Public office is still a public trust - Peterborough politicians need to be transparent and ethical

Recently, Councillor Stuart Martin, Labour's Shadow Cabinet Member with responsibility for housing - and also a councillor for Bretton - asked Medesham Homes about the state of the Bretton Court development (writes columnist Shaz Nawaz, city council Labour group leader).

Friday, 2nd November 2018, 6:52 am
Updated Friday, 2nd November 2018, 9:46 am
An artists impression of the new building at Bretton Court

The response he received was not encouraging. I quote: “We fully appreciate the importance of and need to provide answers to your local residents’ questions.  In considering how the residents could most quickly get up to date information, I think the best course would be if you put them in touch directly with Cllr Peter Hiller as his role as a Medesham Homes Board Member and also the relevant Cabinet Member, makes him best placed to field ongoing questions as soon as is possible.”

So: Medesham Homes not only refused to give information to Bretton’s elected representative about an upcoming development that affects his constituents, they also said that all enquiries should go back to Councillor Hiller, who is both responsible for housing in our city and also on the board of the Medesham Homes.

This is disquieting. There should be boundaries between a cabinet member’s responsibilities and their duties as a member of a board of a company which provides services to the city. It does not matter that Medesham is a joint venture between the city and Cross Keys. The company should respond for itself and with haste; common sense dictates that a certain distance between the Cabinet and Medesham is merited.

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A colleague of mine recently reminded me of a political slogan from the 19th century: “Public office is a public trust”. This maxim resonated in an era in which big money sat far too cosily with the offices of state. I believe we need to revive this principle.

When Labour is elected to run the city, we will put in place a rule which prohibits the kind of relationships we see in train at Bretton Court. The Cabinet Member for Housing should have a clear and independent view of those who are building homes in the city; membership of housing company boards will only be permitted if there is no conflict of interest. The same holds true for all the other portfolios: all cabinet members will be required to declare their interests and ensure that they adhere to clear ethical boundaries to ensure that Peterborough gets the benefit of sound judgement and clear lines of communication. Service providers will be obliged to respond to councillors’ questions.

Politicians are often derided: Things I’ve heard on the doorstep include, “You’re all in it together”, “You’re as bad as each other” and so on. If we are going to rebuild trust in local democracy, we are going to have to say what we mean, and mean what we say. Public office is a public trust: We need to operate in an open, transparent and ethical manner in order to prove that we are worthy of the public’s trust. That’s the mission I have set for myself and for the Labour Group: We will deliver.