Author Topic: 3. The Scrutiny Process  (Read 16425 times)

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Offline Ringer

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3. The Scrutiny Process
« on: February 07, 2010, 05:34:53 PM »
Delegated decisons are in my opinion decisions in camera, not subject to democracy and rarely  only open to retrospective scrutiny, then only if they're called in. I think they should be "minor" (and include exclusions) as per the constitution be day to day and that they should also be signed off by the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee and Chair of the Council/(Mayor).

Short cut democracy only short changes the people and is outrageous. Councillors are elected to represent us I did not vote for a quasi leader Mark Edwards to invest my council tax willy nilly, as he personally sees fit on the advice of an officer. I know Rod Bluh and Mark Edwards signed this investment off from reading talkswindon who is the officer that provided the advice.

The labour council was voted out in this town for poor judgement.



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Offline komadori

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2010, 06:20:59 PM »
I think they should be "minor" (and include exclusions) as per the constitution be day to day and that they should also be signed off by the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee and Chair of the Council/(Mayor).
The problem with involving the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee and Mayor is that both posts are effectively awarded by the controlling party which, depending on how poodleish they are, could mean that both are in the patronage of the council leader. That being the case, if they were both had to sign off delegated decisions you could guarantee that both posts would be given to councillors most likely not to ask questions. For scrutineers to be effective they need to have no active part in the decision making process.
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Offline Steve Wakefield

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2010, 06:21:54 PM »
Well the Dial a ride decision was for a 50K slash was burned by the majority of back benchers, but that is democracy in action for you :clap:

You may need to explain this, (I didn't follow the dial-a-ride debacle very closely), was that another delegated decision? and/or is there a strong connection between £50k being grabbed from Dial-A-Ride and where the £450,000 for the Digital City Loan was sourced?

Simply put when group/council "councillor democracy" is involved in the matter it is fully debated and then a vote is taken on the recommendation/decision. The majority carries the day. Dial a ride was a cabinet budget proposal along with others (turning street lamps off is one) that was presented to the group on 30th November. It went out for consultation, the public did not like it and councillors didn't either. At the first opportunity the group discussed it and voted it out. I was not a member of the group so cannot confirm details.

If wi-fi had been discussed it may well have gone ahead I do not know that as the decision was a delegated one so was kept away from me I cannot speak for the other 56 councillors (57 Councillors provides a lot of variety). ;) I would have liked the opportunity to have had the debate and the vote. :banana:
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Offline Steve Wakefield

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2010, 06:31:42 PM »

The problem with involving the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee and Mayor is that both posts are effectively awarded by the controlling party which, depending on how poodleish they are, could mean that both are in the patronage of the council leader. That being the case, if they were both had to sign off delegated decisions you could guarantee that both posts would be given to councillors most likely not to ask questions. For scrutineers to be effective they need to have no active part in the decision making process.

I have always believed that all scrutiny posts should not be given to the controlling group. This is something that John Denham should have looked into or Hazel Blears when setting out real people real power. Involve the people. Oh a little labour secret here their group constitution means that the leader cannot choose the cabinet it has to be done by ballot, the whole group vote on who the cabinet will be for the year as well as the leader. So not grace and favour in the gift of the leader but based on democractic process. This idea could be modernised and extended to the public so that they could vote in the leader and the cabinet members for a 4 year term.
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Offline Geoff Reid

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2010, 11:43:40 PM »
Involve the people. Oh a little labour secret here their group constitution means that the leader cannot choose the cabinet it has to be done by ballot, the whole group vote on who the cabinet will be for the year as well as the leader. So not grace and favour in the gift of the leader but based on democractic process. This idea could be modernised and extended to the public so that they could vote in the leader and the cabinet members for a 4 year term.

It's no coincidence that discussing 'delegated decisions' always leads straight back to the obvious lack of accountability 'enjoyed' by the leader and his cabinet.

