By Bill Heaney
Parkswatch campaigner NIck Kempe has voiced his dismay at the slipshod and secretive way the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board communicates with the public.
The “lifesize” video link of their “public” meeting keeps cutting out – “so I had to log back in ten or so times,” he told the community in his blog yesterday.
He added: “It appeared from disappearing board member and vice-convener Willie Nisbet that I was not the only person to have the problem.
“Unfortunately, it is still not possible to check what was said or decided in the missing bits because the LLTNPA still does not make recordings of meetings available afterwards.
“This contrasts with the Cairngorms National Park Authority whom, I am pleased to report, has now done what Parkswatch has advocated and made a recording of the meeting available on their website.”
Nick Kempe, pictured left, who is a retired local government officer, said that despite the first part of the LLTNPA meeting being devoted to Standing Orders and matters of governance, not a single member of their Board used the opportunity to suggest that recordings of their meetings should be made available public.
He added: “While LLTNPA Convener, James Stuart, welcomed video conferencing as a means to enable more people to observe the Board and introduced the discussion on the governance papers by stating ‘we should always take the opportunity to improve governance’, he doesn’t want the process to go too far.
“He and his Chief Executive [Gordon Watson] are probably only too aware of the 70 plus who watched the Hunter Foundation planning debacle (see here).
“The consequences for the National Park Authority if links to that decision-making travesty had been circulated across the world would have been serious.
As it was, only 7-8 people were recorded on the screen as viewing the latest debacle. This is not surprising.
“While Board Members get paid £200 for attending, members of the public are still expected to take a day off for the privilege of observing them.
“They don’t want people to zoom through and only watch the important bits.”
Nick wrote: “Since meetings started being held online and broadcast live, the possibility of Board Members being viewed has, however, had a transformative effect. Some of this has been positive.
“Two locally elected members, Willie Nisbet and Billy Ronald, who hitherto had said almost nothing, have in the last nine months become quite vocal (and said some good things). The operation of the Board though has become even more convoluted.
“When it was possible to attend Board Meetings in person, no-one apart from the top table were introduced and name plates were not visible from the area where the public sat.
“Now the first 10-15 minutes of meetings are taken up with introductions, when the names of all those in the frame and who speak are clearly displayed.
“Maybe this was all done for David McCowan who bizarrely appeared as 789520 and at the end of the meeting pointed out to [Cllr] Diane Docherty that she had mistyped her name as Docterty?!
“In the past, almost all decisions were, after being proposed and seconded, made on the nod.
“The Convener would ask if anyone was unhappy with a recommendation and if not it was taken as agreed. There is nothing wrong with that.
“But now at the end of each item or paper, the Convener goes round each Board Member individually to ask if they agree. The process is painful and is now applied even where items are simply there for noting.
“An endless roll call which by my calculation wasted about an hour of the meeting. It is hardly surprising that what the CNPA [Cairngorms] Board decides in two hours, arguably with more debate, takes the LLTNPA half a day.”
Nick Kempe said: “To make matters even worse, this method of decision making has been enshrined by a new paragraph in the revised Standing Orders:
“58. Where an officer’s recommendation is moved and seconded and no competent amendment has been tabled, this motion (the officer’s recommendation) will become the decision of the Board and therefore no show of hands is required. The Convener may, however invite Members to indicate their support for the motion by way of a show of hands and in which case the Proper Officer will announce the terms of the motion and take the vote by a show of hands unless the meeting is being held under Standing Order 25 [i.e online] and in which case Members will indicate their voting intentions by verbal confirmation.
“Not a single member of the Board questioned this change. It is worth asking why? I cannot believe that all believe this is good use of their time.”
The main discussion on governance was about replacing the Delivery Group, intended to oversee the implementation of significant projects, with a “Futures Group”.
Unlike the CNPA, whose Finance and Delivery Group operates in public (see here), that of the LLTNPA has always operated in secret and is not even mentioned on the Board’s list of Groups and Committees (see here).
Unfortunately, the governance of the new Futures Group – intended to take a look ahead (not a bad idea) – is even more opaque. Its terms of reference state that because it is not statutory, it won’t meet in public, “meetings will not be minuted” and it “will receive presentations and run facilitated discussion sessions rather than have agendas and reports”.
“In other words there is no way for a member of the public to find out what is happening without resorting to endless Freedom of Information requests.”