Sunday, December 09, 2007

Trust in government and local government

There is a problem with trust in government. The Labour government has a history of spinning and dishonesty and their poor reputation has been compounded by the latest party funding scandal. Of course Conservatives have had their own troubles and the popular media finds it difficult to portray any politician in a positive light. In fact, if you wanted to make a subversive, mould-breaking film today you could portray a government and its officials being absolutely straight in the face of a crisis or a complex issue. This lack of trust leaks into local government, where Councillors routinely find their integrity being questioned when they make contentious decisions. I've been taken to the Standards Board for England on four occasions; in each case it was found that there was no case to answer but the fact that we have a process where anyone can start an official process against a Councillor speaks to an institutional lack of trust. The last one, by the way, was because some individual thought my handwriting indicated membership of a secret Masonic cult. Instead of being told to seek help, this person's delusions were entertained and the process grimly gone through, though all concerned thought it absurd.

Lack of trust can have very serious effects. Some Councils, for example, will not talk to potential developers in advance of a planning application because their Councillors are terrified of an appearance of impropriety. This is a disastrous policy if you want to attract investment for the good of your community, but at least you don't get investigated by faceless bureaucrats. In Basildon we have had a series of press articles probing our regeneration efforts, stirred up by the so-called Wickford Action Group, who feel empowered to spray accusations and innuendo around at anyone they happen to disagree with. To be fair, most community groups aren't like that even when they are arguing against Council policy. I have a lot of respect for those concerned about the Sporting Village project for example, who have put their case very forcefully and effectively without resorting to accusation and abuse. They are the sort of people you listen to. Others get filed with the Masonic cult chap.

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