Fringe Box



The Dragon Says: Openness & Transparency at The Council – It’s Time For Some Action

Published on: 7 May, 2013
Updated on: 7 May, 2013

Dragon Roar Still 470Some say that an unhealthy culture of fear exists amongst council officers at Guildford Borough Council; that they are frightened to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. If true, this should concern us all.

Suspicions are only increased by the veil drawn over the suspensions of Strategic Director Jim Miles, his wife, a senior officer in the legal department and, then more recently, two officers at the Electric Theatre whose case is, shamefully, still dragging on six months after they were suspended.

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge, the council leader, said when he took over from Cllr Tony Rooth that he was intent on living up to the “core value”, printed on every council paper, of “openness and transparency”. This was welcomed by many who follow council business. The council seemed over-sensitive to criticism and appeared uncomfortable with some of the publicity of what, after all, are public affairs.

Cllr Mansbridge might have been trying his best but, so far, little has been achieved. The council should stop hiding behind “staff confidentiality” every time an officer is suspended.

We, the residents of Guildford, and ultimate employers of everyone at the council, should be told what offence is suspected and what the post title of any suspended officer is.  After all, suspension is very serious and according to GBC’s own “Local Disciplinary Policy” should be used only in cases of “gross misconduct”.

We should also be told the outcome of the ensuing investigation/hearing.

To hide behind  “staff confidentiality” makes the council itself appear shifty. It seems like they are the ones with something to hide. If the council is acting properly and honourably why do they need all this secrecy and these gagging orders? No, what they really need is the sterilising effect of some daylight.

This would also benefit the council employees. It is far easier for managers anywhere to resort to excessive or unfair discipline if their actions cannot be scrutinised. Without care, this can make it easy for bullies and dissuade those genuinely concerned that things are going wrong from reporting them.

Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, and MP for neighbouring Waverley, is doing the right thing and ordering the cessation of gagging orders as part of severance agreements in the NHS. Stephen Mansbridge should direct GBC’s Chief Executive, David Hill, to do the same.

And while they are at it, the whistle blowing system should be reviewed and made completely and obviously independent so that no employee can reasonably say, as has been said recently to The Guildford Dragon NEWS, that they feared reporting wrongdoing risks their own job.

Cllr Mansbridge should want GBC to be in the forefront of sweeping away this unnecessary secrecy and live up to its proclaimed core value and he should be given cross party support to achieve this.

We expect our council to be honest and open. We expect them to be good and fair employers on our behalf. Cllr Mansbridge has said he wants these things too. Now is the time for action.

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