Archive | September, 2013

What can happen when a council project goes wrong

24 Sep

Again, from our Site of the Week, Local Government Lawyer here is a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when a council is inadequately prepared to take on a big project.

…..

Auditors found that:

  • “Corby’s arrangements for managing the projects were ambiguous and ill defined leading to uncertainty as to who should have made key decisions;
  • There was insufficient member oversight at critical periods of the schemes;
  • Where established governance arrangements and internal controls did exist they often did not operate as they should have done;
  • Financial and project management of the schemes was poor;
  • On the face of it the land at St James was sold for considerably less than best consideration without getting the requisite statutory approval to do so;
  • This was compounded because the checks and balances, including the statutory responsibilities of key officers, which should have alerted the council to the failings, did not operate.”

…..

Advertisements

Speaking truth unto power

24 Sep

A very interesting article here, again from the Local Government Lawyer website, particularly the bit about Monitoring Officers standing up to pressure:

But in any event, there will probably come a time in every monitoring officer’s life when the irresistible force of the legal and governance position meets the immovable object of political objection. And that is when your strength of integrity and resilience will be vital. For it may be extremely tempting to allow a small three letter word (yes) to parachute you far away from all the stress and danger of a career-threatening situation. But it is a temptation firmly to be resisted. For if no is the right answer (followed up as necessary by a statutory monitoring officer’s report), then no is the only way to go.

Local Government lawyers unhappy about the current standards regime

23 Sep

The Lawyers in Local Government website has grave misgivings about the current workings of the local government standards regime.

Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) has echoed a watchdog’s criticisms of the workings of the revamped local government standards regime.

In its annual report for 2012/13, published last week, the Committee for Standards in Public Life (CSPL) accepted that the new system – introduced through the Localism Act 2011 – required time to bed in properly.

However, it raised specific concerns about the new regime, namely:

  • Its operation in local authorities where leadership is inadequate;
  • The lack of meaningful sanctions;
  • The weakness of the ‘independent person’ arrangements; and
  • The lack of time that was available for transition to the new system

…..

For instance, as the CSPL report indicates, the new regime fails to catch ‘….inappropriate behaviour which would not pass the strict tests required to warrant a criminal prosecution, but which deserves a sanction stronger than simple censure’. Because while ‘censure may carry opprobrium in the political arena it is often considered unacceptably lenient by the public relative to other areas of their experience’.”

…..

Nicholas Dobson, LLG’s Communications Officer, said: Local government standards exist for two key reasons, i.e. so that those: (i) elected to represent and serve the public behave in the way that the public would reasonably expect; and (ii) taking decisions on behalf of and affecting the public do so without any taint or perception of self-interest.

“Although many aspects of the previous regime may well have been over bureaucratic and cumbersome, we do nevertheless feel that the Localism Act changes weakened processes to such a degree as to render them unfit for their overriding purpose of promoting confidence in local democracy.”

Exmouth-Lympstone green wedge: developer has yet another go at it.

23 Sep

Details HERE.

Pretty soon East Devon will be one single conurbation from the M5 to the Dorset and Somerset borders sweeping up everything in their way, AONBs, etc.  if developers continue their onslaught.

What next?  Land reclamation on our World Heritage Jurassic coastline maybe?

How to close a budget hole: paper over the cracks

23 Sep

Again, from the blog of Councillor Claire Wright

“Following the approval of the 2013-14 budget, the Council now face a cumulative budget gap of £3.973 million over the next five year period, with a budget gap of £1,878,000 for 2014-15.

“These gaps are before consideration of New Homes Bonus to fund the shortfall. Whilst this is a significant income stream to the Council, it is aware of the risks of over-reliance on this reward grant following recent Government announcements and has proposed that the amount to be used to fund the general fund budget should be limited so that reserves equivalent to two years of New Homes Bonus allocations are built up. These proposals were endorsed by Cabinet, requiring £1.54 million of savings to be identified to close the budget gap for 2014-15 to 2016-17.

“£1,785,000 of savings and income generation schemes have been identified by staff and a Member Budget Working Party has been set up to consider these budget saving proposals in order to close the £1.54 million gap. These schemes include £642,000 in respect of a 4% savings target for each portfolio.

In addition, page 62 states:  “Following a reduction in Government grant funding of the Council had to identify a strategy to close the 2013-14 budget gap of £1.256 million.”

Whilst the Council has made good progress in identifying options to close the budget gap in the medium term, there remain uncertainties and risks, and the Council is aware that significant change is required over the long term and are looking at options for relocating from the current headquarters due to the high running and maintenance costs and the scope for efficiencies.”

So, there you have it:  the implication seems to be that it is only having to work at the Knowle that is causing this budget black hole.

NOT because the Government is reducing grants to local authorities.

NOT because EDDC is increasing its staff numbers where other councils are greatly reducing theirs.  For example, South Hams and West Devon councils are talking of reducing staff numbers by around 100.

NOT because the budget for 2014/15 will probably have to inlude debt repayments on the $4 million plus loan that EDDC will have to take out to build new headquarters. 

It’s all the fault of that pesky Knowle.  If only they had nice, shiny new offices and a near £5 million loan, the budget hole would close over and we could all be happy.

Yeah, right!

External auditors to look into conflict of interest claims relating to disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown and the role of the Economic Development Officer

23 Sep

From the blog of Councillor Claire Wright:

 

EDDC’s external auditors are to look into concerns over conflicts of interest relating to former disgraced Cllr Graham Brown and the role of the economic development officer, it has emerged.

Page 20 of this Thursday’s audit and governance papers states:  “The Audit & Governance Committee were concerned relating to the perceived or actual conflict of roles of Ex-Councillor G Brown and accordingly amended the 2013/14 Audit Plan to include an audit by SWAP (south west audit partnership) to consider the Governance arrangement implications and to suggest any necessary improvements.

“A similar point was raised within the Assurance Statements and a perceived/actual conflict between Planning and Economic Development Roles.”

The report goes on to say: “This Audit is to take place in the first half of 2013/14 with findings to be presented back to the Audit & Governance Committee.”

The audit and governance meeting takes place on Thursday (26 September) at 2.30pm, at Knowle, Sidmouth. Here’s the agenda – http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_a_g_agenda_260913.pdf

East Devon Alliance Ceilidh – 26 October at Sidford Social Hall

21 Sep

Come and support East Devon Alliance at their Ceilidh on 26 October at 7.30 pm till late in Sidford Social Hall, Byes Lane, Sidford.  Tickets £5.00 from The Rising Sun and Sid Valley Alterations or on the door.  More info at:

http://www.mischiefandmayhem.co.uk
http://www.eastdevonalliance.org.uk