Nearly half of councils in Great Britain use algorithms to help make claims decisions

Today is the last day of public consultation on the “mutant” algorithm and other measures proposed in “Planning for the Future”.

Automated decision-making “black box” programmes are increasingly being used – probably by those who don’t have a good understanding on how they work. In fact may not be transparent even to experts for commercial reasons – Owl 

Niamh McIntyre www.theguardian.com 

Nearly half of councils in England, Wales and Scotland have used or are using computer algorithms to help make decisions about benefit claims, who gets social housing and other issues, despite concerns about their reliability.

A Guardian freedom of information investigation has established that 100 out of 229 councils have used or are using automated decision-making programmes, many without consulting at all with the public on their use.

This is despite one council admitting that results from one algorithm showed it was only 26% accurate in some instances. The company behind it said it was because people often entered information wrongly.

Another council dropped an artificial intelligence tool to process new benefit claims, saying they were not satisfied with its reliability.

A range of private companies are selling machine-learning packages to local authorities that are under pressure to save money. The systems are being deployed to provide automated guidance on benefit claims, help decide who gets social housing, and allocate school places among a range of other uses.

Concerns have been raised about the arbitrary nature of these programmes, which inform important decisions about people’s lives, and their scope for making mistakes.

Martha Dark, the director of the digital rights group Foxglove, said: “It is very worrying to see so many councils putting in place algorithmic systems without any public consultation. These systems are clearly being used to make huge decisions about people’s lives.”

The use of artificial intelligence, or automated decision-making, has come into sharp focus after an algorithm used by the exam regulator, Ofqual, downgraded almost 40% of the A-level grades assessed by teachers. It culminated in a government U-turn and the system being scrapped.

One of the most used algorithms among councils is that for risk-based verification, a process in which claims for housing and council tax are automatically processed to determine the likelihood of fraud. Those that are considered higher risk are slowed down and people are asked to provide more evidence.

The programme is still being used by South Ayrshire council. When asked about the accuracy of this programme, the council said it had used the company Northgate Public Services, and the programme was found to be 26% accurate at finding low-risk claims, 36% accurate for medium-risk claims and had a 40% accuracy rate for high-risk ones. The service cost £41,500.

A spokesperson for South Ayrshire council said: “All applications are manually processed by staff – we do not use robotics to verify any application or evidence submitted. The type of risk associated determines the type or level of evidence required to verify the claim and so improves efficiency in claims processing.”

Northgate Public Services said the accuracy rates quoted were not related to the effectiveness but rather claimants often inputting incorrect data.

Wigan council uses an algorithm to allocate social housing. It says answers are submitted and a points-based system then decides which category to place people into. The council uses Northgate housing software to sort candidates into groups. The company stressed it was not involved in banding and assessment criteria, which is instead put in place by councils.

Wigan said applicants and council tenants are placed in either group A, B or C when they are able to demonstrate that they meet the appropriate criteria in either their permanent or temporary home. Group A includes young people leaving local authority care, those in severe hardship and those leaving the UK armed forces. Group B includes those living in poor housing conditions. Group C includes those living outside the borough with no local connection, among other criteria.

Nicolas Kayser-Bril, from Algorithm Watch, a non-profit group looking at algorithmic decision-making processes, said that while the council should be commended for its transparency, “there seems to be ample room for arbitrariness”.

“There will never be a way to objectively define who should be first in line for affordable housing. Transparent algorithms can help, but so can professional caseworkers who take the time to discuss with the applicants. Revealingly, none of the criteria in the list concerns the wishes of the applicants. Instead, they attempt to define the ‘good pauper’, much like in previous centuries.”

Joanne Willmott, Wigan council’s assistant director for provider management and market development, said: “Applications are assessed and prioritised based on answers submitted by customers around their own individual circumstances on our online housing application portal and then assessed in line with the allocation policy. A final check of the application is manually carried out.”

Flintshire council, which says it used the company Civica at a cost of £961.40 a year to process new claims for the period 2014 to 2018, said the service was terminated, as the council was not satisfied with its reliability.

