DCC, EDDC, Scrutiny, broadband and East Devon Alliance: not a good mix!

The Department for Communities and Local Government Parliamentary Committee asked for evidence on local authority scrutiny.

This interesting evidence was provided by BR4DS – a campaign group which is attempting to ensure that all parts of Devon and Somerset get fast broadband provision:

Written evidence submitted by B4RDS Broadband for Rural Devon and Somerset [OSG 006]

1. Executive summary:

1.1 At the first public meeting of a newly appointed Devon County Council (DCC) Scrutiny Committee in June 2017, the newly appointed Chairman delegated scrutiny of the Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS) superfast broadband programme to an ongoing/standing task group of four Councillors who take evidence from Council Officers, suppliers and others in private, behind closed doors, with press and public excluded and with no formal minutes taken. This follows two years during which the previous committee required CDS to provide a quarterly written report on progress and answer questions in public, in front of the Committee.

The Terms of Reference for the ongoing/standing Task Group allow for it to continue in operation for seven years and the only information that will be put in the public domain will be reports by the four Councillors on their scrutiny of this subject. This is a major reduction in openness and transparency for the taxpayers of Devon and is contrary to the Council’s own constitution, the Nolan Principles and the expectations of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as expressed at the 2017 Local Government Association Conference:

“If people are going to trust their elected representatives, they have to see them working in the harsh light of the public eye, not in comforting shadows behind closed doors. Not only must democracy exist; it must be seen to exist. It can’t be about decisions made in private meeting rooms.” – Rt Hon. Sajid Javid MP.”

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/communities-and-local-government-committee/overview-and-scrutiny-in-local-government/written/70794.html

The East Devon Alliance also provided information to this committee which can be found here:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/communities-and-local-government-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/inquiry6/publications/

Its executive summary states:

Written evidence submitted by East Devon Alliance [OSG 040]

Executive Summary

East Devon Alliance understands that encouraging economic development is a crucial task in local government. However, we are concerned that the increasing influence of unaccountable business interests on council decisions damages the health of local democracy, and can threaten the wider interests of local communities. The climate of unhealthy cynicism about politics, and a failure to engage in the democratic process, is reinforced whenever there is an apparent failure of scrutiny to make councils transparent and accountable.

Overview and Scrutiny (O&S) can too easily be rendered ineffectual by a dominant majority party in a cabinet-led-executive.

Government advice that members of a majority party should not chair O&S committees must be made mandatory.

Chief Executives must not be able to have inappropriate influence on O&S committees.

Scrutiny Officers need to be independent of influence and interference from senior officers or members of cabinet.

The scrutiny role needs to be strengthened to be able to call witnesses. It should be a legal requirement for officers and members of Council and associated bodies to cooperate.

With increasing privatisation, commercial confidentiality must not be used to shield public expenditure from scrutiny.

Scrutiny should “reflect the voice and concerns of the public” by giving local people more say in what issues are chosen for scrutiny.

There is no scrutiny mechanism of the new tier of local government created by the unelected and self-selecting Local Enterprise Partnerships who now control over £2 billion a year in England. Proposals made in 2013 by the Centre for Public Scrutiny could form the basis for scrutiny of such devolved bodies.”

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