I know from my own attempts at discovering what’s behind some of the happenings at Shirehall just how difficult it is to get at the truth when you’re following up on the vaguest of clues that make up just part of a picture you have only the outline of.
It’s a process of iteration, depressingly slow because it usually happens that the only way of obtaining the information you need is with a Freedom of Information request to Shropshire Council. That not only takes time but often gets you just the barest response. When that happens, it is tempting to ascribe the difficulties to a natural bureaucratic reluctance to release information on the grounds that such information is no one’s business but the Administration’s.
So, you ask a question and get an answer that either misses the point, whether through omission or commission, or raises further questions by intimating something you couldn’t otherwise have known existed. Either way, further questions, often to the same department, have to be asked in order to either confirm a line of inquiry or dismiss it and move on.
We have a “new” Administration at Shirehall. Disastrous policies have been abandoned. None of that would have happened had a public-spirited member of the public not come forward with information that put an end to a situation every member of the council (with one exception) – and not a few of its senior officers – allowed to continue unchecked.
I have since learnt that one individual rose to challenge Keith Barrow in the nomination for Leader of the Council when the position came up for election. He was swiftly put down when one of the colleagues he had canvassed for support grassed him up to Keith Barrow, who descended on him and his potential supporters like the proverbial ton of bricks. Thus was the power of patronage in the gift of a Council Leader in a Cabinet system of governance brought to bear.
There is only one way to apply sanction to someone wielding that kind of power and that is to use whatever information is out there about what they have been up to, when and with whom, in order to determine beyond reasonable doubt whether they have a case to answer which, in the case of someone holding public office, will concern the extent to which they may have brought that office into disrepute.
But Shirehall has labelled vexatious one of the people I have been working with in gathering the complex information that forms fourteen pages of painstakingly acquired material. I’m not impressed to be told that the justification for Shirehall’s action is the claim that the sheer number of Freedom of Information requests places too great a strain on limited resources and wastes too much of council officer’s time.
So what does the censoring (because in effect that’s what it is) of that individual mean for the ongoing investigation into the shadowy affairs of the council? It will obviously slow it up, it certainly won’t stop it.
I’m tempted to suggest that the executive councillors and senior officers who made the outrageously undemocratic decision stand to one side and give us free run of their system’s files, but I somehow don’t see that ever happening.