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Questions to the Leader and the Chief Exec 14 December, 2011

Posted by Jeremy Rowe in News.
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The archived webcast of yesterday’s meeting of the Corporate Resource Overview and Scrutiny Committee is now available on the Cornwall Council website. Don’t be put off by the name of the committee – it was actually quite an interesting meeting. Kevin Lavery, Chief Executive of the Council, and the Leader Alec Robertson came along to answer questions from Members about the performance of the authority over the last two years.

Predictably there was no small amount of propaganda but there was still a chance to ask a few awkward questions (certainly there were some around the areas of localism, communications, finance and outsourcing to name a few). However the main theme that seemed to run through the question and answer session was that the Tory-led Council seems to be suffering from a siege mentality with regard to the media. Time and again we heard the mantra that the local press, radio and television broadcasters simply won’t tell the “good news” and that they concentrate on stories like the Council’s £139,000 a day consultancy habit (can’t imagine why).

There was also very little doubt about which of the two men is in charge.

Anyway, have a look for yourself or you can read the accounts of other Councillors (Alex Folkes and Andrew Wallis). The Cornish Gazette have also produced their own unique account



1. Richard Best, editor, West Briton - 14 December, 2011

Nothing new, really, here – it is a mantra often trotted out that we, the media, only want to tell the bad news. It is simply not true – we run countless good stories in every issue of every paper. But the unusual – good, bad or indifferent – does make the upfront pages. Quite simply, people wouldn’t buy a newspaper if it was full of pages saying that nothing much happened this week, or that Cllr Jeremy Rowe had had a good enough week that went pretty much to plan. If something amazingly good or something terrible or unexpected happens, it moves into the category of news.
We are always happy to work with all public bodies, on good news issues. And if they come to us telling us they would like us to highlight a particular area of work I don’t remember us ever saying no. In fact we worked with Cornwall Council for a full year on the Our Cornwall campaign, giving considerable resources in terms of reporting staff, and a page a week in all three of our newspapers, to telling the ‘good news’ and helping to get positive messages across about lots of the good stuff that is going on and being driven from County Hall.
But of course we are going to run stories when things are not going to plan or if we discover things we believe that should be highlighted and about which the readers have a right to know.
These two arenas exist alongside one another.
It strikes me as naive to suggest that people aren’t going to be interested in the fact that we discovered a consultant earning £1,000 a day over a protracted period – which I believe is what the Chief Exec referred to when suggesting the LEP story was overshadowed. But I can’t believe he wouldn’t have made the same decision if he were in my position.
It is only right that the relationship between the media and the local authority is at times prickly. We do not exist to champion public bodies at all costs. We try to take a balanced and long term view. But if we see something that we view as either surprising or that doesn’t seem right to us we will – and we must – highlight it. That is a long tradition of the Fourth Estate and I thought we’d learned on both sides to take that on the chin and get on with life.
Nobody in their right mind would suggest that running Cornwall Council is an easy gig. It is terribly complex and difficult; it’s a long haul. But it is well rewarded: in officer terms those at the top earn fantastic salaries; and the leader of the authority gets an amazing amount of power, kudos and, above all, the opportunity to influence the lives of hundreds of thousands of folk every day of every week (not to mention the opportunity to visit Downing Street and enjoy a hotline to top-level politicians with government ministers). And rightly so: it is one of the country’s biggest authorities by any measure.
But with that comes regular scrutiny. That is the price of democracy.
Media-bashing is a popular pursuit right now. But remember this: in this story there has been no subterfuge, no phone-hacking. Simply a disagreement over what makes it onto the news agenda. Yes, the kitchen gets hot at times, but one always has two choices.

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