House of Commons Council (and LEP) scrutiny report – tough new measures recommended

Recall that East Devon Alliance submitted in March 2017 a wide-ranging report on the situation in East Devon, which was considered by this committee:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2017/03/23/east-devon-alliance-provides-evidence-on-poor-scrutiny-at-eddc-to-parliamentary-inquiry-eddc-provides-woeful-response-ignoring-major-problems/

and

that this report calls for pilot projects of strengthened scrutiny arrangements. Wouldn’t East Devon District Council AND our LEP make wonderful pilots!

”The Government must encourage a culture change at local authorities to ensure overview and scrutiny is truly independent of the executive and can properly contribute to improving services for taxpayers, the Communities and Local Government Committee concludes.

“Lack of constructive challenge

The Committee’s report on overview and scrutiny in local government, warns that scrutiny is often not held in high enough esteem, leading to a lack of constructive challenge to improve services for residents.

It recommends measures to strengthen the independence of overview and scrutiny committees and for increased scrutiny of combined authorities, Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) and arm’s length bodies.

Scrutiny marginalised at too many local authorities

Clive Betts, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:

“Scrutiny is marginalised at too many local authorities, which in extreme cases can contribute to severe service failures, letting down council taxpayers and those that rely on services.

Scrutiny of those in power is a vital part of any democratic system and has huge benefits for all. We are calling on the Government to strengthen guidance to make overview and scrutiny committees truly independent of those they are charged with holding to account and to make sure the process is properly funded and respected.

Only by rebalancing the system and ensuring scrutiny is held in high esteem will we see better decisions and the outcomes that residents who pay for council services deserve.”

Report recommendations

That overview and scrutiny committees should report to an authority’s Full Council meeting rather than to the executive, mirroring the relationship between Select Committees and Parliament.

That scrutiny committees and the executive must be distinct and that executive councillors should not participate in scrutiny other than as witnesses, even if external partners are being scrutinised.

That councillors working on scrutiny committees should have access to financial and performance data held by an authority, and that this access should not be restricted for reasons of commercial sensitivity.

That scrutiny committees should be supported by officers that are able to operate with independence and offer impartial advice to committees. There should be a greater parity of esteem between scrutiny and the executive, and committees should have the same access to the expertise and time of senior officers and the chief executive as their cabinet counterparts.

That members of the public and service users have a fundamental role in the scrutiny process and that their participation should be encouraged and facilitated by councils.

That overview and scrutiny committees should be given full access to all financial and performance information, and have the right to call witnesses, not just from their local authorities, but from other public bodies and private council contractors. They should be able to follow and investigate the spending of the public pound.

That the DCLG works with the Local Government Association and the Centre for Public Scrutiny to identify councils to take part in a pilot scheme where the impact of elected chairs on scrutiny’s effectiveness can be monitored and its merits considered.

Local Economic Partnerships

The Report also recommends that the scrutiny committees of combined local authorities have a role in monitoring the performance of Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) and that the Government commits more funding to the scrutiny of mayoral combined authorities.

The inquiry was set up to examine whether the overview and scrutiny model is meeting its objectives and how decision-makers can best be held to account.

Read the report summary:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/36903.htm

Read the report conclusions and recommendations:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/36913.htm

Read the report: Effectiveness of local authority overview and scrutiny committees:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/36902.htm

Full report:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/369.pdf

Commons committee urges greater council scrutiny

A subject close to this East Devon’s heart and the cause of many sleepless days …

“A report by the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee has warned that a lack of effective scrutiny of the decisions of council leaders and elected mayors risks contributing to “severe” failures in public service provision.

The study found that funding cuts have reduced the resources and staff available to help councillors examine and challenge their activities.

The committee urges changes to Government guidance and increased funding to ensure proper oversight arrangements are in place. It also says a change of culture in local authorities is needed to prevent executives using issues of “commercial sensitivity” to hide details of deals with private companies from councillors.”