By and large, the remaining members of the controlling group are now marginalised to the point where their involvement is only appreciated by the leadership for their usefulness to win votes in the chamber.  The more malleable councillors are slightly more useful as they can be placed as chairsmen/women onto important committees where they can be relied upon to do as they're told.   

Bluh regularly says that he does not have enough 'power' as leader, and wants Westminster to give leaders more of it, but it seems to me that even Anne Snelgrove or Michael Wills couldn't whistle up a £450,00 loan for a new start-up company.

Delegated decisions,  when used to ram projects like WiFi through council without investigation and thoughtful debate, destroy trust in the leaderships ability to nurture projects on their own merits and they damage democracy.


Offline Richard Shaw

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2010, 09:20:18 AM »
By and large, the remaining members of the controlling group are now marginalised to the point where their involvement is only appreciated by the leadership for their usefulness to win votes in the chamber.  The more malleable councillors are slightly more useful as they can be placed as chairsmen/women onto important committees where they can be relied upon to do as they're told.   


I believe that these people are in fact redundant and if Rod Bluh insists on being an autocrat and marginalising them that they should be paid off and we save our money.   

And while we are about save the money for the Chief Executive and his Deputy because in this sheme of things they are also Redundant.  Half a mill to be saved here to compensate for the Wi-fi loan.  maybe that could happen.

Time for a democratically Elected Mayor, but could Rod win the popular vote, I believe not, but then he still has to be re-elected in Dorcan and that is open to question.

What a B***** Mess

Offline Jenni Miles

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2010, 10:28:49 AM »
I wasn't sure where to put this, so feel free to move it.

I asked Anne the following:

Dear Anne,

 

I attended the SBC Health Scrutiny Committee last night and am extremely concerned about it's handling. Firstly did not get a satisfactory reply to my perfectly legitimate question of why had this meeting not taken place before SBC handed over large sums of tax payers money and the system being activated. I can appreciated that the meeting took time to organise but strongly believe that, as this was not an urgent matter, the council should have waited until after both the Health and Scrutiny committees had reached their decisions and the public had been consulted.

1.    Do you agree with me SBC could and should waited until the committee's decisions had been reached?

 

My feeling, given the chair's position, was that the outcome of the committee meeting was a foregone conclusion, regardless of the fact that there had been insufficient public consultation.  Evidence supplied by members of the public prior to the meeting had not been included and some of the questions asked by the public will not be answered until a later date and were therefore not included in the decision-making process. During the Scrutiny committee meeting on 25/01/10 again questions asked by the public will not be answered until a later date and were therefore not included in the decision-making process (though at this meeting the chair did the best job he could and it wasn't his fault that it was voted though by the Tory councillors making up the majority of this committee).

2.    Do you agree that the public questions should have been answered prior to the decisions being made?

3.    Do you also agree that the Labour councillors should push to have opposition councillors chair all committees?

4.    Can you help with that in any way?

 

Rod is blatantly breaking rules here as it seems this decision was made in secret by no more than five people and then forced through by Tory block voting. I understand that a complaint has been lodged against the entire cabinet of SBC with the Standards Board of England and Wales and that Cll'r Michael Dickinson, chair of the Audit Committee, has referred the matter to internal audit.

5.    Can you confirm if a complaint has been lodged with the Standards Board? Do you/would you welcome this move?

6.    Do you welcome the matter being referred to internal audit?

7.    Can you inform me about what you (and the Labour party's councillors) plan to do to make sure that this matter is investigated fully.

8.    A public meeting is to be called shortly regarding this matter, provided you are available, will you attend?

(snip a personal bit)

Kind regards,
Jenni Miles

Her reply was as folows:

Dear Jenni,

Thank you for your email regarding the continuing saga that is the Wi-Fi project. Like you, I have many concerns about this project and would be happy to join forces with you so that we can press the council for answers and action. I will answer the points you raise in order.

