Saturday, 14 December 2013

Transparency and process in East Devon... a summary

Over the last fortnight in particular, there have been concerns voiced on several fronts:


Ottery St Mary:
There are concerns about 'secret' Town Council meetings with potential developers: 
OTTERY: Councillor walks out of meeting over housing row - View from Online 12 December 
Save West Hill - the Woodland Village | Facebook 10 December 
Councillor ‘shocked’ at confidentiality accusations | Exeter Express and Echo 5 December 
private_meeting_with_developers_is_not_a_confidential_issue/claire-wright.org/ 4 to 14 December 
With an interesting comment posted earlier today:
At 03:48 pm on 14th Dec Paul wrote:
I have done a little research here. It is not only the Public Bodies Act 1960 (Admission to meetings) that the council needs to follow, but also the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 which (in summary) states that:
1. There are only limited grounds for declaring a discussion “confidential”.
2. The decision to hold meetings (which would include discussions with e.g. developers) in private needs to be formally taken and minuted; AND
3. That the reasons for such decisions to hold meetings in private need to be stated.
I should also add that this same act also defines what information needs to be made available to local councillors, so I wonder whether the recent allegations made against Roger Giles actually have any basis in law.
I am not a lawyer, and of course the devil is in the detail, but I would be interested to know whether the recent “private meetings” and “confidentiality” issues are actually legal, and if not what action can and should be taken by whom to bring the law-breakers to account.

there_will_be_no_minutes_for_private_meeting_with_persimmon/claire-wright.org/ 3 December 
ottery_town_council_subjects_giles_to_show_trial/claire-wright.org/ 3 to 12 December 
Whiff (Whip??) of conspiracy? | Sidmouth Independent News 3 December 
Builder due to lodge East Devon homes plan | Exeter Express and Echo 27 November 

The 'super enquiry' on proposed housing will not be held in the village:
The MP and the Water Board … | Susie Bond 13 December 
East Devon Council moves Feniton homes inquiry to larger venue due to high demand | Exeter Express and Echo 13 December 
Feniton not prepared for 'explosive growth', says MP - View from Online 5 December 
A letter from Neil Parish: Action needed on flooding in village | Exeter Express and Echo 28 November 

Recent discussions on the proposed relocation of the District Council have been held in 'confidence':
Council faces criticism for 'secret' Knowle meeting - View from Online 7 November 

The District Council has been recording meetings of late: "Audio recording is permitted by press representatives and members of the public from the public area":
www.eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_dm_agenda_170913.pdf 17 September 
See also: www.eastdevon.gov.uk/draft_protocol_for_audio_recording_of_council_meetings_v3.pdf
first_recording_to_take_place_on_thursday_25_july/claire-wright.org/ 10 July 
Step forward in Councillor's call for meetings to be recorded - View from Online 15 January 

An intriguing entry from 'Rotten Boroughs' on "irregularities committed by East Devon District Council when processing an application for planning consent":
East Devon District Council and the Local Government Ombudsman

Simple questions about planning consents in Sidmouth and parking revenue, but no such thing as a simple answer at EDDC | Sidmouth Independent News 10 December 
Voting against - Letters - Sidmouth Herald 7 December 
Stay accountable - Letters - Sidmouth Herald 7 December 
Town Hall Secrecy Blamed for Decline in Local Democracy | Sidmouth Independent News 1 November 
Developers are making money | This is Devon 31 October 
Official - It's in the public interest.... that the public does not know....? 17 October 


There are fears about how "impartial and fair minded" members of the District Council are when determining what should be heard in committee: 
more_public_speaking_restrictions_afoot_at_eddc/claire-wright.org/ 9 to 12 December 
Councillor concerned at changes to East Devon District 
Council question requirements | Exeter Express and Echo 27 November 
Another nail in the coffin of democracy in East Devon: officers and Cabinet rule | Sidmouth Independent News 27 November 
restrictions_imposed_on_public_questions_at_eddc/claire-wright.org/ 20 to 23 November  
cabinet_rubber-stamps_public_speaking_restriction/claire-wright.org/ 27 November to 1 December 
Public speaking rules change bid | Exeter Express and Echo 20 June 
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles stands up “for the rights of journalists and taxpayers to scrutinise and challenge decisions of the state” | Save Our Sidmouth 14 June 