Source: Yorkshire Post, Page: 1

Referendum: voting problems won’t go away for Ukip and social media use

“Ukip is to face a tribunal over its use of analytics during the EU referendum after refusing to cooperate with an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The ICO announced a formal investigation into how political parties use data analytics to target voters in response to concern about how social media was used during the referendum.

“We are concerned about invisible processing – the ‘behind the scenes’ algorithms, analysis, data matching, profiling that involves people’s personal information. When the purpose for using these techniques is related to the democratic process, the case for a high standard of transparency is very strong,” said Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, in an update on the ICO’s website.

Denham said more than 30 organisations, including AggregateIQ, a little-known Canadian firm that received millions of pounds from the leave campaign, were under scrutiny. While some were co-operating, she said, “others are making it difficult”.

She said that the ICO had issued four information notices, formally ordering organisations to disclose information, “including one to Ukip, who have now appealed our notice to the information rights tribunal”.

Separately the Electoral commission is investigating whether Vote Leave, the lead campaign for the leave vote in the referendum, broke spending laws by coordinating spending with other campaign groups.

A Ukip spokesman said the party was prepared to cooperate with the ICO, and was only appealing against a threat of criminal sanctions. “We’re perfectly happy to deal with them, but not under the threat,” he said.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/dec/13/ukip-to-face-tribunal-over-use-of-data-in-eu-referendum-campaign

More political fallout from general election voting blunders

Some very familiar failings.

The continuing fallout from the general election blunders in Newcastle-under-Lyme seem to have caused the fall of the Labour administration on the council:

Elizabeth Shenton stood down as the leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council after losing the support of independents. The Conservatives have now taken control from Labour.

Almost 1,500 people were unable to vote in a constituency that saw the successful MP win by just 30 votes.

Two council officials were suspended last month.

Chief executive John Sellgren and Elizabeth Dodd, head of audit and elections, were criticised for a number of issues. [BBC]

The problems covered people being left off the electoral register, postal votes not being sent out and also two people being able to vote when they were not legally qualified.

Despite the confirmation of major errors in how the election was run, this won’t result in any MP being unseated or election being re-run as no election petition was filed within the tight post-election deadline.

If any Liberal Democrat readers from other parts of the country think the name of the Labour now ex-council leader is familiar, they’d be right. Elizabeth Shenton used to be a Liberal Democrat, standing in the 2008 Crewe and Nantwich by-election.”

https://www.markpack.org.uk/153058/elizabeth-shenton-newcastle/

BBC: Save our Hospital Services Totnes demo “disrupted traffic and Christmas shoppers”

Well, now we know for sure where the BBC’s priorities lie!

“Hundreds of protestors disrupted traffic and Christmas shoppers as they marched through a town centre.

The protest in Totnes, Devon, was over the loss of two hundred hospital beds and four community hospitals – and the threat of further cuts.

Save Our Hospital Services campaigners wheeled a hospital bed and carried placards through streets on Saturday. …”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-42213994

Half of Parliament’s sleaze watchdog panel have themselves breached its code!

“Half of the members of a sifting panel for the appointment of a new Commons sleaze watchdog have themselves broken parliamentary rules. …

The disclosure prompted fresh concerns last night for the appointments process for the role and the principle of MPs “marking their own homework …”

Sunday Times (paywall)

Exmouth’s Lonely Christmas Tree

“The Lonely Christmas Tree”

I am the lonely Christmas Tree,
In Exmouth’s market place;
No vending stalls are round about
No shopper’s welcome face.

The Strand is bare of trade and cheer
In Exmouth’s market place-
All moved to Ocean’s empty hall
To fill that empty place.

Shopkeepers have all tried their best
Around the market place
To pay their rates and sell their goods
With patience and good grace.

The loss to trade and income gone-
They’ve moved the Christmas Cracker;
No help then for the working shops-
Their Christmas has been knackered !”