A local democracy reporter has hit back after a university chief criticised “meddling journalists” while addressing members of a crisis-hit council.
Nick Petford, vice chancellor of the University of Northampton, hit out at the press while addressing a full meeting of Northamptonshire County Council, claiming reporters were set on “accentuating the negative.”
The authority collapsed last year with a £41m financial deficit, and Ofsted has since put the council’s children’s services department into special measures after a series of failings.
A children’s commissioner has been appointed to oversee the department, as well as two commissioners to make sure the Conservative-run council gets back on track before it is due to close down in 2021.
But Mr Petford told councillors they were doing a “great job” after being invited to address them in an invited slot of Thought for the Day.
He told the councillors: “It takes courage to commit publicly to an idea or a set of values in a climate – as we watch tv – dominated by hostility. Served up 24/7 by unaccountable keyboard warriors venting their spleens on social media, or worse still, meddling journalists asking difficult questions with both eyes set on accentuating the negative.
“Arguably NCC has had perhaps some of the worst of it with events over the past 24 months playing into the hands of cynics and naysayers. It can’t be easy to be told by be told as politicians and councillors by outsiders that as elected representatives things need to change and quickly.
“The political roles you collectively shoulder are not a curse they are a privilege. You are here to serve the people of Northamptonshire, and you are doing, by the way, a great job.”
Sarah Ward and James Averill, who cover the authority for regional newspapers including the Northampton Chronicle & Echo and Northamptonshire Telegraph under the BBC-funded local democracy reporting scheme, were both present at the meeting to hear Mr Petford’s remarks.
Sarah, pictured, told HTFP: “I was totally bemused when I heard Nick Petford’s comments, especially when sat in a council chamber that over the past 18 months has heard unbelievable tales of mismanagement and has voted for cuts to services that are having a big impact on many Northamptonshire residents and council staff.
“There is no doubt that Nick Petford is aware of the situation as he is chair of the health and wellbeing board and his university has been involved in a number of projects with the council.
“To say the councillors are doing a ‘great job’ is an interesting take on the situation. Perhaps he wanted to give the councillors a boost, but denigrating the press was not the way to have done it.”