Wednesday, 11 February 2015
All that good work ruined by secrecy
THIS is my first column for several months, the absence of which has flamed the rumours that I have retired or am planning to do so soon.
Handing over the editorship to my daughter Francesca recently - to be honest she’s been fulfilling that role for several months now - heightened the anticipation of those who would like to see an end to this column.
When asked if I’m planning to retire, I usually reply: “Hell no, I’ve got two daughters to marry off!”
The truth of the matter is that I have no intention of giving up running newspapers for as long as my health allows me to carry on. I am still the boss at View from and many of you will know that I have taken on additional duties for the parent group to launch and co-manage four new newspapers in central London.
Having worked in London back in the 1980s/90s, I love the capital’s media scene and I’m thoroughly enjoying what will probably be the biggest challenge of my long career.
So what have I missed during the period that this column went into hibernation? Well, things are pretty quiet on the council front (election coming, don’t you know?).
There’s an occasional spat between the two factions but nothing on the scale of their earlier disgraceful behaviour which showed the town in such a poor light.
If fact, I would like to start by congratulating the council. No, honestly! I think they’ve handled the Monmouth Beach situation regarding the replacement of the chalets that were destroyed in last year’s storms rather well.
They made sure that the chalet owners would meet the cost of re-routing their road (the chalets site having been moved forward towards the sea) and put in place a scheme whereby the owners would not be able to gain a financial advantage by selling their chalets when built.
This is good local government, protecting council taxpayer’s money.
But then, as this council has done so often, they shoot themselves in the foot by repeatedly refusing to release the cost of the whole contract for the Monmouth Beach work, saying the information was “commercially sensitive”.
In the past the council has always released such information to the press, following the decision being made in secret session. And every other council in this area, including West Dorset District Council, operates an open procurement policy.
Because the Mayor, Sally Holman, is a chalet owner she has steered well clear of the discussions and decision making so as not to be accused of influencing the matter.
So the meeting that awarded the contract was conducted by the deputy mayor, Anita Williams, a qualified solicitor, who was all in favour of releasing the information to the press and, indeed, did so when we contacted her. Apparently, the work is costing around £140,000 - a sum which will be revealed in a few weeks’ time in the council’s public accounts when the contractor submits his bill.
Refusing to release the figure when it is already in the public arena will only fuel ill-informed rumours (at least I assume they are ill-informed) that the council has something to hide.
The government recently issued guidelines to local authorities about being more transparent an accountable to the public, and the Lyme councillors have already decided to study these with a possible change to their standing orders to comply with the document.
Having sought legal advice and told not to release the figure, the officers are now in a difficult position. To be fair to the council, we decided to print their statement following the controversy on page 6. It’s farcical and adds nothing to what we have already published.
When this council came into existence in 2011 there was talk of more accountability and involving the public more in the decision-making process.
In reality, the opposite has been the case and it is to be hoped that when a new council is elected in May (surely it will be new?) this is one of the areas they might look to change.
Don’t cry for me, Lyme Operatic...
LYME Regis Operatic Society is one of the town’s oldest and most respected local organisations.
Their members have been entertaining local people for 95 years and have built an enviable reputation for the standard of their productions at the Marine Theatre over the years.
But times they-are-a-changing - and the Operatic Society has now followed a trend among such groups by changing their name to the more popular Lyme Regis Musical Theatre, reflecting the move towards staging big musicals rather than operettas.
I covered my first operatic production at the Marine Theatre in 1966 - I think it was “Iolanthe”. I rarely missed a show over the years, even when I was away working in London, and having grown up surrounded by the Perry family, synonymous with the Operatic Society, I was once entrusted with running the bar at their annual show.
Today, the Perry family tradition is continued by the current chairman, Johanna Hopkins (nee Perry) and she has steered the society through some difficult times and presided over the change of name.
I have never been a great Gilbert and Sullivan fan but have enjoyed enormously some of the recent shows such as “Calamity Jane” and “Mame”. I have waxed lyrical over the ever-rising standard of local stage shows, both here and in Axminster, and I am sure the newly-named Lyme Regis Musical Theatre will prosper even more.
And I can’t wait for this year’s show “Evita”, my favourite all-time musical with Kelly Apps (nee Street) in the title role.