Scrutiny is no more than whistling in the wind

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Nearly every other day now, councillors are being told that they are, ‘key to driving forward the innovations needed to transform local government, so that it can weather the current financial storm being visited upon it by Westminster’.
Along with this often junior government minister uttered blurb, which is actually code for we’re passing the buck – they wouldn’t describe it as a ‘financial storm’, but rather, local government doing its bit – comes advice that the scrutiny process is an integral element in any transformation strategy.
It’s somewhat disingenuous to identify scrutiny as the way forward, given the abysmal record it has even when richly resourced and supported, as in the case of the Parliamentary scrutiny system.
Almost every other week we hear and read statements from various Parliamentary committees, with Keith Vaz and Margaret Hodge having a seemingly insatiable appetite for appearing on our TV screens, with the opening words, “The government needs to….”, yet what difference does it make to what the government actually does?
Translate this to the amateur, volunteer ‘scout master’ world of the local government councillor, where officer support is always at a premium and constantly under threat from the slash and burn economics of deficit reduction, and scrutiny looks more like whistling in the wind, than an insightful process, that can beat a path to innovative service delivery.

By way of a footnote, I would point to the recent revelations regarding the Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust. Lincolnshire County Council has a health scrutiny committee, with South Holland District Council represented by an independent councillor, who takes every opportunity to tell us what the committee is, or more accurately, isn’t doing. I say isn’t doing, because, in theory, if LCC’s scrutiny of our local hospitals was in any way effective, Lincolnshire hospitals wouldn’t have one of the highest abnormal death rates in England would it? Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten themselves completely hung up on the proposed changes to our local ambulance service instead.

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A damning inditement of how our Government plans for our future?

Copied from a political analysis piece in today’s Sunday Telegraph by Iain Martin


What does the Government want to do with the money from shale?

The Treasury wants to get its hands on the tax revenues that shale might generate. An alternative approach would involve establishing a national fund to invest the proceeds. The UK government spent our share of the North Sea oil boom in the 1970s and 1980s on day-to-day expenditure, whereas the Norwegians established a sovereign wealth fund, into which oil revenues would flow. The fund is now bigger than the Norwegian economy and is on track to be worth £1 trillion. Within limits, a portion can be spent each year by the government. In the UK, such a sensible idea seems to stand little chance of getting past the Treasury, unless the Prime Minister can be persuaded that such a fund would stand as a legacy of his time in office.

Should fracking ever become a reality in this country, is there the slightest possibility that our current leaders will think beyond their own electoral success and actually do something to benefit future generations? Given that the late Margaret Thatcher didn’t follow the Norwegian example, I’m not holding my breath.

Local Young Apprentice Competition

A Message from Foundations

Dear all

As some of you may know, we have organised a ‘family fun day’ on 29 September in Spalding. We have a ‘young apprentice’ style competition, with a great prize for the winner. We are looking for three more contestants for the competition. They must be 15-16 years old and belong to a group (i.e. sports team, cadets, etc).

Please could you pass the message on to any individual or any group who may be interested. This is a great competition for young people, and a really good opportunity for a community group to get some publicity without having to do anything for it!

The website for the event is http://www.familyenterpriseday.co.uk.

Thanks ever so much.

Good charities are also good businesses – some are better than others

I’m reposting this, following today’s front page story in the Telegraph. Although they are targeting the £100k+ salaries that some charity bosses now apparently receive, they are also suggesting that this could be a sign of the salary creep that is allegedly happening in the public sector.

It should hardly come as a surprise, that if you push the often complex and challenging community support work done by local authorities on to the voluntary sector, their executives are going to expect to be rewarded for managing that increased workload. As I say below, good charities are also good businesses and good businesses know that high quality management doesn’t come on the cheap.

