Councillor left waiting seven months for budget information

Robert Smart
Robert Smart

An Eastbourne Borough councillor has hit out at local government transparency, saying he has yet to receive information he requested seven months ago.

Speaking at a scrutiny committee meeting on Monday (September 3),  Conservative Robert Smart told members he has yet to receive detailed information about the council’s corporate landlord revenue despite first requesting a report in February.

Cllr Smart, who represents the Meads ward, said he had received an ‘uninformative’ response to his initial request, so repeated the call at the next scrutiny committee meeting in June.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Smart said: “There is a very serious point here. At the beginning of February the scrutiny committee, which is supposed to scrutinise, is given a preview of the budget.

“Rather than going through it line-by-line, we limit ourselves to a small number of questions and at the top of my list was the £2.7m sitting there as corporate landlord.  

“I find it really quite unsatisfactory that seven months later I have not had the answers I have requested.”

Cllr Smart added he would ideally like to see a property-by-property breakdown of the council’s rental portfolio income and raised concerns about a ‘lack of detail’ in what he considered to be a ‘high risk area’.

Responding to Cllr Smart’s comments council officers at the meeting said a ‘very high level’ analysis had been completed following the initial request and apologised that it had not yet been sent to him.

Officers said they would ensure the report would be circulated the following day.  

In a statement released after the meeting Cllr Smart said:  “I have understood that getting information out of local government is like getting blood out of a stone but I had hoped things might be different as an elected councillor.

“As a member of Eastbourne Borough Council’s scrutiny committee I was extremely modest in my demands for information in February when we were presented with the Lib Dems’ proposals for the 2018/19 budget.

“I didn’t ask for line-by-line explanations as one would in a professionally scrutinised organisation but selected one item that I judged to be key to the financial position of EBC.

“Initially I received an uninformative response. At the next scrutiny meeting in June I repeated the request but we are now in September with no response.

“It is appalling that a democratically-elected councillor and a member of the council’s so-called scrutiny committee has not received a full response to his first question some seven months later.”