A spokesperson for Civica said: “While the authority did not continue with this approach which was based on a third-party algorithm, the company continues to provide the core revenues and benefits software for Flintshire county council which is a longstanding customer.”

A Local Government Association spokesperson said: “Councils have been trying to improve how they use data in recent years, and predictive analytics is just one example of this. Good use of data can be hugely beneficial in helping councils make services more targeted and effective … But it is important to note that data is only ever used to inform decisions and not to make decisions for councils.”

Teddies and paper plates protest over free school meals snub removed from outside HQ of East Devon MP

Anyone seen Eyore?- Owl

A mum has asked the MP for East Devon why teddies and paper plates used in a peaceful protest over free school meals were removed from outside his Exmouth HQ.

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk 

The items were placed in front of Simon Jupp’s Mamhead View constituency office to challenge the Tory Government’s decision to block plans to extend support for food-deprived children over the holidays.

Conservative Mr Jupp voted against the bid – which has been championed by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford – in the House of Commons last week.

Exmouth mum-of-two Rosie Johnson said she and her family were so ‘disheartened’ by the move that they and friends decided on the peaceful protest.

She told East Devon News: “We try to teach our children about compassion and empathy.

“We should be able to look to our elected representatives as examples of this, but instead find ourselves turning to professional footballers.

“We were so disheartened by the vote against extending free school meals that we decided to join our friends in making a peaceful protest outside Simon Jupp’s office.

“We wrote messages, none of them abusive or threatening, on paper plates and left them with teddies.

“They were removed without any explanation even though they were not causing an obstruction and had not damaged any property.

“It was always our intention to remove them at the end of the day but we weren’t given that opportunity.

“This issue is too important to be dismissed.

The peaceful protest of teddies and paper plates outside East Devon MP Simon Jupp's constituency office in Exmouth. Picture: Rosie Johnson

The peaceful protest of teddies and paper plates outside East Devon MP Simon Jupp’s constituency office in Exmouth. Pictures: Rosie Johnson

But the items were removed 'without explanation'.

But the items were removed ‘without any explanation’.

“Children should not be going to bed hungry in one of the richest countries in the world and we should be ashamed to be relying on charities, businesses and celebrities to bridge the gap.

“We are looking for other ways to publicly protest this decision.”

Rosie, whose children are aged 11 and six, added:  “We don’t qualify for free school meals, but having previously been a primary school teacher for 15 years I’ve seen the effects of hunger on young children up close and just how essential free school meals and fresh fruit daily were to the health, wellbeing and educational achievement of the children in my care.”

She asked Mr Jupp on Twitter: “A peaceful, non-disruptive protest against the free school meals decision has been removed from outside the constituency office. What do you want me to tell my daughter?”

A spokesperson for Mr Jupp told East Devon News today: “Items left outside the constituency office in Exmouth can be claimed by contacting the office.”

Asked why it was deemed necessary to remove the teddies and paper plates from outside the premises, the East Devon MP’s office did not respond.

The Government had previously extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays and, after Mr Rashford’s campaigning, did the same for the summer.

But it has refused to do so again.

A bid tabled by Labour to give each disadvantaged child a £15 a week food voucher was defeated by a majority of 61 with 322 votes to 261.

Mr Jupp claimed the vote was ‘more about Labour party lines than actually helping anyone’.

“Tackling child poverty is a challenge and I am determined to ensure families in East Devon get the support they need,” he said.

“I believe the best way to do that is through the welfare system, rather than through schools.

“No child should go hungry, and a great deal of work and investment is going into helping families keep food on the table.”

Mr Jupp said the Government had extended free school meals support during lockdown and families received more than £380million in supermarket vouchers.

He also pointed to Whitehall bolstering the ‘welfare safety net’ with an extra £9.3billion this financial year.

Mr Jupp added: “It is important to remember that free school meals are not a general welfare measure.

“They are aimed at providing healthy meals for children in school to ensure disadvantaged students can learn to the best of their ability.

