OPINION: Whatever happened to transparency?

It’s hard to avoid thinking that the council’s approach to its CHORD flagship in Helensburgh has crossed the line dividing privacy from secrecy.

Have all this week’s agenda items really changed so much between June and October?

Colquhoun Street is one of the areas affected by the work.
Colquhoun Street is one of the areas affected by the work.

Are things so bad that even the highlights now have to be secret?

It seems remarkable that so many reports have to fall under the same very specifically worded restriction and that no-one was able to structure their contents differently.

Argyll and Bute Council’s constitution states that there is a presumption in favour of openness: “The council is committed to open and transparent government.”

There wasn’t much sign of that this week, which is all the more disappointing after the promises made by the latest administration in the wake of a damning report by Audit Scotland.

Once again there seem to more questions than answers about the CHORD project, and after walking around the town centre today it still seems far from the latest completion deadline of November 8.

How much will it all cost? In September 2011 the figure was £6.3m, but now the council’s website says it is £6.66m. Where did the extra costs of £360,000 come from, and will this be final figure?

What will be the cost of a council officer being drafted in to work with the contractors because they were so far behind schedule?

I’ve been dealing with agendas covered by the Local Government (Scotland) Act and its England and Wales equivalent for 25 years; it is very clear about what is and is not covered by its restrictions, with the intention that there is no grey area giving room for interpretation.

And as soon as I saw the agenda for this meeting it looked very, very unusual.

Freedom of Information requests might yield some of the documents – albeit probably in heavily redacted form – and it might also be possible to force the decision to be reviewed via the council’s complaints procedures.

But the full story behind those conversations behind closed doors last Thursday will probably not emerge until the CHORD project is finally completed in Helensburgh – and that could be rather longer than we all hope.

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