Another damaging legacy from the previous Labour government

Call for review of scrutiny post Rotherham
4 February, 2015 | By Sarah Calkin

Councils should consider changing the way chairs of scrutiny committees are appointed in the wake of recent high profile reports into failings in health and children’s services, the Centre for Public Scrutiny has recommended.

A survey of officers and members involved in scrutiny found in almost two thirds of councils’ overview and scrutiny committee chairs were appointed either by the council leader or the majority group, with no input from the opposition.

In the majority of local authorities (65%) all scrutiny chair positions went to the majority party, which also took all vice chair positions in almost half of councils. Only 35% of councils filled their scrutiny positions in proportion to the political make up of the council.

The survey was carried out by the CfPS in the wake of Alexis Jay’s report into council failings in handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and Sir Robert Francis’s report into care at failings at Stafford hospital.

It said the findings of the survey echoed concerns raised by the Francis and Jay reports about a lack of robust challenge by members, political culture issues and obstructiveness from senior officers, members and other public agencies.

In total, 36% of respondents to the CfPs survey reported regularly or sometimes being blocked in their attempts to get hold of information from officers or cabinet members.

The CfPS said the findings meant it was “becoming urgent” that “proper research” was carried out into the effectiveness of scrutiny, noting no research had been done since 2004. The centre said this review should include looking at the impact of council cuts on overview and scrutiny.

Jessica Crowe, the body’s outgoing executive director, said: “CfPS’s work over the years has highlighted the value of effective scrutiny in improving local services and giving local people a voice in shaping service plans and decisions.

“However, what we are now seeing is a twin threat to that effectiveness from resource reductions – with resources for scrutiny down to their lowest level in a decade – and a political culture in a small minority of councils which seeks to control and limit its effectiveness.”

The report also recommended that all councils should review the governance arrangements of their scrutiny committees in light of the Francis and Jay reports.

Ms Crowe added: “Ultimately in my view, it is weak leaders who seek to control and limit scrutiny; confident leaders can face effective challenge and recognise the value it adds to their decision-making and efforts to improve services.”

The survey was carried out between September and November 2014. The majority of respondents were scrutiny officers with 5% of them members and 11% from a mixture of other backgrounds.

Could you ever get 66.6% of 4.5 million people to agree to anything?

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Lib Dems offer councils devolution route
10 March, 2014 | By Mark Smulian

The Liberals want to try to reintroduce regional government for some reason, despite it being a failed experiment under Labour. The danger for Lincolnshire, with a total population of less than 800,000, is that it could end up with regional government by default. The suggestion is that every local authority, would have to achieve a vote of two thirds in favour, but two thirds of what? Also, how would it work if you got a patchwork quilt of councils, where neighbouring authorities voted differently?

General elections average a turnout of over 70%. Local government elections are often lucky to get more than a 30% turnout. The elections for the Police and crime Commisioners, that took place in 2011, averaged a miserable turnout of 15%. Would you be happy to end up back in a regional government arrangement, based on a 15% turnout?

The Liberal Democrats would offer English councils a ‘devolution on demand’ mechanism, the party’s spring conference has decided.

Delegates meeting in York at the weekend voted for the idea, defeating a large minority who preferred a move to devolution throughout England based on the old regional development agency boundaries.

Under the Lib Dem plan, a council or councils comprising at least one million inhabitants would be able to apply for a range of devolved powers similar to those enjoyed by Wales.

Such a change would require a two-thirds majority vote by each local authority involved.

Supporters of the idea argued that this would allow those parts of England that wanted devolution – such Cornwall and major northern conurbations – to go ahead, while areas with little enthusiasm would not have devolution foisted on them.

But opponents argued that assembling the required two-thirds majorities would be difficult, and that even if they could, there would be an untidy patchwork of devolved areas potentially with, for example, a devolved county surrounding a city that was not without devolved status.

Policy working group chair Dinti Batstone said devolution on demand would work better than uniform regional government, citing voters’ rejection of this in the north-east referendum in 2004.

“England does not want a Prescott-style top-down devolution approach,” she said.

Calling for restoration of the old region as a tier of government, Leeds party member Mick Taylor said: “This resolution calls for devolution to a mishmash of collections of local authorities. Are we going to have the NHS devolved in some places but not others?”

He also complained that the paper did not confer automatic tax raising powers on the devolved areas.

The paper offered immediate devolution to Cornwall because of its cultural identity, and further powers to London building on its already semi-devolved status.

It also called for the use of the single transferable vote system for all English local elections, as used in Scotland.

As an interim measure the party would devolve more powers to city deal and growth deal areas.

Answering questions from party members at an earlier session, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg made clear his support for decentralising power further in England.

He said: “City deals have been a really important innovation. I want that approach extended to across the whole country to other cities, to urban and rural areas.”

Not enough parking leads to aggro

Here’s an interesting article that I lifted from an online feed. – thanks go to, LocalGov.co.uk and Nick Appleyard. It makes the point local councillors have been making ever since the days when Labour’s John Prescott and his Office (ODPM) interfered with the planning system.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Prescott (now both long gone, thankfully) decided you could reduce use of the private car simply by reducing the space people had to park them outside their homes. Playing straight into the hands of those developers who never miss a chance to squeeze more and more into less and less, we now now have whole swathes of housing development with inadequate parking provision, leading to exactly the problems highlighted in this article.

LocalGov.co.uk 09 May 2012

Parking ‘can keep neighbourhood peace’

By Nick Appleyard

Poor council parking policies can lead to an increase in crime, dangers to pedestrians and poor public health, experts claimed today.
The stark warning came in a report from the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE) and the chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation (CIHT).

The Government removed national limits on residential parking as part of its ‘end to the war ing son the motorist’ in January 2011. But local authorities are still required to set their own parking standards and the two organisations have issued fresh guidance to ensure the right decisions are made which will benefit communities.

The guidance said allocating parking to individual homes increases the amount of space needed and suggested more flexible approaches increase overall use of space.

It also claimed car parks ‘tucked away’ behind developments are prone to vandalism and crime and are therefore underused leading to ‘serious’ on-street parking problems.

The guidance said strict enforcement of on-street parking makes garage parking more likely, but stressed garage doors need to be high and wide enough for modern vehicles.

‘Parking problems manifest themselves in pavement parking, blocked driveways, difficult access for delivery vehicles and refuse collectors, damage to verges, trees and footpaths, and cluttered, unsightly streets,’ the organisations said. ‘The Government has concluded that national constraint policies have led to ‘significant levels of on-street parking causing congestion and danger to pedestrians’. In preparing new policies, local authorities are being urged to make the right decisions for the benefit of their communities.