Politicians must always have a role

THIS week I went to London as part of a delegation from Ipswich pleading with government for help to keep the closure-threatened Iceni Project in existence.

I must admit the more I find out about the decision by the Suffolk Drug And Alcohol Team (DAAT) to take away its funding the more confused I become.

The DAAT seems to be a totally unaccountable quango which doesn’t answer to anyone – certainly not to anyone with a democratic mandate.

It is made up of officials from the county council, the PCT, probation service and police – with administration provided by the county.

But apparently county councillors have no say in the way it operates.

In fact this week Suffolk cabinet members Colin Noble and Rae Leighton wrote to members of the Tory group with what amounted to a “Not us, Guv” letter emphasising that the decision was taken by officers with no political involvement.

When we raised the lack of a political involvement in the decision with government minister Nick Hurd he seemed genuinely shocked to hear that no councillors had been involved.

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I can appreciate that there are occasions when decisions have to be taken outside the political arena – but even then you have to expect those making the decision to have some sensitivity for the political climate.

When the DAAT took the decision to award the contract to national “mega charities” rather than a highly-regarded local charity, it must have been aware that this ran contrary to everything the new government has been saying over recent months about involving local people and local groups in key decisions.

Why didn’t someone stop for a minute and think: “Is this what they really want us to do?”

Why wasn’t the decision referred up the line, if necessary to Whitehall, to ensure this is really what the new government wanted?

Failing that, why wasn’t there an interim contract awarded to Iceni, so the DAAT could know exactly what the new government wanted before a decision was made?

I’ve heard it said that the DAAT were following the rules laid down by the previous government.

That might be the case – but the members of the DAAT must all be aware that we had a general election six months ago and that the new government are likely to change the rules.

Politicians might not be the most popular bunch of people. But they do represent the public and they are a necessary component of bodies like this.

I can’t help feeling that if there had been a single politician on the DAAT saying: “Do you really think that’s wise?”, we could have avoided this unholy mess.