It’s tempting to see this as some sort of three card trick by government, where they encourage charities to take over more and more local authority work, thereby easing the burden on the public purse. In the meantime, these charities are working their socks off to find the extra funding needed to supplement the often inadequate funding that has been passed on by the already inadequately funded local authorities. The confidence tricks comes when you realise that much of the extra money required comes from the same public that has already paid their taxes to government to provide those services!

Personally, unlike some, I’ve never laboured under the illusion that all those who work for charities, do it out of the goodness of their hearts – even where that charity has no national profile.

When it comes to the national charities and their modus operandi, they are, first and foremost businesses, with a business plans, financial projections and performance targets. As such, when they need to recruit somebody into one of their senior management positions, the last thing on their minds is likely to be the social conscience of the individuals applying for the vacant position.

Indeed, having somebody who is more concerned about doing ‘the right thing’ at every step of the way, even if it costs the organisation money, is more likely to find themselves receiving a thank you very much for applying letter, than one offering congratulations.

So, I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see that some of the most popular charities are paying big bucks to their top staff.

That said, it stills seem slightly wrong to see £60,000 plus salaries, potentially being paid out of the pennies and pounds donated via high street collections and charity shop donations, sometimes by those who can least afford it.

To be absolutely fair, at least to those charities that deserve it, the key number for me, is the % of their total income spent of their raison d’être, charity. Those that achieve 70% and above should be acknowledged for achieving figures similar to the overheads costs seen in most successful and efficient businesses.

Those returning figures below 70% and especially below 50%, should be questioned as to their effectiveness and as for the Age UK figures, well…..

Charity

Income Millions

% Spent On Charitable Activity

Number Of Staff Earning Over £60,000

Cancer Research

£493

70

160

Oxfam

£386

76

35

Save the Children

£333

89

31

British Heart Foundation

£250

46

36

Banardo’s

£245

80

35

Royal Mencap Society

£201

96

39

British Red Cross

£200

67

32

Action for Children

£198

93

38

RNLI

£173

78

42

Age UK

£168

49

41

All above figures copied, with thanks, from the article by Richard Dyson – Sunday Telegraph, Money Supplement, 21 July 2013

£2bn cost to British businesses of European red tape

So now we have the evidence, what are our leaders going to actually do about it? Especially the bit about our own civil servants ‘gold plating’, that can be fixed immediately.

By Robert Watts – Sunday Telegraph – 21st July 2013

COMPLYING with European Union regulations is costing Britain billions of pounds a year, the first official audit of the cost of membership is to disclose.
The burden on British businesses will be laid bare in a series of reports which will be published tomorrow by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.
The audit is made up of six reports – called “Balance of Competences” – which civil servants have spent months preparing.
Senior Conservatives hope the reports will form the bedrock of a renegotiation with Brussels, if David Cameron wins the 2015 general election.
Evidence published alongside the reports will show:
• More than 400 new laws have been passed by the European Parliament since the Coalition was formed three years ago, with legislation costing British business £676 million a year;
• Complying with the EU Agency Workers’ Directive costs British firms as much as £1.5 billion a year;
• Less than half of foreign aid money paid by EU institutions goes to help the world’s poorest people.
The initial documents will look at how the EU affects British taxation, health, overseas aid, foreign policy, animal welfare and food safety.
One of the reports will also provide an overview of how the single market affects British businesses.
A further 26 reports will be published in coming months, in a boost to the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservatives.
However, Tory Government sources indicated that Lib Dem elements of the Government had “sexed down” some of the more critical evidence of EU waste and bureaucracy.
“These are sober documents that provide evidence and analysis about Britain’s relationship with Europe – they do not set out future Government policy,” said a senior Foreign Office source.

It is understood one of the key themes of the reports will be that civil servants in Whitehall often “goldplate” EU regulations unnecessarily to make such laws more onerous than necessary.