Although, these 'restrictions' were prompted by over-lengthy meetings:
East Devon - No more 'marathon' meetings - View from Online 9 October 
See also: East Devon District Council - Public participation

From a year ago:
Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED! | Exeter Express and Echo 13 December 2012 


There has been considerable debate about the 'need' to use the formality of whipping at the District Council:
No whip required - Letters - Sidmouth Herald 7 December 
Let’s thrash this one out in public - Letters - Sidmouth Herald 7 December 
Who whips the whips? | Sidmouth Independent News 6 December 
Complaint lodged against EDDC Conservative Whip | Save Our Sidmouth 4 December 
To whip or not to whip, and if not why not? | Sidmouth Independent News 2 December 
im_the_eddc_tory_whip_-_but_i_never_use_it/claire-wright.org/ 30 November 
“Conservative councillors are free to express their own views..”, says East Devon Party Whip | Sidmouth Independent News 29 November 
‘Have whip, but don’t ever use it’ | Sidmouth Independent News 29 November 
What are rank-and-file majority party councillors FOR? | Sidmouth Independent News 28 November 
www.eastdevon.gov.uk/standards_mins_180613.pdf 18 June 


There has also been discussion over how Councillors are elected:
east_devon_residents_have_chosen_conservative_way_of_life/claire-wright.org/ 6 to 13 December 
See also: BBC News | Election 2010 | Constituency | Devon East
Our voting system: examining the figures | Save Our Sidmouth 30 November 
‘Have whip, but don’t ever use it’ | Sidmouth Independent News 29 November 
See also: East Devon District Council - Elections 2011: Results


EDDC must be more transparent – by law | Sidmouth Independent News 13 December 
Local Government Lawyer - Transparency code to be mandatory for councils above £6.5m threshold 13 December 
Government to fund 270 local government fraud investigators | Sidmouth Independent News 11 December 
Local Government Lawyer - Government to fund 270 local government fraud investigators 11 December 

There have been concerns that the auditing process has not been through or transparent enough - especially in respect of the 'involvement' of former Councillor Graham Brown:
Does the anti-corruption (SWAP) report lack rigour? | Save Our Sidmouth 25 November 
motion_urges_more_transparency_at_eddc/claire-wright.org/ 26 November 
eddc_audit_report_reaction_slammed_by_online_blog/claire-wright.org/ 15 November 
www.eastdevon.gov.uk/audit__governance_mins_141113-2.pdf 14 November 
SWAT-South West Audit Travesty | Sidmouth Independent News 14 November 
Some thoughts on internal audit | Sidmouth Independent News 10 November 
The Biggest Risks in an Internal Audit May Be the Issues You Miss 24 October 

South West Audit Partnership are unimpressed by report on corruption in local government by Transparency International UK - East Devon Alliance | Facebook 8 November 

South West Audit Pollyanna? | Sidmouth Independent News 8 November 
See also: Corruption in UK Local Government: The Mounting Risks 

Councillor questions robustness of a report that put East Devon District Council under scutiny | Exeter Express and Echo 6 November 
What do you prefer: substantial or reasonable assurances that our council is following proper procedures? | Sidmouth Independent News 5 November 
Why has the EDDC Audit and Governance Committee been postponed for a week? | Sidmouth Independent News 5 November 
UK uses Open Government Partnership summit to make transparency a reality for citizens - Press releases - GOV.UK 31 October 
Conservative Party Chairman calls for accountability and transparency | Sidmouth Independent News 27 October 

"Recent changes in legislation, including the abolition of the Audit Commission, have weakened audit oversight of local government and may have inadvertently created opportunities for corruption... "
Global body criticises weak local authority audits | Accountancy Live 9 October 
See also: SWAP South West Audit Partnership - Delivering Audit Excellence 


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