Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Tories take steps to prevent scrutiny

A fundamental aspect of our democratic process is the right of backbench councillors to scrutinise the decisions of the (in our case) Conservative administration.

Scrutiny should be an effective check and balance to ensure that the Cabinet are not overstepping the mark.

In recent years there have been three separate scrutiny committees at NWLDC.

Quite rightly it has been argued that the job of these three committees could be done by one. I completely agree.

But...

If there is to be only one committee then it should be strong and have the power to properly investigate the decisions of the executive and hold them to account.

Tonight Council has approved the constitutional structure of the new committee (now known as the Policy Development Group).

Labour are disgusted with the resulting scrutiny rules.

I firmly believe that scrutiny should always be lead by a strong and effective opposition.

Tonight we asked for two basic, but I believe essential, changes to the proposed rules.

Firstly we asked for limitations on call in not to be based on the current double jeopardy tests of a numerical limit (per year) on call in items AND a vexatiousness test determined by officers to just a vexatiousness test incorporating both political leaders as final arbiters in the process.

In my comments to Council I said:

'To have both (tests) is disgraceful and suggests nothing less than an administration trying to stop all effective scrutiny to railroad their decisions.'

'To rest final decision with an officer, no matter how good and professional they are, only goes to highlight the impotence of the scrutiny function and the disdain this administration shows for it.'

Secondly we asked for chairmanship of the committee to rest with the opposition party, irrespective of who that party is.

I commented:

'Scrutiny is always most effective when lead by opposition... Irrespective of which party is in control of this district the role of chair should be in the gift of the opposition.'

You will not be surprised to learn the Conservative leadership turned our reasonable requests down.

My final comments to Council were:

'I, as Labour Leader, would also call for a recorded vote. I want to be able to tell members of the public which Tories voted against democracy.'

I can confirm that indeed ALL Conservative members present and the one Liberal Democrat Councillor voted against our proposals.

It is a sad day for the future of our Council when the executive can effectively ride roughshod over the democratic process.

The true cost of consultants and redundancy

In an often ill tempered council meeting Tory leaders at North West Leicestershire District Council have revealed tonight how much taxpayers money they have been spending in recent years on consultants whilst at the same time clarifying the cost of getting rid of redundant posts.

Following questions from Labour Councillors Ray Woodward and Lesley Massey figures revealed for the first time this evening show that in 2009/10 our Conservative administration spent over half a million pounds on consultants (£514K).

In the two years following £442,042.45 (2010/11) and £80,929.45 (2011/12) has been shelled out.

In total in just two and half years over 1 million pounds has been paid out on consultants by Conservatives at London Road.

In his formal response Councillor Nick Rushton said 'The Council buys in advice and consultancy each year as and when required. Whilst we have a knowledgeable and experienced team of officer we could not justify having permanent staff whose skills might only be required occassionally.'

Of course, Cllr Rushton is correct however his views do appear a little anomalous when you consider the second piece of information revealed tonight.

In that exact same period our District Council have spent more than £700K on the cost of making people redundant (2009/10 - £113,195, 2010/11 - £400,243, 2011/12 - £194,887).

Can anyone really say none of the consultancy costs could have been cancelled out by utilising existing staff and thus negating the need for all of those redundancies?

I seriously doubt it.

We are constantly told that the Conservatives are the party of fiscal responsibility but all of this spending has happened on their watch and a long time after Labour were in power at North West Leicestershire.

To spend £1.7 million of council taxpayers money in two and half years on costs, which in many cases may have cancelled each other out, smacks of mismanagement.

The Conservatives are directly responsible for these astronomical figures. Every one of the Tory leadership should be questioning their financial management credentials in the wake of these revelations.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Boundary changes - What to do next

After the shock of the boundary review announcements last week the dust is now settling.

We know that the plans for our constituency of North West Leicestershire are major. To show just how major you can see the proposed new constituencies of Bosworth and Coalville and Keyworth below.

Proposed Bosworth Constituency

Proposed Coalville and Keyworth Constituency

It's my firm belief that these proposed constituencies hurt communities. I wrote before that Coalville and Keyworth have no community links - this remains true.

What we also see is the fact communities are being split. Not only the historic links between Ashby and Coalville but the more direct splitting of towns and their immediate neighbour villages in the case of Coalville with Hugglescote and Ellistown.

