Eric Pickles MP brands St Edmundsbury ‘ridiculous’ demanding they publish councillor attendance data

Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2011

A top Tory minister has branded St Edmundsbury Borough Council “ridiculous” after it emerged they decided not to publish councillor attendance figures.

David Nettleton

David Nettleton - Credit: Archant

Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, demanded that the council publishes the data “straight away”.

The council described the figures as “meaningless” and “skewed” but have been accused of failing to ensure accountability and transparency, with residents unable to look up how often their councillors attend meetings.

Mr Pickles said: “It is ridiculous – of course they have got to produce them. It is not up to the council to decide what is meaningless, it is up to the public.

“They should get on and publish them [the figures] straight away, it is ridiculous. They are letting their public down and they are letting the image of local authorities down.”

Councillor David Nettleton, independent member for the Risbygate ward in Bury, said Mr Pickles’ views were “not surprising”

He said: “You have got to think ‘what are they so frightened of?’ What have they got to hide that means they won’t publish them?

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“When they were publishing the attendance figures, councillors who appeared at the bottom of the list, they started attending more.”

The council previously published the figures on a yearly basis, ending in 2013. Babergh District Council, Mid Suffolk District Council and Forest Heath District Council all publish the data.

Cllr David Ray, Cabinet member for resources and performance, claimed the figures presented “a very skewed image”.

“The performance of each of us as councillors is held to account by our electors at the ballot box,” he said.

“You could have a hard working councillor who has attended local enterprise partnership meetings, business meetings, residents’ association meetings, parish councils – all on the behalf of his electorate – all of which go unrecorded.

“Perhaps that councillor has missed one or two committee meetings as it clashed with another he or she has prioritised – and suddenly the councillor is penalised.

“In short these figures were pretty meaningless in determining a councillor’s worth. Our true worth is represented not on bits of paper or attendance figures, but the actions we take and the decisions we make on behalf of our electorate.”

This attitude was criticised by Andy Silvester, of Taxpayers’ Alliance. He said: “Residents must have this information. Of course councillors will be judged on more than their attendance.

“There’s no excuse for such a lack of transparency. If the figures are missing information, they should be improved - not hidden from public scrutiny.”