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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Eric Pickles and Government Corruption

One of the more dire manifestations of the Big Society idea is the abolition of the Audit Commission. 

Eric Pickles argued that "armchair auditors" could do the job previously done by professional accountants.  Anyone who actually thought about this would know that local government finance is simply far too complicated for that to be an effective mainstay of properly monitoring public spending.

Instead we have a situation where the professional auditors are the same firms that advise on tax avoidance and offer "consultancy" of often dubious value.  Of course, the activities are supposed to be separate, but given recent scandals in financial services, how many of us would trust to that?  Simultaneously, the barriers to corruption in local government have been systematically weakened.  This is not just a matter of formal rules, but also a weakening press.

In Brent, we appear to have gone even further in this direction than we had to.  Brent Scrutiny has effectively been abolished in changes rushed through after the elections.  The Standards system, which genuinely held former councillor Bertha Joseph to account, has now become meaningless.  That episode reminds me of the importance of political will.  Bertha Joseph was effectively shielded from punishment by Boris Johnson because he wanted her political support on the Fire Authority.  If gross misconduct, for example racist bullying, is deliberately ignored by elected politicians, it is no wonder that public faith in democracy diminishes. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

False Accusations of Misconduct

I notice that Martin Francis is, perhaps unwisely, hosting a debate about the Brent Council local government election count in 2014 on his blog.  It seems to be entirely generated by a defeated Liberal Democrat election candidate who is seeking to imply some kind of misconduct on the part of the counting staff.

I was present throughout the count and I saw nothing out of the ordinary.  The dramatic collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote is not out of line with the results in other Boroughs.  If anyone has any evidence of wrong doing, they should have taken it to the police a long time ago.  They might also have considered the possibility of an election petition.  Since neither of these appear to have been done, I suspect that the complainant is simply having difficulty accepting defeat, rather like many Yessers in the Scottish Indyref.  Those complaints amounted to nothing and I don't think these will.

However, circulating baseless accusations has two deleterious effects.  Firstly, it damages the reputation of the people organising the Count for no good reason.  Secondly, it means that when genuine accusations of wrong doing come forward they are more likely to be dismissed without proper investigation. 

Monday, 2 March 2015

Brent Budget and Equalities

As Brent Council meets to set its Budget this evening, a Guardian column reminds us all of the realities of local government.  One of the points made is the importance of equalities.  Given the recent controversy in Brent on this matter, perhaps Councillors should be more mindful of this. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Limited Victory on Local Welfare Provision

Patrick Butler has a rather gloomy look at the government's partial reversal of cuts to local welfare provision.  I fear he is right.  The victory, such as it is, is very limited.  In particular, the budget can still be raided for other purposes.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Labour Business Plans

Yesterday I wen to hear Rachel Reeves MP present Labour's plans to boost business.  The whole agenda of improving productivity, making work pay, increasing research and development and so on seems so much more substantial than the Tories' race to the bottom.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Special Council Tax Meeting

I gather Brent Labour Group is having a special meeting about Council Tax levels tonight, called at very short notice.  I assume this is to attempt to regularise the rather messy situation that has been allowed to arise.  Really this whole issue could have been much better handled, as indeed could the budget as a whole.

OECD Gloom

The sheer gloom of the OECD analysis of the UK economy makes for depressing reading, especially the low productivity and tight housing supply.  Neither of these are likely to be helped by Tory policies.