Brockhampton West – The blackouts come down

Tonight’s ‘Governance, Audit and Finance Board’ meeting should have been of particular interest, given that Item 5 on the agenda related to the ‘Calling in’ of the Cabinet Decision to sell the Brockhampton West site. You can read our report of that meeting and the decision in question by clicking the link.

Overview and Scrutiny Committees have the power to call in and scrutinise Cabinet decisions before they are implemented. The purpose of call-in is to enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committees to consider whether the Cabinet should be asked to review its decision. Call-in therefore provides an opportunity to ensure that the Council adheres to the principles of good decision-making.

The Brockhampton West decision was sufficiently controversial, particularly given accusations of a lack of transparency, that the Cabinet Decision was ‘Called in’ by the required number of six council members. Their reasons are given below:

“Following the decision made by Cabinet on November 18th, the following Councillors are concerned that the disposal of a significant asset such as Brockhampton West without full scrutiny is not reasonable and shows lack of transparency. The Councillors feel that not enough research has been done into how this site could be of more benefit to the Council in generating future income streams, and are concerned at the selling off of Council assets. They require to know the reason for the sale and what the capital gain will be used for. They require to be informed of what possible purposes the land could otherwise be used for if planning consent was achieved. Until these matters are further investigated in Scrutiny the Councillors are Calling In this matter for full scrutiny.

Cllr. Patrick
Cllr. Keast
Cllr. Gwen Robinson
Cllr. Patel
Cllr. Pike
Cllr. Smith”

In these strange times, when the public gallery is closed and participants join the meetings unseen from the comfort and distractions of their own kitchens, the meetings are recorded and put on the Council website. At least, that’s what the Chairman reads from a standard instruction at the start of each meeting. To be honest, if such recordings exist, they’re well hidden – we’ve yet to find one.

Never mind, in the interests of transparency, we try to bring the meeting to life by recording it for you here, starting with a twenty second ‘spoiler alert’.

OK, so what was once never transparent has now become completely opaque and we have little material to bring you. If you want to sit through the entire 15 minutes of the public session, take this link. (Warning, if you can listen to the whole thing without remembering childhood days watching Thunderbirds on the telly, you’re a better man than me, m’lady)

For those less patient, here’s Councillor Briggs and his echo kicking things off and letting us know who’s present in the ‘virtual’ room.

After the introductions, Cllr Briggs despatches the original points of the agenda in order ‘to allow full focus and time to be devoted to Item 5’, the subject of the Call-in, the sale of Brockhampton West. Towards the end of this next clip, Cllr ‘Parker’ teases us with the list of those due to contribute deputations to the debate.

Having given us a taster for what’s to come over the next few hours (well, at least two hours to our certain knowledge) Cllr Briggs explains his* reasons for pulling down the blackouts on the sale of Bedhampton [sic] West. “The public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information”, a curiously worded piece of standard legal jargon which proves useful in cases regarding freedom of information.

Note that Cllr Branson leaps eagerly onto the minutes to second that motion while Cllr Patel appears to be doing other homework.

So there we have it. Not really surprising, but nevertheless disappointing to us, as Council tax payers, to have been denied witness to at least some of those deputations.

With the HBC executive management team all present in the meeting, maintaining transparency may not have been high on the agenda since we understand that in their East Hants role, they may ‘have form’ on this.

What price local democracy eh?

The full unedited 15 minutes is included here, for diehard ‘Thunderbird’ fans only.

To join us and add weight to our voice or simply to be added to our mailing list, please visit the HCS Membership Page.


*Footnote – presumably scripted by the Council solicitor