A task for our Police and Crime Commissioner … if she’s not too busy

Given that our Police and Crime Commissioner’s official calendar looks a bit thin:

http://www.devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk/meetings-and-events/calendar/

Ms Hernandez might like to think about earning some of her £85,000 plus expenses salary on dealing with some new statistics, published in today’s Sunday Times, about how many police suspects actually end up in court, and how the pitiful figures can be improved.

Figures for the south-west show that the number of people charged with offences had fallen dramatically.

In 2010-2011 84% of people charged with homicide offences went to court. That fell in 2016-2017 to 52%.

In 2010-2011 72% of people charged with possession of firearms went to court. That fell to 43% in 2016-2017.

In 2010-2011 93% of people charged with robbery went to court. That fell to 15% in 2016-2017.

“The government tried to bury news on the bloated House of Lords. Here’s the facts…”

“Theresa May backs bid to cut the size of House of Lords” began a headline in February. It seems that three months is a lifetime in politics…

Over the weekend, the PM attempted to bury news that she is appointing 13 new Lords – amid the clamour of the Royal Wedding. It was a cynical attempt to hide what both the PM and opposition know: new appointments to Parliament’s ‘private member’s club’ are unpopular and wrong.

New research we’ve published in the Daily Mirror today has shown what the new Lordships will mean in practice for the bloated second chamber.

The cost of cronyism

With more members comes more expenses claims. The total cost of the new Peers – based solely in terms of annual allowances and travel expenses – is expected to be at least £289,558 a year, according to ERS analysis. That’s based on the average claim of £22,273.69, for the circa 141 days the chamber sits each year.

But a response to a Parliamentary question last year suggests it could be much higher. The average cost of a peer – looking at the total cost of the House, minus works and building costs, is as much as £83,000 per year – meaning the new appointees may have just added £1,079,000 to the overall annual bill.

When you consider that Peers who failed to speak in the Lords for an entire year claimed nearly £1.3m in tax-free expenses last year, it shows that more members doesn’t even guarantee more scrutiny.

These costly cronies are rarely impartial experts: the new appointments mean the House is now packed with 187 ex-MPs, 26 ex-MEPs and 31 ex-members of devolved institutions – figures which rubbish claims the unelected House is full of independent experts.

Out of control

This latest batch of Lords appointments comes despite a report commissioned by the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, proposing a ‘two-out, one-in’ system to bring the total down to 600 by 2027, published at the end of last year.

During a debate on the size of the House in December, several peers expressed embarrassment or discomfort about the size of their chamber:

Lord Harries of Pentregarth said: “I believe that our present size … brings us into disrepute. I feel embarrassed when someone enquires about our size, even when I stress that the average daily attendance is only about 484.”

Lord Selkirk of Douglas added: “It cannot sit altogether comfortably that when legislatures around the world are listed by size, we come second only to the National People’s Congress of China.”

We’ve seen no action since that report, when Peers said they’d start work shrinking the second chamber. So these new appointments, therefore, represent both the inability of peers to regulate their own house – and the unwillingness of politicians to act on this issue.

Time for a clear-out

The House of Lords is already the second largest legislative chamber in the world, behind China’s National People’s Congress. There are more peers than could ever sit in the chamber at the same time and the bulk of the work of the House is done by a much smaller group of peers.

Make no mistake: these new additions are an insult to voters. Given that all parties claim to want to reduce the size of the second chamber, they should act on their word.

We’re calling for the House authorities to refuse to allocate time for the introduction ceremonies in line with that. It is now time for cross-party legislation to finally reform this archaic and super-sized second chamber. We’ve had years of stalling on this front – the main parties must now act.”

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/the-government-tried-to-bury-news-on-the-bloated-house-of-lords-heres-the-facts/

Sign their petition here:
https://action.electoral-reform.org.uk/page/3342/petition/1

About our Local Enterprise Partnership’s promise to double growth …

“The weakest household spending for three years and falling levels of business investment dragged the economy to the worst quarter for five years, official statisticians have said.

The Office for National Statistics confirmed its previous estimate that GDP growth slumped to 0.1% in the first quarter, while sticking to its view that the “beast from the east” had little impact.

The latest figures will further stoke concerns over the strength of the UK economy, amid increasing signals for deteriorating growth as Britain prepares to leave the EU next year. Some economists, including officials at the Bank of England, thought the growth rate would be revised higher as more data became available. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/25/uk-economy-posts-worst-quarterly-gdp-figures-for-five-years

And does our LEP have a plan B … er, apparently not.

“Devon County Councillors have just given themselves a 15 per cent pay rise”

“Devon County Councillors have voted to give themselves an immediate 15 per cent hike in their allowances.

