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Wasting Public Resources?

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Money Down the Drain 01

Haddenham Parish Council always needs to be responsive to enquiries from local residents and to communicate effectively about its roles and responsibilities when it comes to managing village amenities such as the sports fields, public play areas, allotments, greens and grass verges, street lights and so forth.

It also needs to follow appropriate tendering and evaluation processes before committing public money and engaging contractors who carry out work on behalf of HPC.

The main media through which the Parish Council seeks to keep local residents informed has been the regular 'Village News' publication, its website and the minutes of all general meetings and those of its committees: finance & general purpose, environment, planning, communications and others.

As most residents would agree, the Parish Council website is poor by modern standards, and a new site is currently being designed — hopefully to be launched in a few months. This should make access to minutes and other key sources of information much easier and clearer.

At the Parish Council meeting held on Tuesday 3rd April, concern was expressed that HPC had been subject to a raft of information requests from one specific resident.

During a six week period, the individual had submitted 36 questions. Some of these requested detailed information relating to the content of minutes from HPC meetings that had taken place several years ago.

During the public interaction phase of the meeting on 3rd April, HPC Chair David Truesdale read out replies to 5 questions for which the resident wanted responses at the meeting, and advised that replies to all 36 questions would be appended to the minutes of the meeting*. It was noted that the resident did not attend the meeting.

In a report to the Parish Council, it was emphasised that a large number of person-hours had been consumed in responding to these enquiries, involving the Clerk and several parish councillors, along with staff from BCC, AVDC and Thames Valley Police. Indeed it was estimated that the costs incurred during March 2018 were approximately £1,500 — a cost to village residents as local tax payers.

Dealing with these potentially "vexatious queries" the normal operations of the Parish Council had all but stopped for the equivalent of one working week, delaying important matters that would otherwise have been managed by the council Clerk and councillors over this period amounting to a "Denial of Service" attack on the Council.

At the conclusion of the meeting the councillors unanimously agreed to ask the Clerk to write to the individual stating that any further correspondence of a 'scattergun' nature (as defined by the Government's Information Commissioner's Office) is an unacceptable use of Parish Council resources and that in any case, in order to reassure other residents that normal services can and will continue to be delivered on time and as expected, the PC will cap the amount spent on dealing with the individual's correspondence at £100 per week and this work will be done on a Friday only in order to ensure such requests do not distract officers from the vital work of the Council throughout the whole working week.

The responses document* have been appended to the Parish Council minutes which can be viewed in draft form here.