Parliamentary Select Committee on Voter Engagement: EDDC cited for refusing to respond to Freedom of Information Requests

The Select Committee inquiry into Voter Engagement has produced an INTERIM report which can be found here:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpolcon/232/232.pdf

Being interim is unusual, and they are seeking consultation comments on their conclusions and recommendations.

Paragraph 115 comments explicitly on East Devon’s refusal to answer FoI requests.

The Committee notes that despite evidence from the Electoral Commission that they would advise EROs to respond to FOI requests as though they were subject to the Act, East Devon District Council has been refusing to respond to requests for information under the FOI Act from members of the public in respect of electoral registration activity.”

One of the recommendations is that EROs / ROs are brought under the FoI umbrella so that is required by law not just advisory.

Councillor slams CEO Mark Williams over “outing” of witness in police inquiry

More on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC)……

A heated clash took place at last night’s OSC meeting, between Independent Councillor Roger Giles and the Chief Executive, over the content of Mr Williams’ letter to councillors on 12 November, 2014.

Cllr Giles took advantage of the presence of Chief Superintendent Keith Perkin to as what view the officer would take of someone divulging the name of a person interviewed by the police in connection with a criminal inquiry. “A dim one”, was the reply.

Cllr Giles then asked “What view would you take of the Chief Executive of EDDC yesterday issuing a message in which he named a person interviewed by the police, that person being an East Devon District Councillor”.

Cue applause from the public seats and tut-tutting from some Tory members.

Commissioner Hogg intervened: “You can’t put the police in this position!”, and Chair Tim Wood hurried on to the next question.

Later, after the Police & Crime Commissioner(PCC) and his colleagues had left, Mr Williams called on Cllr Giles to apologise to the PCC for asking an embarrassing question.

Cllr Giles retorted angrily to the CEO that he had never known such inappropriate behaviour from a Chief Executive.

While no Conservative councillors expressed any concern over the revelation, Independent Susie Bond commented that such “outing” of witnesses in police inquiries could well discourage “whistle-blowers” from coming forward in the future with information of possible interest to the police.

Repercussions of the Brown affair at last night’s Council meeting

There were several…
For starters….

Devon and Cornwall Police & Crime Commissioner(PCC),Tony Hogg, spent nearly an hour and a half addressing last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee(OSC). He answered a barrage of councillors’ pre-submitted questions, some directly or indirectly linked to the police investigation into an influential EDDC ex-councillor. (The case was closed on 12/11/14, the day before yesterday ).

For example (N.B. Below is a summary only.Recording of the meeting, available on EDDC website soon):

1.Q. Is a PCC informed of progress of ongoing police investigations?
Ans. Only ones that promote a risk to the public or to the reputation of the police/ only high-profile ones

2. Q. Are there safeguards to monitor police relations with partner organisations?
Ans. “I have every confidence” that D&C police are impartial. A joint Audit Committee keeps checks, and a complaints process and appeal system exists.

3. Q. Is declaring membership of the Freemasons a requirement for all staff?
Ans. Membership of this large, charitable organisation “has no bearing on police membership”. No obligation to declare, as it is not a prohibited organisation.

4. Q. As Transparency International warns that bribery in local government, and electoral corruption, are both increasing, what measures should be taken?
Ans. a) Electoral corruption..follow Electoral Commission guidance. b) Bribery…local governments have their own defence against fraud.

5. Q. Why had the Graham Brown Investigation been so lengthy?
Ans. (from the PCC’s colleague, Chief Superintendent Keith Perkin) There were delays in the initial part of the investigation, which “didn’t start for a number of months”. That was regretted, he said. The case was “a complex one” , with “in excess of 40 individuals” being seen. It was “undertaken by specialist investigators”, who had not found enough to reach “the threshold of evidence” for criminal charges to be made.

Three supplementary questions were asked. Two were from Cllr Claire Wright (Independent), who picked up Mr Williams’ phrase (in his e-mail to councillors, 12.11.2014), that the Brown investigation “hasn’t identified (anything) worth pursuing”. She asked if there would be a report and recommendations from the police to EDDC, and whether that would be made public. “I’ll get back to you.”, Chief Superintendent Perkin replied. He gave the same reply to her second question about whether or not Devon and Cornwall are satisfied that they have interviewed everyone.
Cllr Ben Ingham (Independent) was concerned that the initial delay had contributed to the findings, and had perhaps influenced the outcome of the inquiry. The Chief Inspector assured him that “No evidence was lost as a result of the initial delay”.

Much more to come on last night’s OSC…

“I have to warn councillors, an election is coming”, O&S Committee told

….So said Councillor Halse, referring to his opposition to the Knowle relocation project, at tonight’s stormy Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting. He argued that the economic climate had changed so radically since the Council office move had first been mooted, that relocation no longer made sense. He told the assembled councillors, “We need to make a modern decision” not to have a white elephant in some outpost of the District.

More revealing quotes from the meeting to come later……