Published: 00:01, 17 December 2014
A row has broken out over a move by Kent County Council to stop publishing details of how many meetings county councillors attend.
KCC says it took the decision after some councillors complained it could give a misleading impression of the work they did as an elected member.
The decision to stop publishing the attendance records of all 84 county councillors on the authority’s website was criticised by Green councillor Martin Whybrow.
He complained the proposal had not been discussed properly and voters were entitled to know which meetings their councillors, who are paid just under £13,000 a year, had gone to or been absent from.
“It is a pretty arbitrary decision which members were not aware of or informed about. I am not convinced by the explanation and feel there is a public interest in the information.
"I accept it may not be a totally accurate picture of what we do but it does give an indication of how a member is performing,” he said.
Cllr Gary Cooke (Con), KCC cabinet member for democratic services, said he acted after representations from a number of members.
"I feel there is a public interest in the information..." - Martin Whybrow (Greens)
“I formed the view that these statistics, while accurate, could lead to an entirely misleading impression being given about how hard members work for their communities, which goes way beyond attending formal meetings.”
He added the figures were “a statistical snapshot about just one of the many responsibilities elected members perform” and there were often genuine reasons why councillors may not be able to attend a meeting.
There was no legal requirement to publish attendance records but could still be accessed by the public through Freedom of Information requests, he said.
KCC planned to examine “innovative and reative ways” to show the public more details of the work they did for their communities, he added.
Kent County Council is much more transparent than it used to be but decisions like this show how it can lapse into old habits.
Apparently, some members are concerned the information could be taken out of context by the public. In other words, the public is not capable of or intelligent enough to understand the figures.
If you applied this perverse logic to other information, then the council would probably end up publishing very little.
Each month, KCC lists all invoices related to expenditure over £250 - thousands of them. But this is not put into any context or accompanied by any explanation - just like the information on councillors attendance records.
KCC is wrong to stop producing these figures. Voters who pay their annual wage bill of £1.7m each year are entitled to know which meetings their representatives have attended.
And those they have not.
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