We read this piece in the local media today: Thurrock Council ‘saying goodbye to democracy’ as it ignores local press during pandemic. We should feel fecking angry at this this but, given what we’ve written over the last few years about the way Thurrock Council behave, our reaction is a resigned shrug because we’ve reached the point where it’s pretty much what we’d expect from them.
To summarise, since the COVID-19 crisis broke, Thurrock Council have been sending short briefings to the local media but have refused to answer any questions from them. The council has also instructed the local media to not contact council leaders, members of the cabinet and the mayor directly with any questions. Also, the Local Democracy Reporting Service contacted Thurrock Council to ask how many questions from the media they had responded since lockdown began and, the council did not respond.
It’s not often we find ourselves in agreement with a Labour councillor but the leader of the opposition on the council, Cllr. Jane Pothecary, nailed it when she said this: “Regardless of party interests, the day we accept that our politicians – or officers – are above question is the day we start saying goodbye to democracy.” The only thing we would dispute with Cllr. Jane Pothecary is where we are on the timeline with this. Our view is that we’re way beyond the start and local democracy is pretty much dead.
With the wonders of modern communication, even if a ruling group councillor didn’t wish to answer a question from the media straight away, all it would take is half an hour and a few phone calls to confirm what needs to be said and they could get back to the reporter in question. Thurrock Council in it’s arrogance can’t be arsed to even do this.
We’ve said this before but it bears repeating… In an ideal world the council, councillors and officers alike, are supposed to be the servants of all of the residents of the borough. Well, it’s bloody obvious we don’t live in an ideal world as Thurrock Council yet again thinks it can treat us with utter contempt and get away with it.
In the short term, Neil Speight, the editor of Thurrock Nub News, is going to submit a formal complaint to the government’s Information Commissioner. He has sent a letter to the council’s chief executive Lyn Carpenter, the leaders of all the political parties in the borough and ther two MPs, Jackie Doyle-Price and Stephen Metcalfe. It will be interesting to see what the response to this will be.
There’s been a lot of talk about what kind of ‘normal’ we’ll return to once the COVID-19 crisis has run it’s course. Whatever ‘normal’ we end up with, if it’s one where Thurrock Council (and pretty much every other local authority to be honest) think they can continue to get away with treating their residents with contempt, there will be fireworks…