Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Fenland District Council Leadership

I have no comment to make about the goings on at Fenland tonight.

However, the major aspect of this is a leak to the media by someone associated with Fenland, something that happens too often.  It only serves to destabilise and means that the people of Fenland suffer because an individual chooses to feed information to the press, mainly because of some sort of selfish personal motive.

That sort of behaviour is potentially harmful to the people I serve; it takes focus away from service delivery while we deal with the issues the leaks create, thankfully officers and members at Fenland have the nouse to carry on in spite of such events.

I think it is time that the Cambs Times examined its conscience.  I have a great deal of time for them; John Elworthy is an excellent journalist and, whilst I am occasionally critical, I recognise that we are lucky to have a local paper that does its job in the way it does.   But at the heart of good journalism, must be, I believe, a strong element of public service.   It is time for the Cambs Times to examine its conscience, to recognise that it is in the public good to name the individual responsible for the leaks we have suffered.

I'm sure they won't, they will love it because leaks sell papers.  But some things are more important than that - and this particular leak has harmed people who have served Fenland for years.

What is a big shame is this is the story that should be grabbing the headlines.


  1. I can understand why the press wanted to run with it, though. It's not often a leader and deputy leader go on the same night!

    But you're right, we could do with a lot less "leakage" in future. It's just not the right way to behave.

  2. Of course the press will use it. But even they have to realise this can't go on anymore.

  3. The issue of our coverage of Fenland Council and the conversations I have with a variety of sources is no more, and no less, than what any good political journalist would come across in any part of the country. However there are some differences in Fenland, and I will come to those.
    Firstly it is hard to work out which confidential email you are referring to, although I assume it was the one sent by Cllr Melton which sparked the row in the first place. Emphatically Alan did not leak it to me, and I have no doubt whatsoever that he did not authorise or ask anyone else to send it. The reason for that is because of the errors in the email, which I was unaware of when someone called and offered to read it over the phone to me. They refused me a copy, and I wonder in fact if the caller had a copy of it anyway. I was confident of the authenticity of the gist of the email and the first Alan Melton knew that I had a copy (or sorts) was when I called him to tell him.
    I told him roughly what I had obtained and the only comment he made, and an important comment, was the fact (not known to me) was that he had written the email to Geoff Harper. It meant that references I had made about leadership would have been referred to out of context if I had published the version given to me.
    And that was that, and all he said.
    Who leaked it and why? I have no idea, but I can tell you quite categorically that it was a ‘civilian’ source, and possibly someone working in or closely associated with Fenland Hall. It was the first time I had in fact ever spoken to this person, and was very surprised to receive the call.
    What was different here in Fenland was the actions of the deputy leader in taking that email to the chief executive, knowing full well what he would do with the information, ie report the offending councillor to the standards committee.
    Given the knowledge I have, and you have, of Fenland it was obvious that we would become embroiled in yet another standards board inquiry, and with the all rancour that would no doubt bring.
    At that stage I, and many in your group, had no idea that the leader had been present when the email was discussed and handed to Mr Pilsbury, and I believe that to have been a major development in the story. I actually didn’t believe another source who said Geoff was present and after several days of trying I managed to track Geoff down and he duly confirmed his presence. He had, of course, allowed the story to fester for a week- including a page one splash- that allowed both our readers, and your group, to believe that his deputy had acted alone. Extraordinary.
    What is even more extraordinary, in my opinion, is that Geoff has been a long term critic of the standards process and, to quote him, “I look forward to an incoming Conservative Government abolishing this expensive, time cosuming and intrusive legislation”. Really? When his own actions, and those of his deputy, were about to launch another inquiry into Cllr Melton, and at a time when Cllr Melton was engaged in budget planning and about to steer through FDC’s 2010/11 budget, with its associated £2 million of savings.
    As a journalist, whose only additional role in society, is to be the ears and eyes of his readers this struck me as bonkers- why muddy the waters with a process that the Tories want to abolish? There must, surely, have been other remedies to deal with Cllr Melton, or anyone else come to that, who had spoken out of turn.
    The fact the Tory group on FDC felt the breach of confidentiality was sufficient to effect a change in leadership speaks for itself.
    The Cambs Times does have a conscience, and a duty of care to its readers, which is why the front pages of both this week’s papers make hardly any mention of the leadership issue and concentrates on the quite exciting, and wonderful news of the Building Schools for the Initiative projects for Wisbech and March.