Cloud of Suspicion – Damages Politics and People

Questions are being asked even amongst the Conservatives
Questions are being asked even amongst the Conservatives

Cloud of Suspicion – Damages Politics and People

There is nothing that creates suspicion more, as history over the past few years has proved time and time again, than when the public perceive that politicians are acting and taking decisions behind closed doors, in secret without any explanation.

It is why many of us have fought for so long to make politics as open and transparent as possible because when there is speculation about the actions taken by politicians it inevitably ends up with a ‘Cloud of Suspicion’ hanging over everyone.

Worse still it fuels the “You’re/They’re all the same” brigade as we saw during the MP’s expenses scandal and during the recent Leveson inquiry.

Over the past week the subject of the granting of permission to an organisation, by what appears to be a single Councillor, to hold a fair on Eastfield Park and the Far Cotton Rec raised with me, not only by members of the public but also by some Conservative Councillors.

The subject has always been raised with a similar introduction, namely “did you read Aufona this week”,

Aufona for those who don’t read the local Northampton Chronicle and Echo writes a column, mostly tongue in cheek, having a go at local politicians and the establishment but which at the same time raising issues that often give serious pause for thought.

In last week’s column Aufona wrote (and I hope he doesn’t mind me reprinting it),

“Only last week we revealed how The Mack’s lieutenant had quietly signed off a fair being held this week in Eastfield Park, a marvellous initiative that was tempered only by the fact nobody in the area, including his fellow Tory ward councillors, knew it was happening.

Now, lo and behold, another fun fair will be landing in July on Far Cotton Rec, the first in at least three decades by all accounts and one that, yet again, not a lot of people know about.

Bran, the cabinet mouthpiece for community services at the Guildhall, seems to have forged a really, really excellent working relationship with fun fair operator Albert J Evans. The aforementioned Mr Evans won the contract for Walk in the Park at Wootton (where Bran is a parish councillor) in addition to which he was selected by Bran to run the St Crispin Street Fair when it revived last year. He’s got the gig too for Eastfield Park and now, it emerges, he has also nipped in to host Far Cotton Rec: The Funfair Debut.

Aufona was slightly surprised – to say the least – that neither Eastfield nor Far Cotton – required ANY public consultation to go ahead. Perhaps a mailshot to residents or an informal meeting with the residents’ association not to mention all the other hoops (meeting the Rec Centre management, consulting with Northamptonshire FA, risk assessments and so on. Better still, we understand the borough’s events team manager, former DJ Liz-Carroll-Wheat, didn’t have a clue about it until very late in the day. And without dropping it in the mix here, it’s unlikely anyone in Far Cotton or the rest of town would know about it until the occasional sign went up and the odd dodgem ride appeared a couple of days beforehand. It’s almost as if they didn’t want anyone to know Albert J Evans is holding all these funfairs. Where next for Albert? Victoria Park, Kingsthorpe Rec. Bradlaugh Fields? Do tell us Bran…”

Of course there is no evidence that anything untoward has taken place between Councillor Eldred and either the Albert J Evans organisation or any of the other events and ‘acts’ he has been responsible for organising such as the Walk in the Park, Delapre Concerts et al.

What has raised concerns is why everything seems to have been decided at the ‘last minute’ and by invoking what is the unusual steps of not making the decision open for discussion, debate, scrutiny or consultation and why has a single organisation apparently suddenly become the preferred one for access to the towns open spaces.

There is also the question of was the events put out to tender in order to give other organisations the opportunity?

The “it’s urgent” excuse was used by the Leader of the Council when he invoked it in agreeing to the Delapre Concerts claiming that is was unusual circumstances because the opportunity to hold the Concerts had only just come up and a quick decision was needed to book ‘first class acts’.

It isn’t an excuse that holds water if applied to the fun fairs which Cllr Eldred has apparently arbitrarily decided should be held at Far Cotton and Eastfield.

In fairness to Councillor Eldred the accusation that he has ‘on his own authority’ made the decision without the knowledge of his Cabinet colleagues is a bit thin and smacks of him being turned into a scapegoat.

I don’t for one minute believe that the financial arrangements wouldn’t have been discussed with Cabinet Member responsible for Finance,

or with his good friend Councillor Hallam who as the Cabinet Member responsible for the parks will be in the firing line to ensure that any damage to the Parks is rectified.

Which begs the question of who will pay for repairs and premeditation work?

This also applies to the decision to use the Far Cotton Rec as a car park, a decision that has annoyed local people and Councillors because once again there has been no consultation.

But should Councillor Eldred take the full blame for even this decision when it effectively came about because of the decision taken by the Leader of the Council without it appears a fully thought out plan for how it will be delivered.

And what was the role of senior officers in the process who should have been advising and developing the implementation plan?

It is also impossible to believe that Councillor Eldred hasn’t discussed his plans and got the support from both Councillor Mackintosh and Councillor Markham as the Leader and Deputy Leader.

If he hasn’t then the concerns expressed to me by the Conservative Councillors that if Cllr Eldred didn’t act alone it questions just why he has been allowed to be allowed to face accusations of acting outside of the collective responsibility of the administrations.

Will we see decisions now reversed which will further damage the credibility of Cllr Eldred?

The problem for the Borough Council administration is that this is not the first time the actions of Councillor Eldred have been seriously questioned as was seen when his ‘recollection of the facts’ was challenged by the museums and arts organisations over the decision to sell the Sekhemka Statue.

Public perception damages all politicians
Public perception damages all politicians

Sadly the ‘Cloud of Suspicion’ that now hangs over the Conservative administration if decisions continue to be taken in secret without apparently the knowledge of the Leader, Cabinet or other Conservative Councillors is one that may well bring back accusations of ‘sleaze’ and the image of ‘brown envelopes’.

Even sadder is that there are many decent Conservative Councillors who have worked to escape from the image of being prepared to do anything to promote their own self-interest are now in danger of being included under the ‘Cloud’.

It would be as unfair on them as it would be on opposition Councillors.

It will be interesting to see if the Conservative Leadership and administration will now provide the business case and all of the documentation that supports their decisions, and more importantly

“When, where, how and who” produced the business case and,

“Who” knew and was consulted before the decision was made?