“Fundamentally, it shouldn’t be up to schools to provide meals for children indefinitely during the holidays and it’s right that we use the tools in place to help parents put food on the table.

“Struggling families need more individual support than the sticking plaster debated and I’d urge any family in this position in East Devon to contact me if they do.

“I promise to help them access available support packages and won’t hesitate to highlight any issues with the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Sidmouth beach protections ‘not fit for purpose’, says chamber president

Plans to protect the town’s seafront ‘do not look fit for purpose’ following a report showing Sidmouth’s clifftop homes could be swallowed by the sea within 20 years.

Those are the words of Richard Eley, Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce’s president.

Beth Sharp sidmouth.nub.news 

Sidmouth Nub News previously reported on Plymouth University’s study that warned of a ‘worst case scenario’ for Sidmouth’s eroding cliff.

Furthermore, residents have been reminded that the study did not take into account any actions to reduce erosion, like the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP).

The preferred option for the Sidmouth BMP would see a new groyne installed on East Beach, 200 metres east of the River Sid, and the splash wall raised to up to a metre along the promenade.

The £9million project would also incorporate importing shingle on both East and Sidmouth beach.

Mr Eley has however claimed there were ‘major problems with the preferred option’.

He added: “The chamber has long argued that the groyne is only likely to be partially successful.”

Mr Eley said the recharge/recycle provision was not funded by the scheme, and was going to be very costly.

He added: “Furthermore, it is highly unreliable: East Devon District Council (EDDC) expect to recharge once every ten years, which seems very infrequent.

“There is a good chance that the newly introduced shingle will soon disappear in the next big storm, and the beach will be vulnerable for years before another recharge is undertaken.

“During that time, erosion will continue at the current rate.”

Mr Eley said the groyne would be located 200 metres along East Beach and was designed to protect the residential housing west of that point, between the groyne and Pennington Point.

He added: “EDDC has previously assumed that houses east of the groyne are so far back from the cliffs that they are not under threat.

“The Plymouth study utterly destroys that thinking.

“The groyne, even if it works as well or better than expected, is not going to do anything to help anyone living to the east, in Laskeys Lane or Alma Lane.

“Even worse, the groyne is very likely to produce an effect known as ‘terminal erosion’…

“In this case, it means that the groyne will accelerate erosion to the east thus increasing the threat to Laskeys Lane and Alma Lane residents.

“So the current Preferred Option, developed before the Plymouth study, does not look ‘fit for purpose’, and surely needs to be reviewed in the light of the report.

“The chamber has consistently criticised the Preferred Option, because we think it is inadequate and ill-judged. This was before the Plymouth study ramped up those concerns.”

Mr Eley said they had argued for a rock revetment rather than a groyne.

A revetment has always been preferred by consultants, residents and EDDC, but has been criticised by Natural England.

Mr Eley called for Natural England to be invited to reconsider it in the light of the Plymouth report.

He added a rock revetment was cheaper than a groyne, more effective and reliable at reducing erosion, it did not require much (if any) recharge or recycle.

My Eley said it was also safer and did not cause terminal erosion.

He added: “It is impossible to ignore the impact of the Plymouth study, so a rethink by EDDC is inevitable.

“We will lobby hard for a revetment to be reconsidered, not least because of the negative impact that a groyne will bring to the residents of Laskeys Lane and Alma Lane.

“This is a very important issue for Sidmouth and we are collectively getting into quite a mess. The whole thing needs to be properly reconsidered without preconceptions.

“This doesn’t mean throwing away all the work that has been done, but it does mean responding to changing circumstances and parameters.

“We cannot just ignore this new Plymouth report.”

Read our previous story on the Plymouth study Sidmouth’s crumbling seafront could claim clifftop homes ‘within 20 years’ here.

Another correspondent on: just how “thin skinned” is Mark Williams when dealing with members of the public?

