When Northampton County Council went “bankrupt” – Inspectors’ comments on scrutiny an “how others see you”

…”The way that NCC went about its scrutiny function brought very strong words from the inspectors. They noted that a number of councillors told them that they had been refused information. They cite a specific example which I extract below:

Perhaps the clearest demonstration of this unnecessary secrecy during the inspection took place at the Cabinet meeting on 13th February 2018.

3.80 Agenda item 11 was titled Capital Asset Exploitation. This was in fact a proposal to sell and lease back the recently completed HQ building at One Angel Square. This disposal is a potential £50m in value so it would be reasonable to expect a full options appraisal and some clear professional valuation advice as to the likely quantum of proceeds and the ways in which a disposal might be handled to best achieve a best value result. It is likely that much of this information would be exempt information so that there would be a confidential paper appended to the agenda. If that information was not available then it could only be on the basis that it was not being relied on in taking a decision.

3.81 At the meeting a number of questions were raised on these very matters and Cabinet members stated that they were privy to confidential information which supported their recommendation but that it was not available to other members.

3.82 Even if there was a concern about the publishing of confidential information most authorities have protocols and practices which make it possible for key information to be shared and protect the authority. To refuse it outright is just wrong.

Again, during an inspection, it appears that a decision for members to take was incorrectly presented without the necessary evidence.

Lesson 6 – How others see you

A key measure of governance is how well does an authority deal with complaints. During the Inspection the Inspectors commented that most unusually the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman contacted them. He said that NCC was one of the most difficult authorities to engage with both in time to respond and also in terms of approach to complaints handling learning from mistakes and remedying injustice [32].

Here again the point emerges that services may well be worse than they superficially appear, but there could come a time when the council is on the ropes and at that point others come forward and say what they really think. It is always sensible to treat concerns by the Ombudsman as meriting a chief statutory officers’ agenda spot.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=34806%3Alocalism-best-value-inspections-and-northamptonshire-county-council&catid=59&Itemid=27

Note: this puts Owl in mind of this what judge said when the Information Commissioner v East Devon District Council Knowle confidential information case was decided in court:

“Correspondence on behalf of the council, rather than ensuring the tribunal was assisted in its function, was at times discourteous and unhelpful, including the statement that we had the most legible copies [of the disputed information] possible. A statement which was clearly inaccurate as, subsequently, we have been provided with perfectly legible documents.”

http://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/election/heads-should-roll-as-judge-criticises-eddc-1-4075293

Feniton seeks a new councillor, preverably one who wants to work with young people

From Susie Bond, Feniton’s indefatiguable independent District and parish councillor:

“Do you want to serve your Community?
Do you have time or expertise which could benefit your Community?
Do you want to make a difference to all those around you?
Are you concerned about your local area?
Do you want to represent the views of local people?
If you would like to make a difference, and be involved in shaping the future of your local Community, why not step forward and apply to become a Feniton Parish Councillor?

Feniton Parish Council is looking for a new Parish Councillor – specifically someone who is keen to work with the Youth of the Parish – if you are interested, would like more information or an application form, please contact:

Parish Council clerk, Alison Marshall, on fenitonpc@gmail.com

or

Chairman of Feniton Parish Council, Martyn Smith, on martyn@feniton.org.uk

The closing date for completed applications to be with the Clerk is 9 a.m. on Tuesday 8 May 2018

To qualify to become a Parish Councillor a person must:

be a British subject over 18 years old
be listed on the current electoral role
live in Feniton, or within 3 miles of its boundary, or occupy as owner/tenant any land/premises therein or have a principal place of work within the Parish
must not be disqualified from holding office as a Councillor.

“Bankrupt’ Tory Council Raided £9m Schools Subsidy To Fix Budget”

“A “bankrupt” Tory authority used a £9m fund meant for school improvements in a failed attempt to fill a growing financial black hole, it can be revealed.

Cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council spent the money to “mitigate” losses in an account used for general everyday spending in 2016, HuffPost UK has found.

The authority has been hit by one of the worst council cash crises in decades, after central government cuts coincided with surging demand for services.

The situation has prompted fears that Northants could become the first of a number of county councils to “fail” as financial pressures mount.

The £9m schools’ funding was meant to be set aside to pay for “future educational improvements within the county”.

It came from a so-called Section 106 (S106) obligation, which are placed on property firms to ensure new developments benefit the whole community.

But an independent review into Northamptonshire’s finances by government inspector Max Caller revealed the “one-off” payment of S106 money was transferred to the council’s general revenue account during the year 2016-17.

Auditors KPMG confirmed in an August 2017 report that the £9m came from funds meant for education improvements and that it was intended to be replaced “through council borrowing”.

County council officials this week declined to elaborate or provide further details. …”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/northamptonshire-county-council-raided-schools-s106-subsidy-to-fix-budget_uk_5ace394ee4b0648767760786

EDDC Leader-in-waiting gets his first headache

The new EDDC Leader lives on the Lyme Regis border with Uplyme in East Devon on his patch.

THE Sidmouth Road park and ride planning application has resulted in an acrimonious dispute between Lyme Regis and Uplyme councils.

Uplyme parish councillors have accused their Lyme Regis counterparts of “misrepresenting” what has happened in the run-up to a planning application being submitted for continued use of land off Sidmouth Road as a park and ride. …

… Speaking at a recent meeting, Lyme Regis councillor Steve Miller said that they had been working “extremely closely” with East Devon District Council, which had actually requested that another temporary application be submitted to allow time for the full traffic survey to be carried out.

He expressed disappointment that Uplyme Parish Council had recommended refusal of the application following advice from East Devon district councillor Ian Thomas, who has argued that Lyme Regis has “made no material progress” since previous applications for temporary use of the side and has “failed to address the requirements” set out by the district council.

Councillor Miller also said that the town council had been in consultation with all relevant parties but had not met with Councillor Thomas recently, as he had been unable to attend a number of suggested meetings. …”

http://lyme-online.co.uk/news/lyme-regis/lyme-regis-and-uplyme-councils-in-dispute-over-park-and-ride/

Plymouth gives away site; developer puts PART of it up for sale for £6 million

“Parts of the Plymouth Pavilions have been listed for possible sale, it has been revealed.

Devon businessman James Brent, who was given the site by Plymouth City Council in 2012, has advertised the pavilions as a “development site” with a guide price of £6m.

He is not selling the Pavilions centrepiece – its music arena. He plans to keep and improve that area.

In 2012, the council, which could not afford to renovate the site, struck a deal with Mr Brent. The authority called the decision “a huge step forward” for the Pavilions and claimed £83m would be invested.

Tim Jones, from the South West Business Council, said he was “disappointed” the potential development had not happened before the site went on the market.

No-one we’ve spoken to is accusing Mr Brent of profiteering, even if this sale does go through, as it was costing the cash-strapped council more than £1.5m a year to keep the Pavilions going. Mr Brent has taken that burden on.

A spokesman for Mr Brent said the businessman was “just exploring options”.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-england-devon-43712628