The independent remuneration panel had recommended that a rise from the current figure of £10,970 to £12,607 to be implemented by the council.

No rise in allowances for members has taken place in the last nine years.

The allowance for the leader of the council will go up from £25,000 to £31,518. …

The leader of the council, Cllr John Hart said that since the Conservatives had come to power in 2009, over a million pounds had been saved already as they had reduced the number of committee places and that there had been report after report from the independent remuneration panel recommending this.

He said: “This report came to us in 2016 and we all bottled it and didn’t recommended putting it up before the election in 2017. But this is the time to do it and link any future raise in allowance to raises in staff pay.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Alan Connett, said that no-one disagreed with the proposals but the money for this wasn’t in the budget and that by putting up allowances straight away, it won’t change a thing in terms of how diverse the council will be. …

… Of the 60 current county councillors, 52 of them are over the age of the 50, and 15 are aged more than 70. There are just three councillors who are younger than 40 and none under the age of 30.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/devon-county-councillors-just-given-1609558

OFSTED too poor to inspect failing schools adequately

“The schools watchdog has failed to hit targets while suffering “constants cuts” to its budget for more than a decade, the National Audit Office has said.

The full spend on inspecting the schools sector in 2017-18 has fallen in real terms by 52% compared to 1999-2000 – from £125m to £60m, the public spending watchdog highlighted in a report released yesterday.

Ofsted had failed to meet its statutory target to re-inspect schools graded ‘inadequate’ in 6% (78) of cases between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

It also did not meet its statutory target to re-inspect schools within five years in 43 cases between 2012-13 and 2016-17, mainly due to it categorising 32 schools as new when they were expanded or amalgamated, the NAO publication showed.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The fact that Ofsted has been subject to constant cuts over more than a decade, and regular shifts in focus, speaks volumes.

“The department [for education] needs to be mindful that cheaper inspection is not necessarily better inspection. ”

He added: “To demonstrate its commitment, the department needs a clear vision for school inspection and to resource it accordingly.”

Cuts have occurred while Ofsted has been handed new responsibilities, including evaluating children’s social care, early years and childcare, the public spending watchdog noted.

The NAO highlighted a high level of turnover- 19% in 2017/18 – of HM Inspectors, who cited workload pressures as a key reason for leaving.

A lack of inspectors has meant that Ofsted has “found it difficult to meet inspection targets,” according to the NAO report.

Under current legislation, schools graded as ‘outstanding’ are exempt from routine re-inspection, meaning that at August 2017 1,620 schools had not been inspected for six years or more.

Of these, 296 schools had not been inspected for ten years or more.

The NAO estimated the cost of inspection per school in 2017-18 was £7,200.

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, said: “Like much of the public sector, we are operating in a difficult financial climate.

“We have had to make tough decisions about how we prioritise resources. I am confident that Ofsted gets the balance right.”

She added: “The NAO’s conclusion that we cannot prove the value for money we represent is explicitly not the same as demonstrating that we do not provide value.”

In 2017-18, Ofsted spent £44m on inspecting state-funded schools. ”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/05/schools-watchdog-under-funding-pressure-struggles-hit-targets

Council behaviour standards falling – says Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

“The risks of standards in local government being breached have increased since 2010 while many of the mitigations that were in place have been weakened or removed, Solace (the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) has warned.

In its submission to the Committee for Standards in Public Life’s Review of Local Government, Solace said that since 2010 much had changed in local government which it believed was likely to have had a significant impact on the risk of poor ethical standards.

“For example, the financial environment has, over time, raised the stakes of councillors’ decision-making. Pressure on individuals has significantly increased as the consequences of their choices have become stark and more difficult. This pressure leaves individuals more vulnerable to inappropriate influence themselves or subjecting others to that type of behaviour. In a broader political environment which, as the work of the committee has already identified, sees increased intimidation of politicians and the demonization of experts, these risks are only heightened,” the submission said.

Solace also pointed out that local government was now operating in a significantly more complex operating environment.

“Every council has a wide range of strategic partners, commercial contractors and arms-length bodies. The governance picture is incredibly varied with individuals often required to act within different legal structure performing different roles.”

Solace highlighted how the simple client/contractor model of commissioning had been replaced by a multitude of business models operating in different services, to different geographies with different governance arrangements.
“While these innovative approaches are to be welcomed, for example, in the way they have enable additional investment to be unlocked or more system-based approaches to be utilised, this does risk arrangements becoming unclear, less transparent and blurred. Without continuous and consistent advice and counsel, innocent individuals can be left susceptible to crossing the ethical line, while others can take advantage of such ambiguity to operate inappropriately and unseen.”