You might be asking why all of this is important? The answer is simple.

We want our MP's to be passionate about the areas they serve. We want them to promote and support our communities from the rooftops. We want them to forge close links with businesses and local authorities for the betterment of their electors.

Where a community is split do we honestly think this is going to happen?

Moreover, where a constituency includes distinctly separate communities with distinctly different demographic makeups what chance is there that conflicts in representation will more readily arise with one distinct community being better served than the other?

The question however, is what can be done?

If you believe, as I do, that the constituency of North West Leicestershire should be retained (potentially with some villages drawn in to equalise voter numbers) it is vital you let the Boundary Commission know your views.

It is my firm believe however that in saying community is important it must be the community (not just political parties) that are making the point.

To have any realistic chance of changing the mind of the boundary commission we need individuals, community groups, schools, churches and any other organisation that plays a role in our community to have their say.

You have a choice in how you make your views known.

There are public hearings all over the country, the nearest is in Derby on 27 and 28 October, where you can have the opportunity to speak. To register to speak at the public hearing click here .

Alternatively you can make any comments online up until 5 December by clicking here .

If you read this blog and you have views on the proposed constituencies please take the time to respond to the consultation.

Similarly, please pass the message on. The only way we have a chance of retaining our historic links is by showing in massive numbers that this is important to us.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

When is £3,000 per month over budget value for money?

In July 2010 Leicestershire County Council announced that they were to appoint a new Head of Communications.

The salary for the post was a significant £74,000 per year.

The Hinckley Times reports that more than 40 applications were received for the post but noone was ever called for an interview.

Instead the County Council appointed a consultancy firm called Westco to do the job.

How much did the County Council pay for Westco? Not less than the advertised salary but instead £10,000 EVERY MONTH!

Whilst over a year later LCC have now decided to appoint a new Communications Manager at £48,390 they have the audacity to say:

“...when balanced against the monthly saving on the vacant head of communications post, the net monthly cost of the service is approximately £3,000. We believe that represents good value for money.”

I don't believe for one second that Communications is a superfluous function. On the contrary in a complex customer facing organisation positive communication is essential.

But we must also realise that given the wider economic picture public services must be subject to tight budgets.

£74,000 is a lot of money BUT £3,000 a month is a lot more OVER budget.

I get upset when I read articles in the right wing press about 'non jobs' in local government but when you hear of waste like this it's difficult not to see why.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Boundary Commission Review

Tomorrow the boundary commission will unveil its review of parliamentary constituencies which, subject to consultation, will come into force in time for the 2015 general election.

The stated aim of the review is to equalise the size of parliamentary constituencies and in doing so reduce the total number of MP's in Westminster down from 650 to 600.

There will be very few constituencies which go completely untouched in the review but our own constituency of North West Leicestershire will be one of the most affected.

Leaked copies of the proposals show that North West Leicestershire will be split into two.

Ashby De La Zouch will be absorbed into the Bosworth constituency, thus presumably making it even more steadfastly Conservative.

Whilst Coalville and its surrounding villages will go to form a new constituency with the towns of Keyworth and Ruddington which currently form part of Ken Clarke's Rushcliffe seat (the proposed constituency will be called Coalville and Keyworth).

It could be argued that this will potentially make Coalville (and Keyworth - must get used to the new name) a more marginal constituency given that the two towns do not tend to return Conservative councillors wholesale unlike much of the rest of the district.

But, to me at least, this is not the point.

Parliamentary constituencies should be designed on the basis that they reflect an identifiable geographic area. In other words to reflect communities.

Everyone knows that Coalville and Ashby are very different towns politically, economically and socially however they also have a great deal in common (much more than simply sharing a district council).

We have history, heritage, close transport links and not least the fact that for many of us when we go out shopping or for entertainment we might 'pop' into Ashby or 'nip' to Coalville.

What links do we have with Ruddington or Keyworth?

Both towns I am sure are lovely but what do we have in common with what are essentially suburbs of Nottingham?

I am pretty certain that anyone sat in Ruddington right now will be asking the same questions about Coalville.

Has anyone from Coalville ever 'popped' out to Keyworth (or vice versa)? I doubt it but we may well soon be represented by an MP of whatever party who must try to show they have an intimate knowledge of both distinct areas.

Will this really be the best representation voters can expect?