I agree that it would have been more appropriate for the Council to have gone through the full scrutiny process, particularly the health scrutiny committee.
Throughout this whole issue the lack of response from the Council on important questions has been shocking and I would of course agree that the public’s questions should have been answered before any final decisions were taken.
The system for allocating Chairs to scrutiny committees is not something that I get involved with as the local MP and is a matter for Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Independent Councillors to agree. However, as a matter of principle the Chair of scrutiny should be an opposition councillor where possible (in some councils there may be very few opposition councillors)
Unfortunately, an MP is not in a position to influence these matters directly but I will reinforce my views to the Leader and Chief Executive of the council when we next meet.
I believe the matter has been referred to the standards board and agree with this.
I do welcome the matter being referred to the internal audit committee and I will be very interested to learn the committee’s findings. The project has so far avoided the correct scrutiny and this will hopefully clarify how decisions were made.
For my part I have met with local businesses that have been excluded from bidding for the project and have written to the Council and three diffierent ministers to express my concerns at the entire procedure. The Labour Group has been very active within the Council in seeking information about the proposals and the decision-making process involved. Please be assured that I and the Group will continue to pursue the Council for answers.
If I receive an invitation and am able to attend of course I would come to a meeting with concerned residents.

Thank you again for your email and I am happy to work with you on this issue.

Yours Sincerely,

Anne Snelgrove MP

I think that actually pretty good.
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Offline Geoff Reid

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2010, 12:30:06 PM »
 
I asked Dougal to split the above posts from the delegated decisions thread and start the 'Scrutiny Process' thread because it seemed like the right time to start discussing the various scrutiny processes, and how they were, (in my opinion), politically manipulated and driven towards reaching the result desired by Swindon Borough Councils ruling group.

I met with Anne Snelgrove last weekend and I'm pleased to report that it was an informative and productive meeting.  The Scrutiny committee(s) were just one in a number of topics we discussed.

Requesting a meeting with Anne Snelgrove was a big thing for me. It's no secret whatsoever that I have been fairly brutal, (in print), towards Anne Snelgrove for the last four years and to be honest, I expect it was probably not easy for her to hold the office door open and invite me in with a smile on her face either, but....

...when people from opposite sides of a philosophical and political divide find themselves at the scene of a violent mugging, do they circle each other suspiciously and ignore the patient, or does one perform first aid while the other calls an ambulance? 

This isn't a joke.

On the 27th of September 2001 local democracy was dragged into the gutter and beaten senseless.  Since then it has been pimped-out repeatedly by the majority group who parrot:

Quote
"It's all within the rules"

...at every opportunity.

I think the fact is, when an ex cabinet member, current scrutiny committee member and Councillor with several years of experience says:

Quote from: Justin Tomlinson
"Scrutiny is about process, not the actual decision"

...then we should be very worried because that councillor self-evidently does not understand what the Scrutiny committee can do, and should be doing.  It is not a committee which exists solely to 'rubber stamp' the decisions of the executive provided the executive appears to have followed due process. 

The scrutiny committee has carte blanche to:

Quote
"Carry out any investigation into the business and functions of the Council and to call in any Cabinet Member or senior officer of the Council so that they can offer advice, support or answer any question that will assist the Committee in carrying out its functions"

Well, I really do think there's going to be a reckoning.  The patient has been found bleeding underneath a WiFi transmitter, the ambulance has been called and others will shortly arrive to study the cctv footage.



 
« Last Edit: February 18, 2010, 01:31:58 PM by Geoff Reid »

Offline Mart

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2010, 08:02:30 PM »
Wonder if patient has BUPA?
Sometimes I think you have to march right in and demand your rights, even if you don’t know what your rights are, or who the person is you’re talking to. Then, on the way out, slam the door.

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2010, 09:33:12 PM »
Wonder if patient has BUPA?

Probably bought health insurance from Rikki Hunt! Small print says it doesn't pay out if you are ill.   ::)

Offline komadori

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2010, 12:28:38 PM »
I think the fact is, when an ex cabinet member, current scrutiny committee member and Councillor with several years of experience says:

Quote from: Justin Tomlinson
"Scrutiny is about process, not the actual decision"


...then we should be very worried because that councillor self-evidently does not understand what the Scrutiny committee can do, and should be doing.  It is not a committee which exists solely to 'rubber stamp' the decisions of the executive provided the executive appears to have followed due process. 

