Sunlight is the best disinfectant. I have always firmly believed that openness and honesty are essential principles in public life. These, together with integrity, selflessness, objectivity, accountability and leadership are the Nolan principles and should inform the behaviour of all those in public office.
One of my first acts as a Health Minister was to start working towards the establishment of a public inquiry into the Infected blood scandal. During the 1980s many people were given blood transfusions which were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. I believed that those affected deserved the truth and that the NHS should be held to account. I am pleased that the inquiry is already making a real difference to those affected. They have frankly had to wait too long and many of those affected have lost their lives in the interim.
It is an all too common behaviour when faced with difficulty or embarrassment to look the other way. Honesty is always the best policy as the truth will out in the end.
Which brings me to Thurrock Council. It isn’t unusual for local authorities to borrow to invest. Neither is it unusual for the details of loans to be treated as commercially confidential. It is however disappointing that Thurrock has failed to be more open about its financial strategy. In doing so it has left a vacuum which others are happy to fill.
The facts are these. The investment strategy has brought in £115m in extra revenue to Thurrock Council. That money has been spent on council services. That is money that would otherwise be raised from Thurrock’s council taxpayers. With Thurrock Council spending approximately 150m a year, that is a pretty hefty contribution.
I look forward to Thurrock Council being much clearer with its communications on these issues. As taxpayers we are entitled to be reassured that the finances are being soundly managed.