Council timewasters aren't needed

WHEN Suffolk County Council spent just 40 minutes at a full meeting earlier this month, eyebrows were raised at the cost of the exercise – about £1,000 in expenses alone.

WHEN Suffolk County Council spent just 40 minutes at a full meeting earlier this month, eyebrows were raised at the cost of the exercise – about £1,000 in expenses alone.

But what struck me was the astonishing news that there was nothing for the council to discuss at its planned meeting.

Don't forget this is the only really "democratic" forum left at county hall after policy-making committees were scrapped by government edict.

The county might claim to be democratic – but that's only in the loosest sense of the word. The only democracy is the fact that there are elections for council every four years.

Between elections, the council is an elected dictatorship. Decisions are made by the executive committee which is carved up by the ruling parties in private group meetings.

There's no opposition on the executive. No debate – it's only purpose is as a mutual appreciation society!

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The only time there is any debate on council policies now is at full council meetings – and now there's hardly enough business for them.

Frankly I'm beginning to think being a county councillor is the biggest junket of them all – you can pick up £6,000 a year and turn up for a few meetings and that's it.

There is the chance to hear what members of your own party really think of each other in private meetings – but you can't tell anyone outside the select little group.

The way the council is run now is fundamentally undemocratic.

Decisions are taken in secret – even if they are rubber-stamped in public there's never any real debate.

It's become just another business, hiding what it does from the public and relying on press releases to get its message across.

The whole structure of executive, scrutiny and standards committees is an elaborate sham to give a veneer of democracy to an anti-democratic system.

Executive committee agendas are stuffed full of performance plans and best value targets – absolutely nothing newsworthy.

Now they've decided that there isn't enough for full councils as well. Why don't we just vote in councillors, give them a cheque for £24,000 and tell them to stand again for election in four years' time!

SO Suffolk has bid a not-so-fond farewell to one of its best-known residents.

After almost a year at Hollesley Bay, Lord Archer was swept imperiously out of the prison early on Monday morning.

As one of the large press-pack on hand to witness the event, I was struck by the look on his face as the car being driven by his son William sped past us.

He looked like thunder – miserable and angry.

I have no wish to put this to the test, but I think if I was being released after two years in prison I'd feel pretty happy about it – and wouldn't want to give people the impression that it's the worst thing that could happen to you.

To be honest he did seem a lot happier when he was re-united at the family home at Grantchester near Cambridge.

I'm just surprise he didn't come out and offer all the journalists there tea and biscuits as he's done in the past!

CONFUSED by the David Kelly tragedy, and who's to blame? I can't make it any easier I'm afraid – but there are a few things to bear in mind when you read and listen to reports on the subject.

The BBC's role is central to the whole issue. However much it tries to report the situation "straight" there will always be suspicion about whether it is attempting to spin itself into a good light.

News International papers seem to have an agenda to damn the BBC at every turn. This may – or may not – be linked to the fact that they are a major shareholder in Sky Television.

Over the last few days The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and The News of the World have all had articles saying the government has done nothing wrong and is quite right to blame the BBC.

Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter at the centre of the row, also writes for The Mail on Sunday.

The Daily Mail has carried articles blaming everyone in government for the tragedy and claiming that there was nothing wrong with the BBC reports.

Trying to sort out the truth from the half-truths in this case is going to be a major challenge when many media outlets have their own agendas to pursue.

I don't envy Lord Hutton his task.

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