South Tyneside standards committee review 2005

Having acted on information sent to our tip-offs box, our Twitter followers may recall Scrapbook’s frustration at South Tyneside Council’s approach to accountability last week. While other local authorities have published their councillors’ statutory register of interests online for years, South Tyneside appear to be stuck in some form of transparency timewarp redolent of T. Dan Smith-era Newcastle.

With no register published online, our freedom of information request for this most basic of democratic information was kept in a dusty filing cabinet for 15 months. The reply, when it finally came, was that we should make a 550-mile round trip to view information on elected officials:

We soon discovered that such a response breached the guidance set by the Information Commissioner:

Over the weekend, however, we were informed that the council were actually breaking the law by keeping the register a secret. Thanks to transparency champion (cough) Eric Pickles, Section 29 of the Localism Act 2011 stipulates that the register must be published online:

(5) The monitoring officer of a relevant authority other than a parish council must secure—

(a) that a copy of the authority’s register is available for inspection at a place in the authority’s area at all reasonable hours, and

(b) that the register is published on the authority’s website.

It turns out that the council leader himself, Iain Malcolm, was present at the meeting which decided not to publish the register in order to protect the “individual privacy of members”.

The Streisand Effect — not to mention legally mandated transparency — my soon be paying a visit to Tyneside.

  1. Barnet does the same with any councillors who have chosen to opt out of the online declarations,allowed to do so on the rather dodgy grounds that the information relates to personal data. I still don’t know if they are entitled to do this. My last visit to view the withheld listings, under the usual conditions of top security and corporate panic, was delayed by fifteen minutes while they updated the entry of a councillor who had ‘forgotten’ to declare a very important interest. Most entertaining.

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