Broads Authority accused of gagging its members

PUBLISHED: 06:30 23 March 2015 | UPDATED: 11:17 23 March 2015

David Broad, former chairman of the Broads Authority Navigation Committee pictured at his home in Horning.

David Broad, former chairman of the Broads Authority Navigation Committee pictured at his home in Horning. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

The organisation which looks after the Broads has been accused of gagging its members by an outgoing senior official.

Broads Authority response:

Stephen Johnson, former Broads Authority chairman, said:

“Putting media requests and enquiries through the press office and nominating key spokespeople means the public gets clear accurate information which reflects collective decisions.

“The same kind of policy exists for most or all other organisations which work in a similar way to a board structure, including the other members of the UK national park family. Local councils operate differently because councillors speak on behalf of their party rather than the council.

“Almost all members understand the need for our media policy and fully adopt it and we would hope that collective responsibility to fellow members means others advocate it.

“Occasional minor instances outside it warrant only a gentle reminder of the policy.

“In exceptional cases where false information has been put out deliberately to undermine our decision making process or the decisions by fellow members we try to work with the member to resolve it and if this isn’t successful a referral may be made to the monitoring officer to ensure the situation is dealt with appropriately and fairly.”

David Broad, 68, has highlighted “draconian” rules at the Broads Authority which he says he has been forced to follow in his seven-year tenure.

Mr Broad, the former navigation chairman and full authority vice chairman, has made the comments at the end of his membership at the organisation.

He has called for the policy – which says members’ comments should be discussed with the head of communications or other senior figures before talking to the media – to be scrapped and has branded the authority “an unaccountable quango”.

But Stephen Johnson, who has just stepped down after seven years as chairman, denied the authority gags its members and said the policy is standard practice in non-political organisations.Mr Broad, of Ropes Hill Dyke in Horning, believes the rules mean many members are unable to fulfil their job description of being ambassadors.

He said: “The new rules for member behaviour and conduct have been draconian and taken literally would prevent much of our job functions being achieved.

“The end of my membership at last allows me to say what I think should be said.

“The communications policy is a gagging order. There’s member and officer policy which defines what we can and can’t do.

“It boils down to a situation where we have to get approval for what we want to say, and even then fault is found.”According to Mr Broad, members are unwilling to speak publicly on issues which have not been pre-approved for fear of being called in front of the monitoring officer.

He said: “Members feel intimidated and unable to speak about anything.

“The rules need to be liberalised. It’s a very restrictive policy and I think it’s counter-productive.

“It’s borne out of an unnecessary concern of what people might say critically.

“But members are supposed to be advocating the authority and the policy stops them from actually doing that.”

He believes other national parks have guidelines which allows its members to talk freely and leave comments on web forums without fear of being reprimanded.

Mr Broad also questioned the accountability of the authority and said that those who live and work on the Broads should be allowed to elect people to represent them.

The current rules see members selected by local councils, the secretary of state for the environment and two members from the navigation committee.

The Government announced last year that it would bring forward a bill which would have seen people living locally allowed to directly elect some of the Broads Authority members. But that promise is unlikely to materialise with the general election in May.

Mr Broad said: “The Broads Authority is an unaccountable quango, in that it doesn’t have any direct accountability in terms of elected members.

“It’s a very powerful organisation and it’s not accountable to anyone and that’s very dangerous.”

The Broads Authority said it has measures in place to provide local accountability and said it supported the principle of direct elections when it was consulted by the Government.

Do you have a story about the Broads area? Contact Broads reporter Rosa McMahon on 01603 772453.

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