Friday, 22 November 2013

"Mounting risks for corruption in UK local government" ...further developments

Following on from the posting
Futures Forum: "Mounting risks for corruption in UK local government"
concerns about process at local government continue to be voiced:

1) Over-representing parties through the voting system:

22 November

THE Herald of November 15 carries an expert analysis by Graham Cooper of how East Devon District Councillors were elected.
Not surprisingly, as an independent councillor myself, I would urge people to come forward as independent candidates. 

Councillor Roger Giles
Ottery Town Ward (Independent) 

22 November

GRAHAM Cooper was right last week to highlight the weaknesses of our 'democratic 'system of local government, where a minority of voters elect a massive majority of councillors of one party.

In local elections it should not be the party candidate that people instinctively voted for, but the best man or woman for the job.

It is worth pointing out, however, that even our defective electoral system does return some majority councillors who think for themselves and represent the best interest of their community in defiance of the party leadership.

Sid Vale councillors Stuart Hughes and Graham Troman are good examples.
They both proposed that the extravagant plans to move the council HQ should be put on hold, and asked embarrassing questions about how a 12.5-acre business park suddenly appeared in the Local Plan.

They both pressed for a scrutiny committee investigation on into the council's controversial relations with the East Devon Business Forum.

It has cost them dearly. Graham Troman's dogged attempts to keep the investigation committee working appear to have been obstructed at every turn.

Stuart Hughes was removes s chairman of the scrutiny committee by the leader of the council, whose leadership he blasted in the Herald on May 17 as 'arrogant and spineless'.

Marianne Rixson

Home - Sidmouth Herald

2) Restricting public speaking: 

Should non-Executive Board councillors just pack up and go home?

22 November
The following decision was taken at the Standards Committee on 9 October 2013
Where possible, questions to be submitted in writing to Democratic Services in advance (two clear working days before the meeting) to enable a considered response to be given in writing at the meeting if time permits. The speaker who submitted the question to be able to ask a supplementary question: Source: http://eastdevon.gov.uk/standards_committee_mins_091013_with_appended_social_medial_use_policy.pdf 
For the Cabinet meeting on 27 November 2013 Source: http://eastdevon.gov.uk/cabinet_combined_agenda_271113_-_public_version.pdf 
this has been changed to:
“c) Where the public wish to raise a question on an issue which is not included as an agenda item for the meeting, this to be submitted in writing to Democratic Services in advance (two clear working days before the meeting) to enable a considered response to be given in writing at the meeting if time permits. The speaker who has submitted the question two clear days in advance to be able to ask a supplementary question relevant to the original question. Two days’ notice is not required if the question being put to the Committee relates to a subject already included as an agenda item.”
The change has been explained thus (p140) in the agenda papers
“Note: Officers have made a more detailed recommendation at c) to differentiate between questions relevant to the agenda and those which do not relate to agenda items. The reason is to allow Members preparation time – this will be of greater benefit to the public as responses given will be well considered and researched.”
So basically, why bother having meetings at all if decisions taken at those meetings are totally changed and over-ridden by officers with the connivance of the EDDC Executive?
What does the “Independent Person” and other non-councillors who attended the Standards Committee have to say?  We know what Independent councillors think (see claire-wright.org.uk) but what do councillors of the political parties think about this?  Presumably, their silence shows acceptance.
What with the inability of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee or its TAFFs to discuss anything that the CEO doesn't approve of (and there are many things he does not approve of), Councillors not on the Executive might just as well pack their bags, go home and stay there.
Should non-Executive Board councillors just pack up and go home? | Sidmouth Independent News

3) Limiting recourse to judicial review:

Judicial review reforms effective from July

New rules slashing by half the deadline for applying for a judicial review of planning decisions come into force next month, the government has confirmed.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced in April it would press ahead with plans for a major shake-up of the judicial review system in relation to planning casesA spokeswoman confirmed that the new rules would come into force on 1 July.
One of the key changes in the reforms is a cutting of the time limit for applying for a judicial review of planning decisions from three months to six weeks.
The MoJ also said it would introduce a £215 court fee for anyone seeking an oral hearing in person once their initial written judicial review application has been turned down.
It also plans to remove the right to an oral hearing if the written application is considered by a judge to be "totally without merit".
In April’s consultation response, the proposals met with overwhelming opposition from respondents. The deadline-cutting measure was opposed by 67 per cent of respondents, while the limiting of oral hearings and the introduction of a fee for such hearings was opposed by 74 per cent and 55 per cent respectively.
In a statement, justice secretary Chris Grayling said: "Judicial review should be used by people who have carefully considered whether they have proper grounds to challenge a decision. We are changing the system so it cannot be used anymore as a cheap delaying tactic."

