If one wants yet another small but significant piece of evidence demonstrating that we don’t live in a democracy and the political process is an utter failure, look no further than a story from early last week from Stoke-on-Trent.
For it is there, as The Sentinel reports, that council officers are running out of control and operating in defiance of the law.
More than £118,000 has been spent on a survey to review how much repair work is needed on the city’s council houses – but tenants and councillors are not allowed to see the results.
Not just tenants, but their supposed representatives who were elected (albeit by a small minority of voters) to make decisions and direct governance in the city. The refusal was of a Freedom of Information request for which there is no legal basis at the local authority for rejection. Taxpayers’ money has been taken (from national and local level) and spent to garner information, but no one can see the results collected by the authority’s Officers. Well actually, as the story goes on to qualify, councillors can see the information but only after Officers have ‘briefed’ them – presumably to tell them what they must not say in public. But ‘information control officers’ say releasing the results would cause:
… an increase in customer enquiries relating to when improvements will be carried out.
Prior to publishing the stock condition survey it will be necessary to properly brief frontline staff, elected members and other stakeholders.
Information control? How apt a description. Heaven forbid that the public, the majority of whom pay their taxes to fund essentials such as housing repairs to council stock, should deign to ask about the findings or draw upon the very services that they are entitled to receive. There can be no more clear example of the inversion of the positions of servant and master.
Since then, to compound the sense of incompetence that seems to permeate the city’s halls of ‘power’, Stoke-on-Trent City Council has gone on to write off £7.5m of unpaid council tax in addition to £8.1m already wiped off the books. Out of control and above the law, councils are gouging the wallets and purses of taxpayers with the usual raft of charges and fees in addition to the annual charge – to fund non essential boondoggles rather than essential services only – which is undoubtedly fuelling resentment at the ever rising level of council tax and avoidance of its payment.
There is a perfect storm brewing caused by the failure of politics and absence of democracy. An alternative, positive vision is required and thankfully a group of people are developing one known as the Harrogate Agenda, but some residents are failing to grasp this and rather than demanding the council limit its scope and activities to essential services, instead are calling for it do more to chase down non-payers, and even call in bailiffs with their often illegal and intimidating tactics, to recover unpaid council tax.
Perhaps those who thought Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s ‘corporate logo’ was meaningless were being somewhat unfair. The image, with its ever decreasing circles sinking lower and lower while fading away, seems somehow rather prescient. Perhaps it was designed that way intentionally as a metaphor for the continuing erosion of illusory people power and democratic control.