Open Europe, the Euro-sceptic think tank, described the reports as a “useful exercise that will inform the EU debate for years to come”. Stephen Booth, a researcher for Open Europe, added: “Unless this review is complemented by a more political strategy to set out the parameters of a future EU renegotiation to secure more flexible UK membership terms, it will not be sufficient.”
The Prime Minister ordered the series of reports on EU influence in July 2012. The documents focus on how each Whitehall department is influenced by the EU, as part of the Prime Minister’s plan to negotiate a new deal without forcing Britain to leave the EU entirely.
The Government also sent out a wider survey to all 26 member countries asking for their opinions on the balance of power between the EU and national parliaments. However, Mr Cameron’s aims received a setback when France and Germany declined to take part in the exercise.
A senior Lib Dem source confirmed that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and other fellow party members had been through the Balance of Competences studies. “We have fed into and amended these documents just as we would any government reports,” the source said.
“These documents are not about providing Tory Euro-sceptic headbangers with ammunition to help Britain leave the EU. This is serious, meaty work to assess the pros and cons of what the European Union does for Britain.”
A submission by the British Chambers of Commerce will argue that though its members value the single market, firms often feel stifled by regulations.
“Many of the rules governing the Internal Market are overly complex and expensive to comply with, which has resulted in burdensome and unacceptably high regulation costs for UK business,” it reads.
“The widespread feeling among chamber members is that there have been a number of instances where they were provided with insufficient warning or advice before a new rule was introduced.”
Support for Mr Cameron has rallied on the Tory’s traditionally Euro-sceptic back benches since he set out a new policy on Europe earlier this year.
The Prime Minister said that if the Conservatives won the next general election he would seek to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe. Once the negotiation is complete, Mr Cameron would ask the British public whether it wants to remain part of the EU in an “in-out referendum”, to be held by 2017 at the latest.
So far, the Conservatives are the only party to commit to an EU referendum. However, a private member’s Bill tabled by the Tory backbencher James Wharton aims to introduce legislation that would oblige any party that won the next election to hold such a vote.
In an interview with The Telegraph this weekend Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, urged Mr Cameron to set out clearly what he hoped to achieve from a renegotiation with Europe. “We should be driving for a very profound renegotiation with Europe with very little political integration,” he said.

…It’s claimed that Davey got Hayes sacked…

“Climate change sceptic Mr Hayes had asked the head of power giants E.on to warn of blackouts unless the Coalition watered down its green crusade and made a U-turn on the closure of coal-fired generators. But Mr Hayes’s boss, Energy Secretary Ed Davey, hit the roof when he found out about the ‘treachery’ – and demanded he was sacked.
Two weeks later, Mr Hayes was dismissed and given a minor backroom role in No 10, advising David Cameron on links with Tory MPs.” – Mail on Sunday

I want access to this database too

I gather the government intends to offer free access to the postal address database, for small businesses and charities. Having just fought, unsuccessfully, in county council elections, I believe there is a good case for extending the same access to local government election candidates.

Two of the many challenges for any candidate, are time management and workforce. Despite being a district councillor for 14 years, nothing can prepared me for the workload involved in fighting a single-handed campaign, across an area twice the size of my two member district council ward.

Treading the streets, pushing a leaflet thorough every letterbox in sight is hard work, but at least this doesn’t require you to search for an individual address, so can be done on autopilot to some extent. However, when it comes to targeted campaigning, such as in the case of postal voter (PV) letters, the printed list, in PDF format, provided by the council, with streets listed alphabetically, as opposed geographically, is less than helpful.

The major benefit of being able to access the postal address database for your division, would be the ability to reorganise the PV list by postcode, which are of course organised geographically. Armed with this list, one of the more time consuming jobs for any candidate, would become less of a chore.

As a Conservative candidate, it’s not really my job to make life easier for the opposition. However, if we want a more diverse, less Politically focussed range of candidates to stand in future elections, we should be seeking ways to make it a less daunting and labour intensive task. This is especially the case when the candidate is standing as an independent and unlikely to have any sort of Party campaign team to support them.