This correspondent writes:

This long in the tooth Budleigh Salterton resident remembers being horrified when I read a letter in the Exmouth Journal in November 2009 at the time of the Longboat saga. This included a paragraph referring to a letter received recently by the author from Mr. Williams:

Mr Williams wrote “I am mindful that in the 9 years I have been employed by the Council I have seen/read considerable correspondence from you (whether it be to the Council or the local press).  You will perhaps forgive me for commenting that I cannot recall a single occasion when you have said anything positive about the Council or its planning process and as a result I have read your comments with this background in mind. It might be that I am mistaken in my recollection but I believe it is important that I inform you of this perspective.” Big Brother is watching!  

I think a letter published the following week from a former senior civil servant summed up what was thought by many at the time:

“Having spent 40 years of my career in public service, most of the time in Whitehall where Ministers and officials receive their share of critical letters from the electorate, in my experience we would never have dreamt of replying to a member of the public in such a way, indeed it would not have been allowed.  Our creed was, accurate always, robust as necessary, but never, never rude or insulting.  Mr Williams should be formally disciplined for his behaviour. 

Public servants either elected or serving officers must always remember that it is the electorate who put them there, and in the case of officials, who pay their salaries.  To forget this is a road I never want to go down – as [name redacted] says, Big Brother – not for me, thank you.”

A Correspondent expresses surprise over Mark William’s “thin skin”

From a correspondent:

I have read the post regarding Councillor Miller’s email exchange with Mark Williams, EDDC CEO-and I have several observations.

I am surprised that, after all these years in the job he has such a thin skin.

I can see nothing in the exchange [see page 3] which merits a Standards Committee hearing.  Whether I agree or not with Councillor Miller is immaterial – I can see nothing more than a passionate and frustrated young and new councillor attempting to get that passion and frustration over to the CEO.

If councillors cannot communicate in a robust way with the CEO and if “sweeter” ways do not work – what should they do? 

The CEO of any organisation worth his or her salt doesn’t run to the HR department and request that the person communicating with him or her should be “nice” – he or she opens a dialogue with them to find common ground and solutions -giving them the benefit of experience and (hopefully) wisdom.

Freedom speech is something our current government is massively pushing when it allows or supports disparate and perhaps inflammatory views expressed in public – this exchange was not in public till the CEO put it out there.

Finally, if our CEO is handling matters badly – what can we or the council do?  I am aware of no procedure to deal with such events.

Can you really see a situation where a Monitoring Officer will force the boss to rehabilitate!

Fears over ‘weakening’ of UK green watchdog

Campaigners fear that the legal body designed to protect the environment on behalf of citizens is being undermined by the UK government.

By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst www.bbc.co.uk 

Ministers promised that after Brexit, laws on air, water and waste would be policed by an independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

Previously, these laws were enforced by European courts, which prosecuted EU governments that breached green rules.

Ministers promised the OEP would be similarly independent.

But they now want to grant themselves powers to “advise” the new body.

These plans were revealed in a tabled amendment to the Environment Bill.

Critics fear ministers may counsel the OEP against taking the government to court if it breaches laws.

Ruth Chambers from the umbrella group Greener UK told BBC News: “This provides a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the government to direct the watchdog away from awkward or inconvenient cases.

“It completely undermines claims that it will be independent.

“This is a clear and simple weakening of environmental protection. Our nature, air and water quality is being put at further risk. We urge ministers to reconsider.”

The government insists it’s committed to ensuring the independence of the OEP.

It says the body should gain greatest benefit by focusing its prosecutions on the most serious cases.

Power to scrutinise

A spokesperson told BBC News: “The Environment Secretary will not be able to intervene in decision-making about specific or individual cases.

“The Bill will also ensure the new body will have the power to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities where necessary.

But Greener UK’s concerns are echoed by Dr Stephanie Wray from the environmental consultancy RSK.

She told BBC News: “The government says the OEP should focus resources on the most serious cases. But this assumes that it is only big, high-profile cases that seriously affect the environment.

“In fact, small-scale chipping away at biodiversity, or myriad small breaches of air pollution limits, all add up.

“This would allow the government to potentially override the independence of the OEP by directing it towards or away from particular cases to suit political motives.

