Today I have some sympathy for the politburo and apparatchiks of Suffolk Country Council which is planning to turn county hall into a giant buying department. It wants to buy in all the services it provides.
The East Anglian Daily Times has today fearlessly posed the questions it believes the citizens of Suffolk want answering.
Here is question 4:
Does Suffolk County Council have the general leadership knowledge, experience and capacity for the scale and pace of changes proposed – and their implications, including unanticipated events?
Is there leadership knowledge, experience and capacity in Suffolk County Council to work through all the detail of the changes in a partnership way with council staff, service users, voluntary organisations and potential service providers?
How will the council build support for what is proposed?
Of course, they will hold up their hands and say “No. We don’t have the expertise to do this. We are going to have to employ consultants at the cost of zillions to do it for us.”
All the questions are just as woolly and can only lead to “political” answers.
For example, on the subject of children at risk and families in need it asks if the council has “anticipated the impacts” and what does it think these will be.
I think I can hazard a guess at the reply: “We have considered the impacts which will be a better service provided by private and charity sector providers as a lower cost of council tax payers.” Something along those lines but probably dressed up with more jargon.
The one thing the questions show is that the editor of the EADT, Terry Hunt, who wrote them, is no John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman. We probably don’t want their aggressive style but we do need clear questions which make political waffle obvious.
There are questions that need asking. They should be incisive. I imagine Suffolk CC is looking closely at the London borough of Barnet (Easy Council) whose “no frills” policy is costing more than it is saving, according to the Guardian.
As for Suffolk, I want the local daily paper to ask much tougher questions which suggest they have really thought about what the voters want to know. It is the job of newspapers to hold councils to account, not to toss them easy balls.
The trouble is that in trying to be impartial the EADT is looking like a plant at a press conference tossing in the easy questions provided by the spin machine.