To whom should a council be answerable?
It is a fairly simple question, of course. Local authorities are accountable at the ballot box, answer to the electorate and serve their city.
When we aren’t told what the problem is, our imaginations run wild. That is where the policy of not being open about things becomes translated as not being honest and of having things to hide.
However there is always, and Sheffield isn’t unique in this, lots that goes on behind closed doors.
We all understand that there are often very good reasons for not putting certain information into the public arena. Commercial deals often fall under this, although I have to say that it fairly regularly feels as if it is just an excuse rather than a genuine need. One of my personal favourites is not commenting on individual cases, particularly when that individual is very keen to inform the public. On the front page of this week’s Telegraph you will have seen about emergency funding for the former NUM building. There are three restaurants and one big business set to move into there in the coming weeks and it is vital we get the project finished quickly, correctly and to the right standard. Perhaps most importantly, it is bringing a very central, prominent building back into use.
There is much to love about this transformation and Sheffield is right behind it (although as an aside I wonder how many decades it will take til we stop referring to it as the NUM building).
We all want it to succeed. So if emergency money was needed to ensure that, I imagine we would all applaud swift action. The danger is, when we aren’t told what the problem is, our imaginations run wild. That is where the policy of not being open about things becomes translated as not being honest and of having things to hide.
That takes me back to my original question. If our council ever wants to be seen as truly of the people and for the people, openness is the only way forward. It may mean announcing unpopular things or revealing issues which make life prickly, but that is what this city needs to thrive and politicians who don’t understand that are in the wrong ‘job’.