View from the chamber: Green Flag park reports hidden from us
PUBLISHED: 12:30 14 February 2019
The government advises that: "Transparency and openness should be the fundamental principle behind everything councils and other local government bodies do."
Sadly, this is not how Labour-run Haringey Council has handled the recent Green Flag reports on Haringey’s parks.
Here’s how the process is supposed to work: the council keeps our parks in good condition, then an independent charity called Keep Britain Tidy sends a mystery shopper to visit, this inspector finds a pleasant and well maintained park and reports that back to Keep Britain Tidy, who then award the park a “Green” status and, to recognise its good work, the council gets to fly the “Green Flag” over the park. However, in Haringey this broke down at the first stage. Parks were poorly managed and the mystery shoppers found serious problems. For example, the report warned that the picnic area in Finsbury Park was “teeming with rats”. The report into Albert Rec highlighted that screw heads were exposed on slides and there was dog faeces on hard surfaces.
Issues like this meant that nine of Haringey’s parks were rated “red”, the worst category in the awards.
The response from Haringey Council was to only publish two of these nine reports, hiding the other seven from the public. They were only released following a Freedom of Information request, and were accompanied by complaints from the administration about being inspected too often. Throughout the process, Haringey repeatedly left the Green Flag flying over parks that had failed their inspections.
Engaging in this sort of behaviour broke two of Labour’s manifesto commitments. Specifically to retain all of Haringey’s Green Flags, but more broadly “to build a strong local democracy, with transparent processes [and] accountable councillors.” Sadly, this is far from the only case where Haringey Labour has eschewed transparency. For example, they recently had the council’s press office tweet out a picture of two Labour councillors waving an EU flag. Naturally they would want their voters – 76 per cent of whom voted remain in the 2016 referendum – to form the impression that Haringey Labour is doing everything it can to stay in the EU. Yet both of these councillors spoke against a motion last October supporting a “people’s vote” on the final Brexit deal. In fact, every single Labour councillor present voted for an amendment that struck out all references to a people’s vote or the possibility of staying in the EU. Now, political parties do not always have to share the views of their electorate. If they did, then we could just replace them with opinion pollsters. But trying to pretend you really do, when you don’t, is a breach of trust.
We are already in an age where people generally don’t have faith in their politicians and populists are harnessing that divide to promote their own sinister ends. In that context, anyone in public office acting in an underhanded or secretive way is simply adding fuel to a very dangerous fire. Haringey Labour have a responsibility to act with the transparency and accountability they promised in their manifesto.