Forward to the Twentieth Century

Endeavour House 140506 bThe scheduled Suffolk County Council meeting scheduled for Thursday 26th did not take place but was deferred due to the sudden death of the Council Leader’s father. One of the items of business carried forward  was a motion proposed by Councillor Mark Ereira-Guyer (Leader of the Green and Independent Group on Suffolk County Council) and seconded by Councillor Bill Mountford (Leader of the UKIP Group) requiring the Council to improve its governance arrangements and start to operate a more inclusive and engaging committee system of governance. Currently the Council operates a Cabinet system of Governance.
Why are motion proposers trying to drag us back into the twentieth century? I’ve been privileged to experience governance by committee and governance by Cabinet.
Local Government Governance by Committee tends to be the fig leaf by which democratic legitimacy is granted to the wishes, intentions and decisions of the executive. Power in committees more often does not lie with chairmen nor with members but with the Secretariat who decide
what goes on the agendas,
how it is presented and
when it comes forward.
Documents are prepared so as to lead the way and make the Committee approval virtually a foregone conclusion.
By way of example, the executive in Babergh decided that Hadleigh should be incorporated into the Ipswich/Felixstowe proposed unitary Council. There was no mention that the people of Hadleigh were against the idea and there was no reference to  the democratic inconsistencies in the motion. Yet, the motion was overwhelmingly passed  with only three members dissenting.
Why are we being asked to return to the twentieth century?
Do the proposers seriously think that the Committee system of local governance is more efficient and more democratic?
It’s certainly more bureaucratic and is less responsive to the needs of the residents.
Committees tend to be mere talking shops.
Members like the sound of their own voices.
Members can be cloaked in the misbelief that they are taking decisions and are participating fully in the well running of their Council, whereas, in fact, they are glorified seat warmers. Decisions are made elsewhere and the function of Councillors is then not

  • to guide,
  • decide and
  • hold to account

but to be legal bystanders in a process which they do not control and in which the Sir Humphreys of this world flourish.

  • Foxes should not look after chickens,
  • goats should not be in charge of  cabbages.
  • Executive should be servants not masters.

I plan to be at the next Council meeting when I will speak against this motion.

Information is not Knowledge

BureaucracyOne of my favourite Babergh District Council committees is the Joint Audit & Standards. It last met on the 22nd January and paper JAC68 tells us of the current state of play with complaints against councillors.
We are told that since the last meeting there have been 11 new complaints. There are four complaints outstanding against District Councillors and 42 against Parish Councillors. No complaint investigation resulted in action being taken and seven complaints were deemed either not to have breached the Code of Conduct or required no action. Thirty-nine complaints were carried forward and are still outstanding.
This is just Information – not Knowledge and only hides what should be known. There was no update in October to the August 2015 report (JAC 59) which told us about three Mid-Suffolk District Councillors and various Parish Councillors in Stoke by Nayland, Felsham, Elmswell, Beyton (& Tostock), Bentley, Stradbroke and Long Melford who were the subject of complaints.
Why does it matter – well for one thing the disinfectant of transparency is a powerful boost for government to be answerable to and controlled by the people.
I would like to know whether the complaints against the three Mid- Suffolk Councillors were resolved. Have there have been four new complaints and if the three Mid Suffolk Councillors are still hanging around awaiting findings, what is holding matters up?  Who is the fourth Councillor to be the subject of a current complaint and what have they done?
Hopefully we might find out about all these things at the next meeting of the next Joint & Audit & Standards Committee.

