Maynard v Hopkins: round 2

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Rother's leader, Carl Maynard: believes criticism by fellow Tory has come at a sensitive time

Kris Hopkins, Conservative MP and Minister for Local Government, last week criticised Rother District Council for what he described as failings in transparency. Carl Maynard, Tory leader of the council has now replied – his full text follows. The Minister’s letter can be found on our website here.

Dear Mr Hopkins
TRANSPARENCY: FAILINGS BY ROTHER COUNCIL

Thank you for your letter dated 18 March 2015.

I would emphasise that Rother District Council has never “hidden” information from the public and its community — indeed in the last two years we have only conducted two reports in confidential session and both these were to do with legal matters.

The changes made to our organisational structure and the redundancy payments were all in line with the council’s redundancy policy and made clear in public reports.

Furthermore, as leader of the council and chairman of the cabinet I have always encouraged full discussion of issues at cabinet meetings and allowed, in fact encouraged, non-cabinet members to speak. I can assure you that the issues you raise in your letter are being actioned and the information will be placed on our website in the next few weeks as you suggest (in fact if your officials wish to check they will find much of it already there).

I am hugely disappointed to receive such a letter from the DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government] only weeks before the general and district elections on matters where you believe we have not conformed to the various codes. With staff resources within Rother DC having been depleted by 27 per cent over the last three years, our previous response offered the council’s commitment to comply with the codes and legislation within a reasonable timescale and within existing staff resources.

We take our accountabilities to our community extremely seriously and as a responsible Conservative administration we have:

  • Met the challenges of managing increasing volumes of work with decreasing resources. The new burdens funding from the Government is welcome and acknowledged but there have been increases in existing workload. For instance the council has responded to all Freedom of Information [FOI] requests within the specified timescales. The council is currently servicing, on average, 13 FOI requests each week drawing on resources redirected from frontline service provision. Most of these enquiries are from national marketing companies seeking free information and of no interest to the local community, but we still comply. We have also met other new duties such as registering assets of community value that has proved onerous and required further redirection of resources away from frontline services.
  • Followed the Coalition Government drive to hold levels of council tax and frozen our share for residents for the full term of this council.
  • Maintained the lowest council tax of any of the East Sussex authorities.
  • Maintained services to our residents and local businesses despite the reduction in our funding through such activities as joint working, outsourcing, sharing services and devolvement to communities and parish and town councils.
  • Worked extensively with voluntary organisations, which is reported to full council every year and a recent scrutiny meeting conducted in public of every service level agreement we have with voluntary organisations
  • Reduced our senior management team by a third, including removing the post of chief executive.
  • Led or been an active partner in numerous regeneration projects throughout the district addressing the need of “getting people back into work”.
  • Worked together with our neighbouring authorities to deliver substantial savings to our residents, primarily through such contracts as joint waste, parks, leisure and cleaning services to name but a few. The joint waste contract alone (led by Rother) is generating annual savings of £3 million per year for the residents of East Sussex.
  • Worked with central government agencies to deliver better services to our residents and significant savings to the public purse, a prime example being roll out of Universal Credit and the soon to be co-located Job Centre Plus offices within a Rother District Council building.
  • Worked with the Cabinet Office to implement e-PIMs [product information memorandum] as our property data system (because of the imminent election we have been given a date by Cabinet Office of June for this to be “live”).

As I have previously said, it was therefore hugely disappointing to receive your letter. Your view is not shared by the Conservative councillors and MPs in this area who view Rother DC as one of the more responsible authorities.

Nevertheless, as previously requested, every effort will be made to accommodate your requirement over the forthcoming weeks.

Yours sincerely
Cllr Carl Maynard