Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Sorry State of Local Democracy >>> petition campaign >>> "The cost of one-party councils: lack of electoral accountability and public procurement corruption."

This week is Local Democracy Week:
North Devon schools get ready for Local Democracy Week - News - North Devon Gazette

The Electoral Reform Society has launched a campaign to get more democracy in local government:

The Sorry State of Local Democracy

Electoral Reform Society

Councils across the country are celebrating Local Democracy Week. But in many local authorities, democracy is suffering.

Just like in Westminster, First Past the Post is causing havoc in local councils across England and Wales. Shockingly, in some areas opposition candidates don’t bother standing as First Past the Post means they have no hope of being elected. In other areas, councils control 100% of the council on less than 60% of the vote.

This Local Democracy Week we want to share the real story of local democracy in Britain.

Please share one of our stories below, or one of your own, with the hashtag #LocalDemocracyWeek.

STV election

Uncontested Seats on the Rise

First Past the Post's winner takes all nature means sometimes it's not even worth trying. Eden District Council in Cumbria had already declared 21 of its 38 available seats before the 2015 elections had even taken place. A clear majority of the council (55%) was returned with no one voting at all.


100% of the Power on 60% of the Vote

East Hertfordshire and Mid Sussex for the Conservatives, and Manchester and Newham for Labour are all 100% controlled by one party - all on less than 60% of the vote.


The Cost of One-Party Councils

What happens when there is no opposition on a local council? We found that ‘one-party councils’ could be missing out on savings of around £2.6bn when compared to their more competitive counterparts.

There is no mystery about how to fix our local democracy. Many of these problems disappeared overnight when Scotland joined Northern Ireland in using the Single Transferable Vote for local elections.

It's time England and Wales caught up.

Sign our petition to fix our local democracy today. 

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Uncontested Seats, One Party States and Government Waste
The Electoral Reform Society | Campaigning to make politics better

See also:
ERS | Building a better democracy

This has been flagged nationally:

£2.6bn: the price of an unfair voting system

The first past the post electoral system can result in undemocratic and potentially corrupted one-party councils. We need electoral reform for local government in England and Wales.
Flickr/ William Murphy. Some rights reserved.
For a long time it’s been clear that Britain’s first past the post voting system is hugely damaging for our democracy. But a new study has just shown that it’s damaging for our finances too – and poses big risks when it comes to corruption.
Councils dominated by single parties could be wasting as much as £2.6bn a year through a lack of scrutiny of their procurement processes, according to a University of Cambridge analysis for the Electoral Reform Society.
Some of these local ‘one-party states’ – a product of our winner-takes-all voting system - could be getting away with poor practice when it comes to procurement, with little opposition in council chambers to point it out.
The study, undertaken by Cambridge University academic Mih├íly Fazekas, is titled The Cost of One-Party Councils and looks at the savings in contracting between councils dominated by a single party —or with a significant number of uncontested seats— and more competitive councils.
It finds that ‘one-party councils’ could be missing out on savings of around £2.6bn when compared to their more competitive counterparts - most likely due to a lack of scrutiny. £2.6bn is a lot of potential extra cash for our struggling authorities. At the ERS, we worked out just what this could be spent on:
  1. Building 271 new schools 
  2. Hiring more than 90,000 social workers 
  3. Keeping open 10,511 public libraries
  4. Buying 68,421 used refuse trucks for cash-strapped councils
The report also measures councils’ procurement process against a ‘Corruption Risk Index’ - and finds that one-party councils are around 50% more at risk of corruption than politically competitive councils. The corruption risk of competitive councils compared to those dominated by one party is similar to the difference between the average Swedish municipality and the average Estonian municipality. This doesn’t bode well for democracy or council coffers.
The research is no small-scale study. It uses ‘big data’ to look at 132,000 public procurement contracts between 2009 and 2013 to identify ‘red flags’ for corruption, such as where only a single bid is submitted or there is a shortened length of time between advertising the bid and the submission deadline. And the results are stark.
Both the problem and the solution are clear to identify. One-party councils come about because of the distorting effects of first past the post in local elections. The answer is for England and Wales to adopt the Single Transferable Vote system used in Scotland for electing local councils. In Scotland it has been shown to completely end the phenomena of one-party councils and uncontested seats - and could result in significant public savings, by increasing levels of scrutiny and lowering councils’ risk of dodgy dealings. At the same time, voter satisfaction is greatly improved, and the number of wasted votes shrinks to negligible levels. 
These findings make sense really. When single parties have almost complete control of councils, scrutiny and accountability tend to suffer. The £2.6bn potential wastage is a damning indictment of an electoral system that gives huge artificial majorities to parties and undermines scrutiny. Alarm bells should be ringing in Whitehall.
This is yet another reason why first past the post is unfit for purpose. With parties able to win the vast majority of seats often on a minority of the vote (and on tiny turnouts), scrutiny suffers. A fairer voting system would make ‘one-party states’ a thing of the past, and could lead to substantial savings for citizens.
We think it’s time politicians from all parties woke up to the need for a fairer voting system. First past the post is hurting our democracy – and now we’ve discovered it’s a financial disaster too.

£2.6bn: the price of an unfair voting system | openDemocracy

See also:
One-party councils 'waste £2.6bn a year on procurement' | Local Government Executive
One-party councils waste £2.6bn a year through ‘corrupt’ procurement
One party councils waste up to 26bn a year claims report - LocalGov

And locally:
Why one party councils are dangerous | East Devon Watch
The (huge, extra) cost of one party councils | East Devon Watch

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