“Areas where the government was not meeting its targets, like waste, the circular economy, or the water framework directive, might be areas the OEP could be directed not to focus on.”

MPs are determined to ensure the legal framework for the new body is water-tight.

Two chairs of Parliamentary committees, Neil Parish (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Philip Dunne (Environmental Audit Committee), have asked ministers for guarantees about its independence, governance and budget.

Past parallels

The government has already insisted that it will appoint the leadership of the OEP.

Nervous environmentalists remember the history of the Environment Agency, which was set up under statute to be independent.

“The Labour government said it wanted the agency to be a strong independent voice championing the environment,” said Becky Willis, professor in practice at the Lancaster Environment Centre.

“But subsequent governments got fed up of being criticised – so they basically silenced the agency over a period of time, and chairmen and women were told not to criticise ministers openly.”

The agency is now hugged so tight to government that its press enquiries are handled by the government itself.

Tom Burke, a former government adviser and the chair of think-tank E3G, told BBC News: “People would be right to be highly suspicious. Ministers made a promise on the independence of the OEP they knew they wouldn’t keep. Now they’re taking it back by stealth.

“The acid test will be whether the OEP gets its own website independent of government – if not, it will be compromised.”

The MPs have set a deadline of 6 November for a response from the Environment Secretary.

Indian child poverty charity offers free school meals in England

A charity that feeds millions of poor children in India has joined the drive to end holiday hunger in England and distributed its first meals from a new kitchen in Watford.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com

Hot vegetarian dishes cooked for less than £2 each using a model developed to feed the hungry in cities such as Mumbai and Ahmedabad were dispatched to a school in north London on Tuesday amid growing pressure on the government to reverse its decision not to fund free school meals this half-term.

Trays of hot cauliflower cheese and mixed vegetable pasta cooked by chefs working for the Akshaya Patra charity, which produces 1.8m meals for schools daily in India, were collected by Kate Bass, the headteacher of Mora primary school in Cricklewood, from a purpose-built kitchen designed to cook 9,000 meals a day.

“Desperate measures for desperate times,” she said as she loaded her car boot with cartons of food. “Even families that were managing before aren’t managing now.”

The charity is planning to set up similar kitchens in Leicester and east London and expects to keep delivering free meals to schools in the Christmas holidays.

“It might seem strange to some that this model is imported from India,” said Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, the chief executive of Akshaya Patra. “But we are bringing a tested model from a country that has dealt with this problem with speed and at scale.”

The charity also aims to sell meals to schools for less than £2 a portion – with half paid by the state and half by its donors.

Recipients at Mora primary included Atika El Mir, a mother of two, who said money was tight because her husband has had less work because of Covid. “Everything is hard times now,” she said. “This is a good idea. It is so kind.”

“It’s difficult to feed the kids at the moment,” added Dennis Perez, a design technician picking up the hot food on a scooter with his three young children. “I work full-time, but after rent and bills … The council can’t give me anything because I work more than 16 hours. That’s why I grabbed this opportunity.”

Campaigners said the expansion of an operation developed to end child food poverty in India in the UK was a sign of how serious the problem had become.

“One can scarcely believe the new methods communities are having to deploy to protect children from hunger and this is another example,” said Andrew Forsey, the national director of Feeding Britain, which is lobbying the government for a permanent increase in universal credit payments and to establish universal holiday activities and a food programme.

Lyla Rees, an eight-year-old pupil, came to the handout with her mother, a school governor. “I wouldn’t want my friends to go hungry over half-term,” she said.

The Akshaya Patra kitchen uses steam cookery to keep levels of fat low. The project’s backers have watched with concern at the contents of some of the lunches being put together by volunteers this week, featuring crisps and sugary drinks.

“It solves the hunger problem, but not the nutritional problem,” said Shekhawat. “It creates problems like juvenile diabetes and coronaries.”

Sonal Sachdev Patel, the chief executive of the GMSP Foundation, the donor which funded the £500,000 kitchen, said: “The way this country has responded is utterly amazing, but [many small operations] isn’t the solution.

