Accountability needed

Two stories in the Adver illustrated an aspect of our public services that is in urgent need of improvement.

One article was about an allegedly high pending payoff to a Swindon Borough Council senior official.

The other was about three unnamed local Borough Councillors who had received court orders for non-payment of council tax.

An elite within the public sector seems to have been allowed to get away in recent years with withholding information.

Often that may have been encouraged by a culture of some public servants, public body board members or councillors who think they have a general right to act in that way. Or they have been permitted to take notions about class superiority or some other ridiculous notion about the right to rule into the boardrooms of public bodies. Either way the result can be public unaccountability.

This still-prevailing general culture of secrecy that often seems to prevent the public from knowing things done on their behalf should be ended. The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 has gone a long way towards doing that, but it is also often perverted by those public officials who use such things as statutory time limits to delay answering for as long as possible.

Or perhaps worse, as I have seen evidence of on some websites, by treating all requests for information as a FOI matter. No doubt deterring people from asking any question at all!

Imagine a situation in which somebody asking about shops’ opening hours were told, “I can’t tell you, it's commercially sensitive information”. Quite true. Or being told that an answer will be given within 20 working days. After which time the information may have been quite useless.

I hope that eradicating high-handed unaccountability in what after all are meant to be our public services will have been high on the list of any New Year resolutions made by our public servants and politicians.

Geraint Day Southampton Street, Swindon

Don’t knock Auntie

I must challenge the views of a disgruntled C J Meek with reference his desire to see the BBC sold off. Clearly he has not had the opportunity to visit other countries where the sort of proposal he has made has been in practice.

The BBC offers superb value for money compared to Mr Meek’s friends in Sky. They are clever at hooking customers and then putting up the prices. The BBC offers quality across the whole range of their production. Without the BBC challenging Mr Murdoch’s Sky to develop their quality, Sky would produce the sort of poor quality American citizens are having to put up with.

The BBC does make errors, but compared to vast output that they produce each year, this is minimal. A free for all would lead to the quality plummeting.

Compared to the prices Sky charge, the £3 per week the BBC licence costs is great value for money. Sadly due to political interference, they are restricted in their ability to maintain a balanced sports portfolio. This is highlighted by the great presentation of the Olympics compared to the second rate presentation of the paralympics by Channel 4. Despite this, a Britain without the BBC would be a far worse country to live in.

P K Baker The Cullerns, Highworth

Caring at Christmas

I was privileged to help out at Christmas Care Queens Drive on Christmas Day as a volunteer. As a very small cog in a big wheel, it was amazing to see what was produced to give the guests a good Christmas.

I think special thanks need to go to Betty Spence who has been organising this for over 20 years and Patsy Moloney for 12 years and also the companies and members of the public who donated so that everyone who turned up was warm, dry and had three meals a day, plus the medical staff who were on hand to help out with any medical problems.

On a personal note a very big thank you to my place of work in West Swindon where staff all brought items in and also to the many of my friends who did likewise. I can’t miss out Coleshill Catering, what a fantastic job they all did and of course the church at Queens Drive for the use of the hall, kitchen and other rooms etc.

I enjoyed the whole experience and it is something I will do again, circumstances permitting. It was a pleasure to be able to mix and chat with people who do not have what we sometimes take for granted.

Regardless of whether you were religious or not there was much human kindness and peace on earth shown on that day and I am sure for the rest of the time the centre was open.

Swindon can be proud of itself.

Maureen Gill Woodhall Park, Swindon

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