On the weakening or removal of mitigations, Solace said the most significant change was the abolition of the Standards Board and the national Code of Conduct as part of the Localism Act 2012.

At that time the organisation recommended that its members worked with their elected members “to ensure a robust and proportional local systems were put in place, that the local codes of conduct which underpin each regime are clear, unambiguous and appropriate to local circumstances. Such an approach should ensure any code is practical while able to minimise the risk of external challenge.”

Although it has not conducted detailed research, Solace said a short review suggested that many local codes of conduct stuck tightly to the Nolan Principles but in a way that left little room for further explanation or context setting.

The submission continued: “In addition to a local code of conduct, a clear and transparent local process should be in place to administer complaints relating to the code. During the Localism Bill’s consideration in Parliament, Solace argued that a councillor panel with independent involvements was the most appropriate model for this. While the legislation has removed the requirement for such a body, Solace see no reason to change its view and would recommend a member panel should support the statutory ‘independent person’ in performing their duties.”

Solace also noted that the abolition of the Standards Board was not the only significant change that removed checks and balances relating to local government standards. “The abolition of the Audit Commission and a reduction in the ‘public interest’ activities of local external auditors have also removed an independent mechanism through which standards issues had historically been identified and dealt with.”

It meanwhile argued that the campaign to remove protections for senior officers, remove employment rights and recent senior figures undervaluing professional leadership in council had “eroded individuals’ ability to effectively speak truth to power”.

Solace argued that without adequate protection, senior officers in local authorities were “less likely to feel able to raise issues of governance and hinder openness and transparency within their authority, and that it was an erosion of the balance of local accountability which ensures high standards in local government on behalf of local tax payers”.

It suggested as an example that it was unlikely that successful criminal proceedings for corruption, as in the 2004 Lincolnshire County Council Cllr Speechley case, would have been successful if employment protection had not been afforded to the chief executive or monitoring officer.

The submission claimed that England had been left with a light touch approach to local government standards reliant on local codes, implementation and sanction. “Unlike the rest of the UK, there is an absence of national oversight, an inconsistency of sanction and a weakening of a range of mechanism that might reduce the risks of a decay of standards in other ways.”

However, Solace said it would not like to see a return to the “pernicious and over bureaucratic approach” of a national Standards Board. It did argue, though, that greater independent monitoring was required. “In an environment where evidence is unclear or anecdotal it is too easy to turn the other way and allow important challenges to remain out of sight.”

It argued that that inconsistency between different levels of Government was also unhelpful. “Parliament has done a great deal of work exploring the appropriate sanctions for elected politicians and it would seem appropriate that powers, including the power of recall, within local government mirror those introduced in Westminster.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35433%3Arisks-of-standards-breaches-have-increased-while-mitigations-weakened-solace&catid=59&Itemid=27

Council auditors forced to audit!

Nowhere in this report is the question asked: how come internal and external auditors failed to spot this before it was too late?

“Auditors say that the quality and transparency of financial reporting at Northamptonshire County Council has prevented effective decision making.

In its interim audit report for the 2017–18 financial year, KPMG says that finance reports to the council’s cabinet are a barrier to proper financial governance.

The report follows intense scrutiny of the council’s financial problems which led to the issuing of a section 114 notice earlier in the year followed by the appointment of commissioners by central government to run the council.

KPMG said: “We reviewed the authority’s financial reports submitted to cabinet in 2017–18.

“We note that the reports are unclear and lack details, including in the accompanying appendices.”

In particular, it said, the council reports a forecast outturn variance of nil, despite this being the position after accounting for one-off measures.
This, it said, clouds the authority’s underlying performance.

“The full position can only be ascertained by piecing detailed outturns of individual directorates; even so, the inconsistency in reporting within each individual directorates makes this a very difficult exercise,” the report said.

KPMG said the budget report does not provide members with a clear view of the variances and overspends within each directorate.

“The narrative is often vague and written in dense management speak; the style does not promote clarity of reporting. This style of reporting is consistent across all directorates,” its report concluded.

The auditors criticised the authority for describing slippages in its savings plans as “budget delivery pressures”, language they said was “vague and does not truly reflect the issue”.

The report went on to criticise inconsistencies within budget books submitted by budget holders to the finance business partner teams.

These books, it said, allow the authority to keep track of expenditure and challenge overspends and underspends as necessary.

KPMG said: “In some cases it was clear that variances to the budget have been investigated as the budget books contained comments to support this.

“These variances were reported in the quarterly finance reports. In other cases there was very little detail in the budget books to support large variances, and in some cases these variances were not reported in the quarterly finance reports.” …

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/northants-financial-reporting-vague-inconsistent-unclear-and-lacking-details/