“Hunger in the UK has been a problem for much longer than this. The solution is to bring in the technology and innovation that India is already using. They have a nutrition problem, we have a nutrition problem, but they are doing this already.”

A Biden win would save Britain’s Tories from themselves

A Biden win will not upend the Johnson platform but it takes some wind from the nativist sails. It would reset the western policy consensus, whereas a Trump win would pull Britain further towards an Orbanite world view. (One need only study the party grouping the Tories occupy in the Council of Europe to grasp the odious far-right company they already keep abroad).

Robert Shrimsley www.ft.com 

If there is one thing for which the UK can thank Donald Trump it is for the reminder that relationships between nations are transactional. Personal chemistry is useful but a president is always driven by his own analysis of national interest.

As Boris Johnson contemplates the possibility of a Joe Biden win and an unfriendly face in the Oval Office, the prime minister has reason for trepidation. The Democrat sees him as a British Trump, and Brexit as a foolish endeavour. This view has been entrenched by the threat to breach the EU withdrawal agreement, a move that displays a Trumpian disregard for international deals and kicks against the Good Friday Agreement, to which Mr Biden is deeply attached.

The hand-wringing can be overdone. While the UK may not be heading home with the Oscar for “best European friend”, there would be gains in a Biden win in the tilt back to traditional alliances, a commitment to multilateral bodies (on which countries outside major power blocs rely) and support for action on climate change. The UK’s chairmanship of the COP26 talks would be a chance to smooth relations with a Biden White House. In any case, the UK has found ways to remind even frosty presidents of its value before. The relationship’s foundation lies less in leadership bromances than in deep defence, economic and diplomatic ties.

And there is one more reason the Conservatives may have to be thankful for a Biden victory. It will help save Britain’s ruling party from itself.

A Trump win would have the effect of validating and encouraging some of the worst instincts of Mr Johnson’s party, proving to them that cultural conflict works, that erratic international tactics deliver and that history is on their side.

Swamp notes

In the countdown to the 2020 election, stay on top of the big campaign issues with our newsletter on US power and politics with columnists Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. Sign up here

Mr Johnson does admire aspects of the Trump playbook. He has spoken approvingly of Mr Trump’s unconventional negotiating tactics, and respects his readiness to smash the Beltway consensus. But he is not Mr Trump. He takes the conventional view on the climate crisis and, for all the mistakes, has cleaved close to the scientific consensus during the pandemic.

While not immune to wedge tactics, Mr Johnson has largely rebuffed those in his party, and inside Downing Street, who urge a full-on culture war. He has not yet surrendered to the nativist politics of those who revel in attacks on diversity, under the cover of speaking up for the white working class.

While there is a clear overlap, it is too simplistic to lump all Brexiters into this trend. Vote Leave leaders now inside Downing Street saw the Brexit party’s Nigel Farage as a toxic figure. But other Tories are exploiting fear of him to push a shared agenda. Thus, when Mr Farage stirred up anger over migrants crossing illegally from France it provoked a knee-jerk response. Home secretary Priti Patel will not let herself be outflanked on crime or immigration, and her brand of angry conservatism has traction with the activist base.

This highlights the precarious balance in Mr Johnson’s policies. He has inverted the Cameron agenda and fashioned a new platform around more active state intervention and more conservative social positions: these push back a little on what his voters see as progressive over-reach. Played carefully, this is also where the centre of British politics is located now.

The risk for him is twofold. The first is that, for all his clever positioning, this proves to be an incompetent government that lets down its supporters. As the disenchantment grows, so does the lure of nativism to mask failure. A Trump defeat will remind Mr Johnson of the limits of that strategy and reinforce mainstream Tories.

The second risk comes from tipping into prejudice and dehumanisation. Brexit has uncorked forces Mr Johnson will struggle to contain even if he wants to. This is how an attempt to respond to concerns over immigration became the Windrush scandal or a plan to ship asylum seekers off to the south Atlantic. There is a line between challenging a liberal consensus and dog-whistle politics. Tories have been punished before for being on its wrong side.

