Clive Stevens was a Green Councillor for Clifton Down between 2016 and 2021.More about Clive
Green Councillor Clive Stevens, Vice Chair of Audit Committee, has warned that cover-ups are “likely” if councillors aren’t allowed to properly scrutinise all Council documents. Councillor Stevens said Councillors on Audit Committee must be allowed to perform their duty and have full access to ‘exempt’ Bristol City Council documents.
At a Full Council Meeting on Tuesday 13th Jan, Councillor Stevens warned that if Bristol City Council continues to refuse access to documents it will lead to a climate of further mistrust and increased risk of coverups, mismanagement and poor value for money.
Councillor Stevens said;
“In local government, the Audit Committee is where Councillors get to inspect the Council’s dirty washing. Their task is to tease out learning points raised by various reports. The system relies on officers checking up on other officers and providing assurance to the Committee. But if it’s a highly charged issue, sometimes this doesn’t work and things gets covered up instead.”
Since 2017 Councillors on Audit have been tasked with looking at the value for money of Mayoral decisions. This has proved highly contentious, and has led to councillors on the committee requesting access to documents, which they have then been refused. The issue came to a head in June, when councillors across the political spectrum voted together calling for access to documents when necessary.
Councillor Stevens continued saying:
“This issue is highly charged. How can councillors assess value for money without access to the documents? We are being prevented from doing our jobs. When we ask for the information we need we are told it is not lawful to provide it as it’s not in the public interest. This goes to the heart of what is rotten in Bristol’s democracy. How can the public interest be served by hiding documents and not learning from mistakes? Is this really about the public interest, or about the Mayor and those close to him trying to protect the leadership?”
“External auditors are permitted to look into mistakes costing over £18million, like Bristol Energy, but I’m sure there are plenty less than that which don’t see the light of day. “
Speaking at Full Council on Tuesday night Councillor Stevens said:
“Value for Money enquiries are about holding the elected Mayor to account on his decision making. This is a national issue but I think made worse here due to Bristol’s current governance arrangements”.
“This is a matter of vital public interest. Without proper access rights to information there might be opportunities for cover-ups of bad or risky decisions, project overspends or worse”.
“For us to do our duty as elected councillors, Members must be able to examine council documents – if the council refuses to allow investigation of its mistakes then it is doomed to repeat them.”