened.”

In a long council meeting, punctuated by verbal spats, things came to a head in a debate on a motion put forward by Cllr Rooth asking the council to declare support for the Local Government Transparency Code. The motion called for the council to agree to “the establishment of an external independent review of the council’s compliance with the code and its principles, reporting back to Overview and Scrutiny Committee and then the Executive.

The “Secret State” Times editorial from Saturday, October 6

In the ensuing debate, the verbal sniping was not limited to exchanges between the leadership and Rooth. Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) was also singled out for criticism.

Rooth opened with a dig at Guildford Borough Council’s deputy leader: “Transparency, as I am sure Cllr Furniss knows, in a governance context, is honesty and openness. Transparency and accountability are generally considered the two main pillars of good corporate governance.”

But, Cllr Rooth said, his residents complained that they did not know what was going on at GBC and went on to refer to an article published on Saturday in the Times entitled “Secret State” which had listed examples of local councils preventing the normal reporting of their proceedings. He wanted Guildford Borough Council to avoid being seen in the same light.

Cllr Angela Gunning (Lab, Stoke) was concerned about the lack of time given to prepare for the debate. She said: “I appreciate Cllr Rooth’s concerns but I feel that the detail of the background that has been given to us, and I am sure it is all good stuff, but I’m trying to read it in an order paper at quarter past nine at night while we’ve had heavens knows how much other business to do and I feel I can’t do this justice.”

“I don’t think discussing it at this time of night, off the cuff, off an order paper, is the right place to do it and I think it should come straight to a scrutiny committee for consideration to look at.”

Cllr David Reeve

But David Reeve (GGG, Clandon & Horsley) said he had: “…a sneaking suspicion that we are much less transparent than we appear on paper. Let me give you a few examples: Dongying and the twinning arrangement. That got a very long way down the track before anyone was aware of it even, I understand … that one of the members of the twinning working group said that the first they had heard of it was at the same time as everyone else at the council.

FoI [Freedom of Information] requests… there is a suspicion out there that FoI requests are not taken seriously and we use the facilities provided in the legislation to turn them down. I myself have submitted two FoI requests, one before I was a councillor and one after.”

Both had been turned down. The first in Cllr Reeve’s view, “…totally contrary to the provisions and the published guidance by the Information Commission”. The second, according to Reeve, was only accepted when, as a councillor, he had “…made a fuss about it. I think there is an instinct for a lack of transparency.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Reeve’s party colleague Susan Parker (GGG, Send) thought Tony Rooth’s motion a “superb initiative”. She said: “I think we have an obligation to have democracy in public. Unlike Parliament, she said, GBC held a lot of meetings of committees and working groups behind closed doors.

“The decisions of the council are often perceived, rightly or wrongly, as opaque.”

The public: “…have a right to see what we are discussing… and we have an obligation to them, to show them what we are thinking and actually discuss things in public. We shouldn’t be just rubber stamping something that is presented to us.

“The officers do a good job, they work hard, I am not criticising the officers but I am sure that as far as the officers are concerned quite often the elected representatives are an irritation but we are here to be an irritation that is our job. We are here to ask questions. We are here to throw a light on what’s going on. That’s why we are elected.”

Cllr Matt Furniss

Next to speak was Deputy Leader Matt Furniss (Con, Christchurch). He opened by saying that he thought some of Cllr Parker’s comments were “outrageous” adding that he thought the council officers “do an excellent job and any denigration of that is frankly appalling”. There was some head scratching. Cllr Parker had praised the officers.

Incensed, Parker interrupted, saying: “As a point of order, I didn’t criticise the officers in any way shape or form.” But Cllr Parsons, as mayor chairing the meeting, did not redress the issue, and simply urged the angry councillor to be quiet by repeating her name.

Furniss continued saying that GBC already complies with the Transparency Code, referred to in Cllr Rooth’s motion and that the council already appoints independent auditors to review compliance.

Cllr Richard Billington

The Deputy Mayor, Cllr Billington (Con, Tillingbourne) then decided to weigh in. He said: “A less charitable man than me might think he had sat through the last 20 minutes listening to a load of sanctimonious tosh. Cllr Rooth said he is under pressure from his residents who are asking, “What is going on?” Well, they are so concerned we have got an empty public gallery… if they are all so concerned how come they are not beating them off at the door?

“To use the term “Secret State,” I think is disgusting. There’s no Secret State here and I think everyone here knows that.

“We don’t have direct democracy in this country… We have representative democracy. You are here to make decisions guided by wider interests of the borough and your own residents which if you are doing your jobs properly you should know.”

Council Leader Paul Spooner, having mentioned that he agreed with what his Executive colleagues had already said, added: “I believe we do try our level best both as officers and as members, not just the Executive but as the majority group, to try and be as open as possible, with the majority, if not all councillors, to make sure they are all broadly aware of what’s going on.