The scrutiny committee has carte blanche to:

Quote
"Carry out any investigation into the business and functions of the Council and to call in any Cabinet Member or senior officer of the Council so that they can offer advice, support or answer any question that will assist the Committee in carrying out its functions"



The role of Scrutiny is certainly wider than just process.

Quote
"Carry out any investigation… that will assist the Committee in carrying out its functions.

And what are those functions?
The purpose of the Scrutiny Committee is: -
  • To review the policies, process and implications of Cabinet, Cabinet Member and Officer decision making and the way in which Cabinet and Cabinet Member decisions are made;
  • To consider requests for "Call-in" as defined in the Council's "Call-in" Procedure;
  • To refer decisions back to Cabinet (or the decision maker) for reconsideration. It may do this once for any individual decision, after which if there is no agreement the decision will be referred to the full Council for determination;
  • To refer Cabinet and Cabinet Member decisions to the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee for investigation without delaying the implementation of the decision concerned;
  • To receive a report by the Leader of the Council at its first meeting after each Annual Council Meeting on the service issues for the year ahead, the Leader of the Council's priorities for the coming year and on the Council's performance in the previous year;
  • To oversee the arrangements for Overview and Scrutiny within the Council.
  • To carry out any investigation into the business and functions of the Council and to call in any Cabinet Member or senior officer of the Council so that they can offer advice, support or answer any question that will assist the Committee in carrying out its functions.
  • To carry out an external scrutiny function, particularly in relation to corporate issues and issues falling into the remit of a number of Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

There at the very start of that quote "The purpose of the Scrutiny Committee is to review the policies…."
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Offline Geoff Reid

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2010, 02:12:03 PM »
Todays Adver carries a story called: War of words over wi-fi

Looks like Editor Dave King has been: 1). Ungagged by Bluh's charm police,  2). been instructed to do his job by his bosses.  3). Broken a promise to his lodge brothers.

Or he may just be out of town and the Adver reporters are able to do their jobs while he's gone.

Anyway....


Michael Wills ays:

Quote from: Michael Wills MP
“Swindon Borough Council loaned nearly half a million pounds to a private company without going out to competitive tender and have offered it other benefits as well, with no proper consultation and scrutiny.

“And when asked to provide evidence that they undertook due diligence on these significant sums of Swindon council taxpayers’ money, they refuse to do so on the grounds that this is ‘confidential’. What’s going on here? What are they covering up?

“I believe there is evidence of systemic secrecy in Swindon Borough Council about money and this represents a failure of governance. I call now on Swindon Borough Council to reveal the truth about Oakhurst School and the wi-fi scheme


Councillor Bluh responded:

Quote from: Councillor Rodderick Bluh
"Everything that has been done has been open to scrutiny."


No it hasn't....

...and the 'bare essentials' of scrutiny that Councillor Bluh grudgingly allowed to happen were deliberately hampered and tampered with by, you guessed it, Councillor Rodderick Bluh. 

I hear the sharp intake of multiple breaths being taken at the civic when the above charge is whispered quietly in the civic, yet I assure readers that I believe it to be true and think I, and other Talkswindon members have enough evidence to prove it to be true and will gladly discuss this with representatives of the Audit Commission if, or, (as seems more likely by the day), when they come to visit.

Much in the manner of a frightened octopus Rod squirted some ink into the water before legging it from the nasty reporter who had the impudence to ask him questions....

Quote from: Councillor Rodderick Bluh
“There must be an election coming"


Yes, there is an election coming but as Michael Wills is standing down as an MP he obviously won't be a part of it.  I have to conclude that Rod was talking about his own election campaign in Dorcan and his burning desire to get at least one successful legacy into place before he faces the electorate again.

You might remember that Bluh was humiliated at the polls by Tory newcomer Kevin Parry.  Parry proved more popular to the voters of Dorcan than Bluh, and took his 'safe' seat out from under him.  I wrote about it at the time.

