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Council’s priorities aren’t secret – they’re confidential!

Definition of secret: not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others. Definition of confidential: intended to be kept secret.  [Oxford Dictionaries online

Who does Cllr Gilbey think he’s kidding? 

Canterbury City Council is one of the most democratic local authorities in the country, claims leader John Gilbey. He hit out after the Kentish Gazette reported that the council had drawn up a league table of its 71 service areas and ranked them in order of importance but refused to reveal it.

Cllr Gilbey denies the council is guilty of secrecy. He told last Thursday’s meeting of the ruling Conservative executive: 

“Some of these documents are kept confidential for many reasons and are looked at very carefully.  I think this is one of the most democratic councils we have, I honestly believe that.  That is why I don’t take kindly to people inventing stories.”

Last week it emerged that the league table is a key document as the council prepares for the 2014/15 budget. It is facing a cut of 50% in income by 2017 and scored each service according to importance and against the pledges in its corporate plan.

The Marlowe Theatre was fifth in the table and refuse collection came 29th, but none of the other positions are known and some are almost certainly facing the axe.

The council claims it will make the league table public next month when the proposed budget for next year is published.  But Cllr Alex Perkins, leader of the council’s opposition Lib  Dem group, is demanding it is released now.  He said:

“The Gazette is absolutely right and deserves praise for bringing the council’s appalling secrecy to everyone’s attention.  There is absolutely no reasonable justification for the current leader of the council to keep the council budget formation process confidential.  And the Gazette has certainly not invented any of this as John Gilbey has claimed. 

The current leader and a tiny handful of Conservative councillors keep jealous control of all the budget information declaring it ‘confidential’ and refusing to share it even with their own backbenchers, let alone opposition councillors or the public.  It’s completely unacceptable – it’s your money after all.”

Kingsmead Field campaigner Sian Pettman said:

“There’s a worrying disconnect between Cllr Gilbey’s perception of democracy and that of many of the district’s residents.  His authoritarian style of leadership is ill-suited to the 21st century.”

University of Kent Emeritus Professor of moral philosophy Richard Norman added:

“If Cllr Gilbey thinks that this is one of the most democratic councils, he needs to be aware that there are a great many people in Canterbury who don’t see it that way.”

The council will begin its consultation on the budget in November and will look to approve it in February.

HB Gazette 17th October 2013

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