Going Native

Henry_M_Stanley_-I often hesitate to pick on another politician based upon a single article in a newspaper, but the Daily Telegraph of 20th November reported on an interview given by Lord Porter of Spalding wherein he stated that whilst he is not happy with the six figure salaries enjoyed by council chief executives there is little that can be done…because that is the way the world is! Gary Porter is Baron Porter of Spalding CBE, a British Conservative politician, local government leader and member of the House of Lords.
He is also a South Holland District Councillor and most importantly Chairman of the Local Government Association. He was created Baron Porter of Spalding, of Spalding in the County of Lincolnshire on 15th October 2015.
In the article he draws the comparison with top footballers with whom he is also “not happy” about their being paid a lot of money. But as a person in a leadership position he does have choices. He can choose not to support a football team if he thinks they are over promising and under delivering. A top footballer is expected to thrill millions across the globe and has a limited performing lifetime. And for many people the purpose of top footballers is to be the recipient of gratuitous abuse whether it is appropriate or otherwise. A top footballer is always at risk of career terminating injury. I have yet to see a Council Executive whose brain was overworked in the performance of their duties.
The real test of a Council Executive’s pay is whether the recipient provides added value. I have known a few Council Executives directly and I have yet to discern added value. For the most part they are administrators who do not provide leadership but manage to convince senior elected officials that they have to pay the most to get the best. But we do not always need the best. I would like a Rolls or a Bentley but I happily settle for a VW.
When Babergh was enjoying its executive leadership challenges I suggested that we could emulate the Roman Empire and split the job between the three (at most) next senior executives. They would have to work together towards common goals. They would not need a fourth person to coordinate their actions and give them direction as if they were teenagers. They would however need political direction.
Equally I suggested that they should advertise the post at £80,000 instead of  £100,000+ and see what they got. They might have got ambitious candidates with acceptable capabilities, qualifications, experience and vision. Instead the senior councillors (i.e. the political leadership) outsourced their problems to an Executive Search Consultant and the rest is history. There was no challenge and consequently I feel that they ended up overpaying.
And what of Lord Porter? Where is his challenge and leadership? What happened to the man I once met and admired? Has he succumbed to the Sir Humphreys of the Local Government Association?
The evidence is clear enough. One does not need to be in the Third World in order to go native!

Old Models – Poor Directions

Yesterday’s E.A.D.T., published the following letter:

New council H.Q. in Hadleigh will achieve the most savings

???????????????????????????????It’s all very well for the Leader of Babergh District Council to say that it is unlikely for Babergh’s and Mid Suffolk’s headquarters to be based in Hadleigh (EADT 25th October) – but this is precisely the direction indicated by the consultant’s report. Locating the main activities in Hadleigh and disposing of surplus sites and space will achieve a 50% reduction in costs. Relocating activities to the County’s building in Ipswich will achieve savings between 11% and 13%. Putting a new hub in the Ipswich fringe will only yield a 32% saving. The hub and spokes business and governance model is seductively simple but only suitable for banks, building societies and estate agents. It is recipe for senior management to distance themselves from the reality of the everyday lives in the areas they are supposed to be managing and directing. This is not a desirable way forward. Instead, both councils should focus on how value for money can be delivered to the residents because if monies are not spent wisely council taxes will rise.
Yours faithfully,
Brian Riley
District Councillor – Hadleigh North
County Councillor – Hadleigh

So far reaction has been favourable

Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets Coat of ArmsThe Spectator’s Coffee House Evening Blend reports that Tower Hamlets was  “a council ruled by a ‘medieval monarch’ that was ‘riddled with cronyism and corruption’. That was how Eric Pickles’ described the local authority ruled by Tower Hamlets’ First’s Lutfur Rahman. The Communities Secretary sent in three commissioners to take over the authority after a report by accountancy firm PwC found contracts were awarded without the appropriate paperwork and Rahman picked preferred companies. It said Tower Hamlets’ ‘current governance arrangements do not appear to be capable of preventing or responding appropriately to failures of the best value duty of the kind we have identified’. This is Pickles’ first intervention in a council since he sent commissioners to monitor Doncaster in 2010. His statement in the Commons today drew support from Labour, who are calling for Rahman to resign as Mayor. His way of governing and the rotten borough practices of the council leave him with no friends in other parties


ExposureI have just finished reading “Exposure – Inside the Olympus Scandal” which covers the journey by Michael Woodford from being CEO of Olympus, the Japanese imaging company, to the whistleblower who told the world about the financial, accounting and governance irregularities in the company.
Much of the book can be quite technical as it tracks the money. On the other hand it contains truths which can be carried on to many areas. For example:
“Sales is in large part pure hard work; in simple terms getting what you have to show in front of people. It’s a numbers game. The more people you show, the more you will sell. And just be pleasant, natural, honest and listen. We all sell ourselves all the time.”
More interesting (from the governance point of view) is this extract (originally addressed to the company’s Board of Directors):
“Ignorance is no defence. If you were there and not aware of it, then you were incompetent. If you were there, and aware of it without asking tough questions, then you were negligent. Either way, you need to leave.”
The last quotation explains, as well as any, the need for Councillors to be challenging. They are the equivalent of non-executive directors who represent constituents rather than shareholders and practice incompetent behaviour at their peril.