Tuesday, 21 October 2014

"I can’t remember a time when there was so much dissatisfaction with local government."

The editor of the Pulman's View from Sidmouth/Honiton/Axminster/Ottery/Seaton etc has been making several sharply pertinent observations of late.

This blog reproduced his editorial from last week:
Futures Forum: The lack of scrutiny at East Devon ... Council's Scrutiny Cttee meets Thursday 16th October

Here it is again:

Editor Column
From The Editor's Chair

Have we missed something?

14 October 2014

IF I was a district councillor in East Devon I think I might be asking a pertinent question or two about why elected members had no previous knowledge that chief executive Mark Williams had been summoned before a Government select committee.

So I have some sympathy for the view expressed by experienced Ottery St Mary councillor Roger Giles when he said: “I would have thought that it might just have been of passing interest to the members of EDDC”, noting that in his 19 years of service he could not remember the chief executive being invited to meet with such an august body as the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on Voter Engagement in the UK.

Why Mr Williams was summoned before the parliamentarians yesterday (Monday) is a matter of interpretation, as is often the way in local government.

The matter was first raised by Paul Freeman, a member of the East Devon Alliance, a pressure group which rarely shies away from rattling a few cages at Knowle, making the alarming claim that 6,000 names had gone missing from the electoral roll in East Devon before the European elections.

Mr Freeman asked a question about the matter at the last full meeting of EDDC back in July and the Alliance claims he was given, and I quote, “an arrogant brush off” by Mr Williams.

Mr Freeman did not let the matter rest and maintains that Mr Williams had been invited to Westminster to “explain himself”.

As to be expected, the communications department of EDDC put a very different spin on it.

They say Mr Williams had been invited in his capacity as returning officer for East Devon “to give evidence on voter engagement in rural areas”.

Furthermore, EDDC claim that the 2013 Electoral Register in East Devon achieved a 95 per cent registration rate without house-to-housecanvassing. They have now recruited canvassers with the target of calling on every house in East Devon.

From recent television coverage, appearing before select committees never seems to be a very comfortable experience and it often annoys me that parliamentarians who have been caught with their fingers in the till, and still continue to milk the system, act in such a high and mighty fashion.

Politics, both at national and local level, is all about transparency these days and local government officers have to be squeaky clean to stay ahead of the game.

A great deal of council business is delegated to unelected officers and that often means the flow of information to councillors, and indeed the public, leaves much to be desired.

Roger Giles, somewhat tongue in cheek, commented: “Have I missed something?” Clearly he had - like the rest of us.

Philip Evans

Have we missed something? | East Devon Alliance
View from Sidmouth pulls no punches in today’s editorial | Save Our Sidmouth

Here is this week's editorial, but first a commentary from the East Devon Alliance blog from today:


October 21, 2014

It is hard to choose from the articles and letters in this week’s FREE “View from” publications. Simply Google “View from” and Honiton, Ottery, Seaton, Sidmouth, Axminster, Colyton etc and you will get the full digital edition on your computer.

The editorial from its editor, Philip Evans, is one of the best we have ever read, bemoaning the fact that, once in the dark and distant past, the political colour of district councillors was an almost total irrelevance – all councillors doing their best for the district and the particular towns they served. He points out that now it is simply politically-charged wrangling and insults with more insidious behaviour too – the destruction of public speech and accountability and a sense of some councillors doing the job more for the money than as a public service.

Elsewhere the newspaper reports on issues such as the hospital bed closures in Axminster, the new governance of the Beehive in Honiton and the still-pervasive sewerage issues in Ottery St Mary.

The Letters page is an absolute cracker too – stinging criticism of the reduction in public speaking at planning committees, a riposte from one Axminster councillor to another when Councillor Moulding accused Councillor Heywood of bad conduct on a personal Facebook page where he dared to make comments about the state of play in Axminster at the moment and a condemnation of the new parking extension for the main Seaton car park to serve the new visitor centre which destroys several mature trees on a green space.

If you do not have a copy rush out and get one – it is a beacon of what true local journalism should be – unafraid and unbowed.

The “View from” local newspapers – the voice of the people … and how they roar! | East Devon Alliance

Editor Column
From The Editor's Chair

Does politics work for locals?

21 October 2014

IN all the years I have been doing this job (too many according to my critics out there), I can’t remember a time when there was so much dissatisfaction with local government. Why is this?

You won’t be surprised, but I have a theory.

When I first started covering rural and borough councils in East Devon and occasionally Devon County Council, 50 years ago, politics had very little to do with it. We were all aware that East Devon was predominantly blue but the focus was very much on serving the electorate.

Councillors got little or no expenses and the officers were not paid such exorbitant salaries. Debates were not dominated by groups of politically affiliated councillors, with members of other political shades marginalised, and there were no grand titles such as “portfolio holders”. Matters were dealt with by committees where all councillors had an influence.

With the exception of town councils, being an elected representative today is as much a career as it is a service for many. I am not denying the amount of hours our councillors at district and county level put in, or questioning their commitment to their communities, but generally they are compensated for their efforts, especially the more capable and ambitious members who climb the political ladder. Some of them receive far in excess of the average weekly wage in this area.

I’m not talking about every councillor. I noticed when Googling councillors expenses, when I started thinking about a theme for this week’s column, that one long serving councillor claimed only £12.50 last year.

Times change and the reorganisation to create the current three-tier system (county, district and parish/town) back in 1974 was deemed necessary. Like it or not, local government is in the politics game and it will always be that way.
This became clear to me last week after I compared the different interpretation being put on the summoning of EDDC chief executive Mark Williams to a Commons Select Committee to answer question on electoral procedures. Having read the Hansard transcript of proceedings, it didn’t seem to me that it was a wholly enjoyable experience for Mr Williams.

One district councillor emailed me to say he was “mildly disappointed” with the view I had taken but then, incredulously, went on to criticise the “tame” spin put out by his own council’s communications team. His words, not mine.
Talk to most people and they have no real interest in local government (it was ever thus) but those who have are pretty disillusioned. Controversy rages in most of the towns in Pulman’s Country at the moment but there is little faith in the ability of our elected representatives to find solutions.

I think there is also a degree of frustration among a number of long serving councillors, with some of them having already decided not to seek re-election when we go to the polls next May. The big question is: will their replacements do any better?

Philip Evans

Pulmans View from Sidmouth - digital edition

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