I'll be writing about these issues in more detail over the next couple of weeks and am now doing some background research into Brett’s and their plans. But within 10 minutes of me kicking off my research and Googling information about the company blow me down if I didn’t spot something very interesting. According to a press release on Brett’s website the company has appointed a new Director of Lands and Planning. I assume that this Director will be responsible for acquiring, disposing of and managing all the sites and properties operated by Brett’s and ensuring that they all have the required planning permissions and licenses. I also assume that this Director will by the nature of the job title, be leading the negotiations and discussions with TDC and Kent County Council about the expansion of his employers operations at Ramsgate Port. But what caught my attention most was not the duties of the job, but the person who had been appointed to do it – Mr John Bunnett.
John Bunnett was until 2009 Deputy Chief Executive of Thanet District Council. If my recollections are correct Mr Bunnett was responsible for managing TDCs regeneration and planning operations . I also believe that he may have managed TDC’s current Chief Executive. Mr Bunnett left TDC in 2009 to become the Chief Executive of Ashford Borough Council where he remained until moving to Bretts this year.I’m not suggesting any impropriety by Mr Bunnett or anyone else, but I have always felt uncomfortable about the so called “revolving door” whereby senior public servants move into the private sector and then use their public sector knowledge, expertise and contacts to benefit their new employer. Indeed there was an identical situation 18 months ago when TDCs former Director of Planning and his deputy - Brian White and Doug Brown - were employed by O’Regans to unsuccessfully push through a planning application for a concrete block manufacturing operation at the port. I wrote about this in early 2015 and the posts are still on this blogsite if you are interested.
Although “revolving door” employment is perfectly legal it doesn’t feel right to me. I believe that there is something fundamentally unethical and undemocratic about private companies head hunting senior public servants to capitalise upon their knowledge, experience, contacts and influence in order to secure a unfair business advantage over their competitors. And its not just me who has these concerns. The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee and the Committee for Standards in Public Life have both said that the “revolving door” carries with it major risks of unfair influence and advantage which work against competitiveness and value for taxpayers money and can often lead to unfair and improper decision making. The highly regarded anti-corruption charity Transparency International recently published a report which argued that the revolving door can sometimes give rise to corruption, preferential treatment and unfair advantage.So as a starting point in considering Brett Aggregates plans for its Ramsgate Port operation, I think it would fair to ask Thanet Council and Kent County Council to provide the following information
· The number of meetings (formal or informal) which have been held in 2016 between TDC/KCC (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings.
· The number of telephone calls (formal or informal) which have taken place in 2016 between TDC/KCC (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings
· The number of e-mails (formal or informal) which have been exchanges in 2016 between TDC/KCC (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings
· Whether any of these meetings, telephone calls and e-mail exchanges involved Mr John Bunnett of Brett's and if so please specify which.