Make a virtue out of necessity

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WHERE does all our money go?

What surprised me, when the Eastbourne Borough Council announced that an initial set of figures for just one month of expenditure over £500 was now available to view, was the claim that the council hadn’t been notified of the requirement, and especially the deadline of January 31.

Clearly, 98 per of all local authorities must have gleaned this from a reading of their tea leaves as they have been complying – and, in quite a few cases, for months – with the need to publish.

It’s so dispiriting that our council’s officers on this matter are mean-spirited in the way in which the details of expenditure are being made available.

No guidance to local people in how to read the material presented to us, just a computer spreadsheet straight from the computerised accounts listed in a way that makes no obvious sense to the average person in Eastbourne.

It’s likely that this mean-spirited compliance will backfire on the council as it invites people to believe that officers have something to hide. I doubt that this is intended.

The availability of the figures, when a full year’s worth of data is published, could do a lot to help local people understand why it costs so much to provide services, where our money goes and to whom, and to trigger in people an opportunity to question whether some services warrant the expenditure that has been taking place. Have we really been paying more than £4,000 per month for scaffolding around the Congress Theatre?

For example, local people can ponder on whether the considerable payments to consultants, marketing and PR businesses and agencies represent good value for money in relation to the reasons these organisations have been chosen.

Is too much of our money being spent on auto-pilot without questioning whether the town is getting real benefits?

Maybe we might cut the marketing and PR costs in half in order to spend more on making the seafront look more interesting?

I dare say that very many in the town would regard that as money well spent.

Within the Town Hall the publication of all expenditure over £500 may seem like a chore.

Instead it could be looked at as an opportunity. An opportunity to engage local people in the running of Eastbourne so that council politicians and officers see real priorities for where our money should go.

The fact is that it is only when people can see where the money is actually going that they think deeply about where they would really like the money to be spent.

This would make the council’s job so much easier, and probably much more efficient and effective, than the consultation game we’ve put up with for years.

So come on, let’s make a virtue out of necessity.

If others feel like I do, then make your opinions known so that the council hears clearly what we want.

Tony Crooks

Mendip Avenue