I have received a note asking if I need to fill in my Civic Gifts form to declare any gifts or hospitality I have received over £25 as a Councillor. That’s easy zilch, since I have been elected.
I can download the form from the members (Councillors) portal but I cannot place it on the Council’s website so everybody can see. Why shouldn’t the same apply to my full declaration of interests? You can go to the Town Hall and have a look, but it’s not up in cyberspace.
The form though is out of date with the modern world. It only asks for significant shareholdings. So I do not need to declare my miniscule portfolio of shares in Hereford United FC, and Millwall FC. If Thanet Council ever sponsors a Millwall v Hereford game you’ll know who thought it was a good idea. Less carbon emissions than the air show though, so maybe not such a bad idea after all….
So a cunning councillor could have quite a significant shareholding in a large company and it would not have to be declared. Turn to property and the situation is worse. You could be a councillor lobbying vigorously for developments in say Cliffsend that would have a positive effect on business or commercial premises you owned in Richborough, and no one would need to know.
So long as it is not in Thanet and just over the border in Dover District Council, people would not know. That’s right we really are an island. Councillors can own property anywhere else in the UK or abroad and nobody needs to know in your declaration. I know a councillor who does own a property elsewhere in the UK. They are very open about it and I am sure they would happily declare it if required.
Traditionalists may say that you are supposed to declare an interest, but we have seen that system of voluntarism does not work, just look at the recent cases in the House of Lords.
If you wanted to be more cunning buy a boat, it’s not a property even if you could live on it as people do on the Thames, and you are in the clear. Again I know a councillor who is very open about their boat, although from what I understand you would struggle to live on it as it so small. Again I know they would be happy to declare this.
The problem here though is I know this because I am a fellow councillor. I did not know about either situation when I was a member of the public. There is at times casual abuse, accusations and innuendo about councillors in the blogosphere. From what I have observed I have seen no evidence of financial corruption. With regard to corruption in the sense of abusing power then when I am aware of this, I tackle it as an opposition councillor through the proper channels.
The thing is we live in a global world. If an airline sets up at Manston and flies somewhere where I owned a property, or had shares in a property company, or any other significant asset, I would not have to declare this. I could vote for flights that would help me get to my holiday home, or facilitate tourism to the hotel I owned shares in and nobody needs know unless they can trace my foreign assets.
So I propose
1. We put the list of gifts Thanet councillors receive on the internet.
2. We put Councillors declarations of interest on the internet.
3. We expand Councillors declarations of interest to cover all assets over say £10,000 (or equivalent foreign currency) to be declared wherever they are in the world.
This would mean idle malicious gossip on the internet could be rebutted by people referring to this open accountable register.
It would also see Thanet leading the country in a culture of openness and accountability, instead of following an out of date model that does not reflect the modern world. The current system allows cynicism to thrive; let’s kill it off.
Wouldn’t it be good to have this information before the debate on Manston expansion at Full Council?