Monday, 16 March 2015

Knowle relocation project: openness and transparency

Last week the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee declared:
"There is a legitimate public expectation of openness and transparency"
GCHQ snooping laws need to be overhauled in wake of Snowden, report finds - Telegraph
Single law needed over spying by intelligence agencies | Western Daily Press

The District Council seems to recognise this, having declared recently:

We will continue to encourage transparency and openness wherever possible in our business transactions

Agenda for Overview & Scrutiny Committee Wednesday, 14 January 2015Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: the Transparency Code and being opaque about Exmouth Town Hall refurbishment

At last week's cabinet meeting last week, the very first section of the 'Relocation Decisions' report talked about the need for 'transparency':

The report is in Part A to ensure that the information is publicly available and members are able to discuss and decide as transparently as possible. 

The Internal Auditors were full of praise for the 'transparency' of their clients:

Officers involved in this review were found to be candid and transparent in their responses to requests for information from us, and are thanked for their prompt cooperation. 

However, to say that a process is 'transparent' is not simply a matter of it being governed by having 'appropriate structures in place'. 'Transparency' is not a bureaucratic nicety providing clear routes for 'management information', but about being 'open to public scrutiny':

1. Risk: The Project Team fails to take informed and transparent decisions scrutinised and risk managed. 
1.1 Reliability of Management Information 
The audit approach has been to confirm that the Council has appropriate structures in place to minimise the risk of errors occurring within management information. The Council has taken the following steps to ensure they base their decisions on accurate information: 
 The Council has an experienced Project Manager, formally appointed through the Southwest Consultancy Framework, who prepares and maintains a standard suite of documents. These include a project programme, project risk register, project update reports, cost reports. This structure of documents enables officers to easily track information, identify variances and patterns, make comparisons, and identify missing information. 
 The Council has devised a suitable structure for monitoring these documents. An Officer Working Group meets at least monthly. Attendance at this group has been reviewed and is considered reasonable, both in terms of the experience and seniority of officers and their participation in the meetings. A standing agenda ensures that all relevant information is covered in the meeting. Relevant information is provided in advance and the notes from each meeting are agreed formally as a true record at each subsequent meeting. 

Agenda for CabinetWednesday, 11 March 2015; 5.30pm

The Scrutiny Cttee, together with the Audit Cttee, waived through reports from the Internal and External Auditors - who had simply audited the figures the District Council had given them and no more:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: deciding to sell >>> Audit and Scrutiny combined Cttees: Thursday 12th March >>> reports

Otherwise, the Scrutiny Cttee has not done very much scrutinizing of the Knowle relocation project:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Scrutiny Cttee to consider report on "cost for refurbishment": Thursday 22nd January
Overview and Scrutiny Committee fail to oversee and scrutinise | Save Our Sidmouth

And in fact, the process is not greatly respected, even within the District Council itself:
Futures Forum: "Half of officers and members see scrutiny as not challenging enough."

In the meantime, there have been attempts to gain access to much of this information:Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: further FOI requests
Transparency – a foggy issue | East Devon Watch

See also:
Futures Forum: Managed democracy: "The deliberate undermining of people's perception of the world, by creating confusion and contradiction ... undermining any opposition to existing power structures ... which leaves us feeling helpless and depressed and to which the only response is: 'Oh dear'."

Transparency vs. Secrecy | East Devon Alliance


Wills Norwich said...

"There is a legitimate public expectation of openness and transparency"

Jeremy Woodward said...

Thanks for the comment.
It is very much about the public expecting 'openness and transparency'.
See also: