THE PRODUCTION of next year’s Hedon Town Calendar has been mired by social media accusations that some town councillors have acted in a ‘spiteful’ way when making the decision about its printing.
Hedon Town Council has published a calendar since 2014. One has been printed for sale every year except for 2020 the pandemic year. The calendar aims to produce a town souvenir that residents, in particular, would want to buy to use or send as presents over the Christmas period. It is sold to make a small profit that can be used to help finance other community events throughout the year. The organisation of the workload to produce the calendar is undertaken by the council’s Events working group. The group’s recommendations are taken to the council’s committees for formal decision making.
By 14th April this year, the Events group had received one quote to print the calendar. It was agreed to seek further quotes. By its meeting on 7th May, the group had three quotes to consider.
- Quote A: A breakdown of price per calendar and price for 200 calendars.
- Quote B: This was £0.77 less per calendar and £154 less for 200 calendars than Quote A.
- Quote C: This was £0.45 less per calendar and £90 less for 200 calendars than Quote A.
The recommendation of the Events group was to go with Quote B – the cheapest. Albeit the decision stipulated that the quality had to be the same as previous calendars. This was the recommendation taken to last night’s Finance & General Purposes Committee and agreed.
The dispute centres on whether any of the councillors involved had predetermined not to support Quote A because they had already made their mind up not to. A councillor is allegedly quoted on social media as saying in advance that the printer offering Quote A would not be supported by them because of its alleged associations with a particular Facebook group deemed by them to be anti-council. This is all allegation and HU12 Online has not seen any transcripts that confirm predetermination or bias. That is not to say that predetermination didn’t exist. We just cannot verify such.
There are several issues that this matter raises that deserves further investigation that may prompt improvements to Hedon Town Council policies and procedures. And crucially, how they explain these and publicise them to the public.
- When seeking quotes for a particular piece of work, should this be carried out by town councillors or delegated to council officers? Good practice in some larger council organisations, albeit dealing with larger amounts of public money, is that quotes for work are kept secret from those making the decisions until the actual decision-making meetings.
- What flexibilities can councillors exercise when making decisions?
- Best value? Does this always mean the cheapest quote?
- By making a decision is there an added value in benefiting local jobs, local work/training opportunities, and local small firms?
- What rights are there to campaign and exercise political decisions when awarding contracts? I want to support a local business, a green business, a new business, etc? Or, I don’t want to support this because….? Such opinions, if they form part of the decision-making, need to be clearly stated.
- Is the decision-making process clear and transparent, not only to councillors but to the interested public?
Whether it is a large or small amount of public funds as in this case, openness, clarity and transparency seem to be key principles. The public needs knowledge of, and greater confidence in, how decisions are made.
What about the allegations and counter-allegations on social media? Those keyboard battles, where not all parties to a debate engage, are better resolved in face-to-face meetings. It’s in the real world that issues and statements can be presented and solutions – if not agreement – sought. Social media whilst generally being beneficial can be and has been the source of flame wars and lead to enduring community grudges being born.
On a personal level, I’m extremely sad that a worthwhile and positive project like the Town Calendar has become the subject of such a debate. But hope that this article can offer something positive to what on social media has at times become a very disturbing conversation.
Ray Duffill, Editor (personal capacity)