No Section One Over Memorial Plaque?

CANVEY ISLAND’S TOWN COUNCIL appears to have reviewed its policy of excluding the press and public from its meetings whenever financial matters and commercial quotes are discussed. And the Echo, it appears, has actually decided to report on Town Council Committee meetings.

Sarah Calkin’s latest piece in the Echo provides a factual insight into how a band of independents accurately reflects all opinion — and is unable to reach a simple decision in a matter of £690. Instead, all eight committee members will now visit the town’s memorial plaque (to the victims of the 1953 flood) in order to reach a final decision as to which of three restoration quotes to accept.

An interesting point here is that none of the three quotes are from local sources. One is from London, at a cost of £470; one from a firm in Lincoln, for £795; and the highest quote, from a company in leafy Surrey suburbs, in the amount of £1,160 (which includes taking the plaque off the wall). Some might say that the reason for the range in prices simply reflects the different travel costs involved; but no like-for-like comparison, or discussion, is reported as having been attempted by those present. Moreover, there seems to have been no attempt to obtain quotes for the deteriorating plaque’s replacement — despite the fact that the Town Council has considerable experience in obtaining such items locally.

Just what an eight-strong team of non-specialised ‘inspectors’ can achieve in furthering this quest is unclear. One would think, on a matter of such importance, that the previous work of bidders would best be examined, with cost as a secondary consideration, to arrive at a suitable decision.

It might also have been a good idea to invite bids and advice from local contractors in an effort to support the local community in such hard times; or to issue local youth volunteers with cloth and Brasso, to perform the service for free (as has been the case with local tree planting and lake clearing).

But the Section One U-turn is welcome, not least because the Town Council’s particular application of this part of the 1960 Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act, to try and deny financial information (which, in any case, must be legally minuted and made available for public inspection) invited an expensive legal challenge that could only have been lost at considerable taxpayer expense.

Breathing fresh air into Town Council Meetings is not, however, without its costs. Lest Town Councillors (and reporters) forget: unlike MPs and Borough Councillors, what Parish Councillors say is not privileged…

Nice one, Sarah.

… (Echo, 27/08/2009) – Town council’s legal fight with former town clerk

… (23/02/2010) – How British Democracy Speaks With A Single Voice

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One Response

  1. Or why not the obvious option, so favoured by this Town Council.

    Just get a local contractor to perform the work for free – but allow him to errect his own plaque alongside his work announcing: ‘Lovingly restored by xxx company.’

    Im sure the council could provide him with the contact details of a cheap supplier for the additional item

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