Judicial review reforms effective from July | Planning Resource
Judicial review limit cut despite wide opposition | Planning Resource

Faster judicial review proposals supported

Planners have supported the government's proposals to speed up the judicial review process, including the creation of a special planning court, but have advised caution on some aspects of the measures.

In September, the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on its proposals for further reform of the rules and timescales for the judicial review process, which it said had "expanded massively" in recent years.

Among its proposals, was the creation of a dedicated Land and Planning Chamber to review planning-related cases, in addition to its new fast-track system for planning appeals.

Responding to the consultation, which closed on 1 November, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) said it supported the measure, coupled with more efficient case management, but was "strongly opposed" to new restrictions on who could launch judicial review proceedings.

RTPI chief executive Trudi Elliott said that while the government was right to be concerned about the delay judicial reviews could cause to development, and their impact on proper decision making, the bulk of the delay occured once a case has been submitted. She said: "In respect of planning cases the RTPI believes that the most impact can be achieved through improvements to the operation of the system and the separation of planning and associated cases out from the bulk of primarily immigration cases. 
There is no evidence in the consultation to justify the blanket restriction of some types of claimants. The RTPI strongly opposes the proposal to restrict who is able to bring a judicial review."
Elsewhere, property lobby group the British Property Federation (BPF) said it believed the creation of the new planning chamber as part of a speeded-up system would go some way to dealing with developers’ complaints that lengthy legal delays to projects forced them into financial difficulty and have caused some schemes to collapse completely.

Chief executive Liz Peace said that a planning process "plagued by expensive and unnecessary delays" was wholly counterproductive to the creation of desperately needed jobs and housing. Having greater numbers of expert judges that understand planning is a huge step forward for the development community, and the simple measure of establishing a specialist planning court should have a real impact on not only the speed of decisions, but the quality too," she said.
The BPF also called for the window for launching planning-related judicial reviews to be limited to six weeks after a planning decision is made.

Faster judicial review proposals supported | Planning Resource

Independence panel warns government against curbing judicial review

11 November 2013
Sir Roger Singleton says charities will be unable to challenge unlawful government action
The Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector has written to the government urging it to reconsider plans to limit the use of judicial review.
In a letter to the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, the Panel's chair Sir Roger Singleton expressed “grave concerns” that the proposals will limit charities' ability to challenge unlawful government action in the courts, as well as their ability to provide expert advice in legal cases. He also argued that the measures would reverse the long-standing ability of charities to contribute to the development of UK law.
The Panel says that under the proposals, voluntary organisations will be prevented from taking judicial review cases unless they have a direct interest, and will face higher costs where they still can. It is also concerned that “a matter of constitutional importance” was put forward in a short consultation “with no prior discussion”.
Speaking about the letter, Sir Roger said: “These proposals to change judicial review should deeply worry everyone that believes the law should defend the vulnerable. Without the independent support of voluntary sector organisations, many people would not be able to access the judicial review they need to stop unlawful government action, and it is vital that this role is not restricted. If the proposals go through, it is more likely that abuses of power will go unchecked, and the vulnerable will lose the protection that voluntary organisations can bring.”
government consultation on the subject recently closed. It stated: “More effective use of judicial review is a key part of the government’s programme to tackle public burdens, promote growth and stimulate economic recovery, so the government is keen to move forward with any necessary reforms quickly.”
Independence panel warns government against curbing judicial review

4) Ensuring safeguards against corruption:

EDDC audit report reaction slammed by online blog

EDDC’s reaction to criticisms of an audit report that was set up to check EDDC’s robustness against possible bribery and corruption, following ex Councillor Graham Brown’s boasts to undercover Telegraph reporters earlier this year, has been slammed by the authors of Sidmouth Independent News.


1. At 11:12 pm on 15th Nov Conrad Black wrote:
Are SWAP a competent body to conduct audits?
A Councillor is revealed as acting in an apparently dishonest manner and resigns because of it.
The procedures that clearly failed to catch him are audited by SWAP who pronounce that they are robust and will prevent such a problem from happening.
Except that is has already been proved that the procedures didn’t.
When asked to explain, SWAP insult the questioner by stating they don’t know how to carry out an audit, instead of answering the question.
Maybe the Financial Reporting Council, or the ICAEW or CIPFA should be invited to comment upon the conformance to established standards, and the reasonableness of a body auditing organizations that have representation on their board of management.
2. At 01:02 am on 17th Nov Chris Wakefield wrote:
I don’t know how to carry out an audit either, but I get the gist from SWAP….
A disaster occurs (e.g. Titanic sinks). To work out what’s gone wrong, you do an ‘audit’ on the event. You examine the size of the ship’s company, the power of the engines, you note in detail the watertight bulkheads, the thickness of the hull and all the other formal provisions to safeguard the ship at sea. Leave a pause, X-factor style, (to make it seems worth the money) - before announcing that as far as you can tell, Titanic is fine and will not sink.
Send an invoice.
Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural

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