Fringe Box



Opinion: Local Democracy and Local Leadership

Published on: 20 Sep, 2017
Updated on: 25 Sep, 2017

By Bill Stokoe

Director Guildford Vision Group

I’ve just finished watching the webcast of the disciplinary hearing involving Cllr David Reeve. I watched because the matter impinges on aspects of the work of the Guildford Vision Group (GVG). (GVG has drawn up a comprehensive plan for the town centre. You can see it on our website).

Rather than any sense of outrage, I’m just left feeling so very sad that matters have come to this pass in Guildford. Sad that a petty matter, derived from a detailed scrutiny of key data by a committed councillor, should result in such a public hearing. I’m not sure natural justice was well-served by the 14 month process and the public “trial” that the two accusers did not attend.

How is local democracy ever to flourish healthily in such circumstances? How can we expect residents, of whatever political hue or none, to pick up the baton of councillor if they risk facing such treatment? Where is the incentive for good people to get involved and engage in open debate? After all it’s what we need them to do, especially over the next few years.

Residents of Guildford sing its praises as a wonderful place to live, with its green setting and fine heritage among the most prominent of its great qualities. We’ve also got top flight education facilities, including a university engaged in cutting edge technologies.

But unless more people get off their backsides and get involved in the local matters and the politics that impact Guildford’s well-being then we can only expect more of such treatment being meted out to anyone bold enough to question, challenge and scrutinise.

Guildford simply cannot progress and prosper in this environment. Our town has to up its game, especially in infrastructure terms, if it’s to retain its role as a regional hub and GVA generator. I fear currently it is not doing so adequately enough.

We will all be the worse for that. And it will cost taxpayers, for sure. It is already costing business.

GVG has had a taste of the consequences of challenge. Council officers and other are currently banned from talking directly to us. Our Masterplan is a serious, well-researched plan for the improvement of our town centre. It’s localism at work.

Why should such an important topic as the future of the town centre be decreed as off-limits? Where’s the localism in the council’s approach to GVG? Is it consistent with Nolan’s Principles of Public Life?

Guildford needs leadership. It doesn’t need down and dirty politics. It doesn’t deserve down and dirty politics. It deserves leadership that recognises the broad church of views that exist, irrespective of the strength or otherwise of an electoral mandate.

Most of local life doesn’t need to be governed by over-adherence to political dogma and point scoring. It should rather be a matter of sensible, open management, with rational decisions arrived at after proper public scrutiny and debate, the latter naturally reflecting genuinely-held political views.

Transparency is revealing: secrecy is concealing.

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Responses to Opinion: Local Democracy and Local Leadership

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 20, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    Unfortunately, “down and dirty” is the only way this Executive knows how to operate. I am equally saddened.

    They have learned nothing from the embarrassing Mansbridge/Juneja era.

    Time for a new broom in Guildford.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    September 21, 2017 at 12:08 am

    I am extremely concerned with this letter. That such a respectable gent of this borough is banned from speaking to council officers shows how thick are the virtual walls of the GBC bunker at Millmead. What are they scared of?

    Perhaps it’s time Mr Whiteman, as managing director stood toe to toe with the councillors and told them to grow up and behave. For it does our town no good whatsoever that people with expertise, sadly lacking in the elected contingent, are not permitted to be heard by the officers.

    Shutting down communications is a precursor to conflict. As Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.”

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