Steve Sankey:More Transparency and a Culture Change Needed in OIC

Two Green prospective candidates in the forthcoming OIC election on 4 May were recently presented with a dilemma: to stand as Independents, or as candidates of the Scottish Green Party. Although it’s traditional for candidates in the Isles to stand as Independents, some elected have had clear party loyalties, including Convenors! For us, the choice was clear – the electorate should be presented with unambiguous local policies to encourage the implementation of a greener approach to local decision-making. Neither of us had the slightest inclination to stand as Independents – we’re Green and proud of it.

Take a moment to think about what your local councillors stands for. Do you have the remotest idea? With the exception of the three Orkney Manifesto Group councillors, not one of the remaining 18 councillors has a local election manifesto that you can assess, although at least one produces a monthly summary of activities. You must trust that they will consider your interests, and the strategic future of OIC.

Then there’s the issue of secrecy – look at last week’s Orcadian headline. There are many issues that are debated by councillors and officers in secret, and I’m wondering whether obfuscation is becoming more prevalent. Take the recent January budget discussion, when a secret meeting considered the proposed cuts of £3 million. Happily our six Green MSPs secured close to one-third of this deficit for Orkney following national budget discussions with the Scottish Government. But my point is, what could be more important than decisions over potential cuts to our local services, and why should this meeting, above all others, have been held in private?

There are lots more examples. Who knows what’s going on with the resolution of the Barrier issue? Is there progress on the development of the short-sea crossing at Burwick? Councillors wanted a recent discussion about OIC investments held in private, which ultimately still fell short of making a divestment in companies involved in the Arms Trade. Our view is that decision-making should be open and transparent, and the all-too-convenient label of ‘commercial confidentiality’ should not be used to excuse what is becoming a routinely secretive habit.

Few councillors hold surgeries to engage with the public before making their decisions, and my view is that this may breed complacency and institutional inertia. In our experience some councillors don’t even answer emails, which, apart from being either rude or lazy, is another lost opportunity to engage with their electorate. As a result, some important issues receive inadequate public scrutiny. Did I mention the barriers? You will also have no idea what your Independent councillors vote for, both now and if re-elected.

If you were to consider voting for a Green candidate next May, we will publish our manifesto beforehand, hold bi-annual surgeries both beforehand and if elected, and we will constantly seek feedback from our electors. We’ll try to open up the decision-making processes of OIC, and be as transparent as possible with our voting record. A culture change is required within OIC and your support would be very welcome.

This is a fortnightly column from a  Scottish Green Party representative

Steve Sankey is Co-convenor of the Orkney Greens, and prospective SGP candidate for the OIC Ward of East Mainland, Burray and South Ronaldsay.

Helen Woodsford-Dean is the prospective SGP candidate for the OIC Ward of West Mainland.

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