Fringe Box



Opinion: The Council’s Suspension Of Its Sponsorship Policy – The Case Against

Published on: 7 Oct, 2014
Updated on: 7 Oct, 2014
Cllr Mark Chapman

Cllr Mark Chapman

By Mark Chapman

Liberal Democrat borough councillor for Westborough

On September 19th, to help finance National Armed Forces Day, the Leader and the Managing Director of Guildford Borough Council (GBC) suspended the part of GBC’s ethical policy on sponsorship – which meant we could accept arms dealers as sponsors.

By doing this, a whole host of issues were thrust into the spotlight.

Policies like this are not, and should not, be treated as pick ‘n’ mix. Taking a strong stance on who can put hard cash into events run by the council is an essential part of the public face of the council. It sets out a clear ethical and even moral position, suggesting a desire to value integrity, probity and transparency.

Opinion Logo 2By excluding such a wide range of types of organisation from putting money into council events, we are also trying to ensure that there is no undue influence in decisions. To then suspend part of this, even for one specific event, shows a flagrant disregard for everything this policy tries to project and achieve.

The first most councillors knew about this was when the Executive papers were published for the meeting of September 30th. Local government can be Byzantine at the best of times, but as this was not a ‘Key’ policy under the rules, it did not need to be put before all councillors, or even decided by the ruling Executive and can’t be “called in” for wider discussion by councillors.

Council procedure is not often a talking point for anyone other than councillors. The fact that we have a petition with over 2,000 signatures calling for the council’s governance to go back to a committee system, shows that how the council is run is in sharp focus for many people right now.

When responding to my questions to the Executive last week, Cllr Furniss mentioned debating pacifism, as we were talking about arms dealers. In large part the significance of ethical decisions being signed off in private by two people seemed to have passed him by.

A subject as important as this must be put before elected representatives. Whether that is a committee, or all councillors, the decision should be debated, argued, and voted on by those selected by the electorate.

Then there are the potential sponsors themselves. Using a current example, with the suspension in place, it would be perfectly possible for a sponsor to have been a supplier of tear gas used to disrupt peaceful pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

This would be damaging, by association, to the council. There are good reasons why the council has a policy that excludes this category of potential sponsors, and those reasons don’t change when it is expedient to finance an armed forces event.

Armed Forces Day flag 3National Armed Forces Day is a chance for everyone to thank the women and men of our forces for their courage and bravery. They do not choose when, where and why they serve. They choose only to protect us.

It is for politicians to decide the when, where and who. On this occasion, democracy has been ill-served in the way this decision was made.

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