Musings from the editor's chair: Scrutiny provokes town hall tantrum

Martin Trepte

Martin Trepte

Musings from the editor's chair: Scrutiny provokes town hall tantrum

You can’t help but wonder sometimes just what bubble our political masters at the town hall exist in. Take, for example, the reaction to last week’s feature on councillors’ attendance records.

It presented each elected member’s attendance at meetings using RBWM’s own information.

It highlighted how many RBWM meetings they had attended, how many they were expected to go to, how many committees or panels they served on, if they served on any outside bodies and how many extra council meetings (ones they didn’t have to go to) they had attended.

The data is freely available on RBWM’s website. All we did was present it in an easily accessible way for readers to see.

It showed about a third of councillors had missed a quarter of the meetings they were expected to attend.

The idea here is transparency. Councillors are elected to work for us so the public has a right to know what they are doing.

But in the alternative reality occupied by some elected members, any attempt at scrutiny is simply unacceptable. Even at ’Tiser Towers we could hear the toys being thrown out of prams at the town hall nursery.

Take, for example, the reaction of Cllr Geoff Hill. In a textbook example of the ‘shooting the messenger’ tactic I wrote about last week, he took to social media to accuse us of political bias:

The information was exactly as on the borough website. And we ran an identical feature in our Slough edition for the Labour-run council. No political bias here.

He accused us of distorting the facts:

Sleight of hand? Er... the information was exactly as on the RBWM website.

But even worse, we did it all without asking first:

How DARE those pesky reporters have the audacity to hold elected representatives of the people to account?

As it happens we contacted every councillor with under 75 per cent attendance and published their explanations, though not all of them chose to reply to us.

Despite having it pointed out ad nauseum that all the data came from the council website, Cllr Hill went on to attack the work ethic of my reporters, tweeting one at about 6am and taking him to task when he didn’t reply within 24 minutes:

Obviously, next time we contact Cllr Hill – or the cabinet member for reporters’ bedtimes, as he is now known in the newsroom – we’ll be expecting a reply pretty sharpish.

I’ll leave readers to draw their own conclusions from the good councillor’s reaction. He had a respectable 79 per cent attendance by the way, going to 31 out of 39 meetings, but felt to expect 100 per cent attendance was unfair.

In the meantime, we’re counting down the hours until RBWM publishes councillors’ allowances and expenses for the last financial year....


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