In 2013, Hastings Borough Council made a decision that an ‘annual briefing from the Chief Executive of SeaChange’ (that is to say, John Shaw) should be ‘made part of the annual Programme of Member training’. However, a Freedom of Information request made recently by Combe Haven Defenders has revealed that three and a half years after that decision was made, no such briefing has taken place.
The reason? ‘ Due to other commitments, the Member Training and Development Group have [sic] not been able to schedule a briefing’. But we don’t need to worry because ‘The council’s appointed Director on the Board of SeaChange (currently Councillor Poole), continues to attend quarterly meetings of Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Services, and members have the opportunity to ask for updates about the work of SeaChange as part of their performance monitoring role if they wish’.
That’s ok then. But if we examine the minutes of the quarterly Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Services, how many questions have members asked about the work of SeaChange over that three and a half year period? Zero. Not one single question, about the work of a private company which has over that period taken millions of pounds of public money, for a number of projects some of which are at best of questionable value.
Because SeaChange is a private company (albeit an entirely public-funded one), it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. We can ask the company as many questions as we want (as indeed, Combe Haven Defenders have) but they are under no obligation to reply. The many questions we have asked over the past few years, about accountability, funding, fantastical job creation claims, have all been met with silence from SeaChange. On one of the few occasions when we managed to speak to a SeaChange Sussex representative in person, and tried to ask him some questions, he fled to the toilet and called the police.
In other words, we as individuals can find out nothing about SeaChange: the only way that it can be held to account is by our councillors. Based on what we’ve seen so far, they are failing miserably in their duty of ensuring that public money is spent on projects which are environmentally, socially and economically sound. Instead, we appear to have a situation where SeaChange is given more and more public money with absolutely no accountability, no transparency, no evidence that their projects are actually creating the ‘regeneration’ and jobs that they claim. SeaChange can make any kind of claims it wants, and nobody asks any questions.
If your councillor is on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, why not email them and demand that they start asking a few questions of SeaChange Sussex?