This left Bluh having to serve the remaining two year term of ex-Tory councillor Andy James's who had recently gone abroad.  Bluh is currently trying to 'charm' the labour group into not opposing him at the polls....

Offline Trollee

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2010, 04:15:17 PM »
Quote from: Councillor Rodderick Bluh

"Everything that has been done has been open to scrutiny."

was it really the nice mr bluh at that scrutiny meeting or a double, certainly looked like him he gave nothing away and said comercially snesitive or something when asked questions

is this scrutiny

Offline komadori

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2010, 04:38:59 PM »
Even if one was content with the scrutiny, its doesn't make up for the lack of discussion before our money was lavished upon Digital City (UK) Ltd.
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Offline Des Morgan

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #14 on: March 15, 2010, 04:16:21 PM »

I believe that these people are in fact redundant and if Rod Bluh insists on being an autocrat and marginalising them that they should be paid off and we save our money.   

And while we are about save the money for the Chief Executive and his Deputy because in this sheme of things they are also Redundant.  Half a mill to be saved here to compensate for the Wi-fi loan.  maybe that could happen.

[/quote]

Isn't it the case that some decisions will always be made on a 'delegated basis' - nothing odd in that, the smart thing is to make sure the delegated decisions are of little political importance.  In real life some decisions need to be made quickly and on a 'need to know basis' - let's be careful to not make the process too unwieldy.


However I share the view that some senior officers are simply cyphers and there absence would not be missed - Group Director of Busness Transformation is one that comes to mind

Offline Muggins

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #15 on: March 15, 2010, 04:33:53 PM »
I think we discussed before that 'delegated powers' should have strict guidelines.  Surely our council, the one that loves piles of paperwork about policies, must already have some terms of reference so that decisions like this are not made under delegated powers.
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Offline Ringer

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #16 on: March 15, 2010, 04:42:12 PM »

I believe that these people are in fact redundant and if Rod Bluh insists on being an autocrat and marginalising them that they should be paid off and we save our money.   

And while we are about save the money for the Chief Executive and his Deputy because in this sheme of things they are also Redundant.  Half a mill to be saved here to compensate for the Wi-fi loan.  maybe that could happen.

Isn't it the case that some decisions will always be made on a 'delegated basis' - nothing odd in that, the smart thing is to make sure the delegated decisions are of little political importance.  In real life some decisions need to be made quickly and on a 'need to know basis' - let's be careful to not make the process too unwieldy.

However I share the view that some senior officers are simply cyphers and there absence would not be missed - Group Director of Busness Transformation is one that comes to mind

I think this poster is now pushing the envelope if you are an ordinary member of the public who cares about what is happening at SBC then thank you for being out there in the front, filling the gap or vacum left by the Libdems.
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Offline Des Morgan

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #17 on: March 15, 2010, 04:55:33 PM »

I think this poster is now pushing the envelope if you are an ordinary member of the public who cares about what is happening at SBC then thank you for being out there in the front, filling the gap or vacum left by the Libdems.
[/quote]

Ringer - not quite sure whether this is a complment or an admonishment?

Offline Richard Symonds

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #18 on: August 15, 2010, 10:38:47 AM »
In view of the lack of interest from the audit commission is it poetic justice that they are going to be no more?

Steve Wakefield has written about it on his blog

http://www.councillorstevewakefield.org.uk/
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Offline komadori

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Re: 3. The Scrutiny Process
« Reply #19 on: August 15, 2010, 10:51:05 AM »
Whilst I can't say I'm saddened by the demise of the Audit Commission, it's worth considering whether we would have fared any better if SBC's auditors were one of the big commercial audit companies, which is what is being proposed.

Say SBC was audited by the likes of Price Waterhouse Cooper. Would anyone have known who to write to in PWC if they felt there was something they thought the auditor should know? Even if they did, would they ever have got any feedback on their concerns? Commercial auditors tend to work quietly in the background. Openness (in the form of open criticism of those they audit) is not usually part of their approach.
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