A Biden win will not upend the Johnson platform but it takes some wind from the nativist sails. It would reset the western policy consensus, whereas a Trump win would pull Britain further towards an Orbanite world view. (One need only study the party grouping the Tories occupy in the Council of Europe to grasp the odious far-right company they already keep abroad).

In the battle against the nativists, the value that Tories attach to the Atlantic alliance means a Biden win places a thumb on the scales on the side of the party’s better angels. 

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

If not now, when will you respond to a national planning review?

www.civicvoice.org.uk 

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future

We need you to use the next few days to make sure you respond to the Government’s Planning White Paper consultation. The deadline is 11.45pm on October 29th. Numbers counts, Numbers matter.  To help stimulate your own thinking, you can read some of the draft responses that we have been sent so far: 

We will publish a full list of all civic societies that respond on this page as we are informed. Do let us know if you are submitting a response by emailing us at info@civicvoice.org.uk.

Even if you do not feel as though you can respond to every question, that’s fine, but we need every civic society to make a representation about the following three points:

  •  We welcome the opportunity for earlier and more meaningful engagement, but not at the expense of reducing the right for communities to make representations at a later stage.
  • We welcome aspirations for best in class engagement, but this means following through with meaningful time and a meaningful role.
  • We welcome the implementation of digital for consultation, but we cannot replace or remove physical consultation

If you do not respond to this consultation, yet to Government takes forward its reforms, can you really challenge them in the future?

  • If you need support in responding, do let us know via info@civicvoice.org.uk.

Exmouth councillor ordered to apologise for ‘personal and derogatory’ emails

Owl sees from reading the Standards Hearing Sub Committee’s full report (link below) that this case dates back to the dying days of Ben Ingham’s “independent” regime and Cllr. Paul Millar’s evident frustration leading up to his decision to “cross the floor”.

Owl also notes:

 “The Sub Committee expressed concern about the investigation process in relation to this complaint and that it would be appropriate to use a fresh investigator.

The Sub Committee also suggested that the wording of paragraph 5(h) in relation to bullying should be reviewed.”

This matter is now closed. 

But Owl is aware that many members of the public, over many years, have felt that professional standards have not been upheld by officers and elected members. They feel their attempts at making formal complaints have been brushed aside and there is no effective appeal.

This is a top-down matter of corporate culture and Owl hopes that this is now changing.

Regional Editor exmouth.nub.news

An Exmouth councillor who was alleged to have ‘ridiculed, harassed and insulted’ a top council boss, has been ordered to apologise and undertake training.

Independent Councillor Paul Millar was accused of bullying and not treating others with courtesy and respect, breaking East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) code of conduct.

Following a complaints hearing, Cllr Millar was ordered to undertake further training and to write a letter of apology for not treating treating others with courtesy and respect. The committee found him not guilty of bullying.

The complaints hearing was held in private and the agenda papers have been withheld from publication until now.

The complaint, that went before EDDC’s Standards Hearing Sub Committee, claimed Cllr Millar sent emails to the authority’s chief executive, in an unacceptable manner.

The committee felt the language used was of a ‘personal and derogatory nature’ which showed a failure to treat the chief executive with courtesy and respect, but they did not feel Cllr Millar had bullied anyone.

The committee concluded that Cllr Millar had breached the code of conduct by conducting himself in a manner or behaved in such a way to give a reasonable person the impression that he had brought his office into disrepute.

In mitigation, a statement from Cllr Millar said he had been frustrated by the political situation and felt powerless to influence the council’s actions.

He explained the difficulty he had experienced as an independent councillor and that he felt unsupported.

He also felt that the actions of the chief executive were unwarranted and that this had caused him to react as he did.

The committee noted that Cllr Millar, who represents Exmouth Halsdon, did not accept all of the ‘undisputed findings of fact’, as fact.

It was also noted that Cllr Millar had not co-operated with the investigating officer’s investigation but had co-operated and engaged with the hearing.

In considering the disputed facts, the committee took into account relevant material evidence and representations from involved parties.

To read the committee’s full report, and the emails involved in the complaint, CLICK HERE.