“What we should try and do is always be open and on that basis why on earth has this come as a motion for review at the last minute today?” He concluded by suggesting it would have been more sensible for the matter to have gone through one of the council committees first.

A request for a recorded vote having failed, the councillors voted by a show of hands. The motion was heavily defeated, the only votes in favour coming from the two-member Independent group and the three-member GGG group.

Further reports on yesterday’s full GBC meeting will be published over the next few days. Please check back.

Share This Post

Responses to Bad Tempered Debate on Transparency Gives Clear View of Bad Blood

  1. Martin Elliott Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 12:16 am

    Let’s report a minor point on transparency. Why the question of a recorded vote?

    As I previously pointed out through The Guildford Dragon, the refurbishment of the Millmead council chambers included, I’m told, a very good AV [audio-visual] system with a built-in voting recorder. The purpose is not only a clear quick vote but also a record of each councillor vote for the minutes.

    I wonder why the chairmen of all meetings in the chamber refuse to use this system?

  2. Bernard Parke Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 7:48 am

    I have been involved in local affairs now for sixty years and in that time I have never known anything like this.

    How will it all end?

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 9:47 am

    Cllr Billington: “there’s no secret state here”. So why does the council propose a housing target for twice as many houses as the number of households that the ONS projects? Why has the Justin Gardner consulting model never been disclosed to any of the borough councils in the West Surrey Housing Market Area?

    Billington’s statement cannot be reconciled with the facts. It is intellectually dishonest.

    But then this is the council that said that Cllr Juneja had not broken its Code of Conduct.

    Everyone outside the council can see that the Emperor is stark naked. Not a pretty sight.

  4. John Perkins Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 10:48 am

    Perhaps Cllr Billington is unaware that at a previous meeting 200 members of the public attended and were derided as a “bloody rabble” by one of his colleagues. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    As the council is so unwilling to share information, can we be sure that they aren’t “beating people off”?

  5. Valerie Thompson Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Councillors should not complain about this issue being put in at the last minute. That is just not true. The agenda was published on the 1st October. Plenty of time to prepare a snide rebuff, which is just what Mr Furniss did, and plenty of time for Mr Spooner to prepare his statement that GBC is not running a “Secret State”.

    So why are some meetings not recorded? Why are housing facts not disclosed?

    The public gallery is empty because people are tired of GBC’s pathetic excuses and the fact that they are unable to participate meaningfully.

  6. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    Quite right, Mrs Thompson. Residents are weary of the never-ending “consultations” and being totally ignored and insulted by the GBC Executive.

    Why bother when you have no voice, apart from in our excellent, and questioning, local press?

    Only there are we able to call this discredited leadership to account.

  7. Fiona Curtis Reply

    October 12, 2018 at 12:46 am

    Today (11th Oct) comedian Luisa Omielan was a guest on Radio 2. She is currently on tour with a show called politics for bitches (or babes depending on her target audience), and she explained her motivation for the show was due to the sudden death of her mother (from cancer) and the inability of her family as non-political people to deal with the complexities of the system.

    Luisa is a young woman who in her own words finds politics “boring”. Luisa said, “I want it to be more accessible and I want people to realise the impact they can make with a bit of knowledge, because we are all paying taxes but how many of us really know where our money is going or what it is being spent on?”

    She went on to say that she felt that people are intentionally disengaged because politics is a lot of big words, it is difficult to understand, it’s not enjoyable and politics is very toxic with people shouting in suits across a room. “I have never cared for that.”

    Does this ring any bells with anyone I wonder?

  8. Gordon Bridger Reply

    October 12, 2018 at 10:34 am

    What would we do without Guildford Dragon coverage? Well done.

    Most people who are concerned about council matters should see considerable merit in Cllr Rooth’s proposals and there is no clear idea why they were turned down.

    No report of any comments by Liberal Democrat councillors who, one assumes, attended and are are normally in the forefront of open government measures. One expects them to be in support of this motion.

    If they did not support it could they make a public statement explaining why they did not? Or maybe The Dragon failed to report them in the excitement?

    Gordon Bridger is a Hon Alderman and former Mayor of Guildford

    Apologies for that shortcoming in the report. David Goodwin (Lib Dem, Onslow) and the Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Caroline Reeves, did speak in the debate. They both said, as others we reported did, that there had been insufficient time to study the motion and it would have been better for it to have been submitted through one of the committees, eg the Overview & Scrutiny Committee. Ed.

  9. David Roberts Reply

    October 12, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Usual flaccid performance by our Lib Dem supposed opposition. The Labour intervention was no better.

    Who is holding the Executive to account?

    I agree – thank goodness for The Dragon, especially now that the Surrey Advertiser has hiked its price to £1.50! Before this latest price rise, my newsagent sold 150 copies. Before the last one, 600. How long before this example of content-free non-journalism collapses?

  10. Mary Bedforth Reply

    October 13, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Have any of the participants heard of the Nolan Principles, the Seven Standards of Public Life?


    Too long to copy the details here – please read at:–2

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *