Why are so many decisions being made by the council that residents don’t like and feel helpless to affect?

February 4, 2019

 

 

This is a question I have often been asked when speaking to residents, potential tBf candidates and various residents’ groups to explain why ‘the Borough first’ was formed.

 

Whether you are concerned about:

·         truly affordable housing

·         homelessness

·         parking

·         education

·         Lowbrook Academy Funding

·         the vulnerable

·         tower blocks in Maidenhead

·         a failing Borough Local Plan

·         blocking of residents

·         Vicus Way car park

·         the loss of Squires Garden Centre

·         the Alma Road development

·         the lamppost banners

… or the myriad of other things that the Council are forcing through without adequate response to very limited consultations, the answer lies in how the council actually functions.

 

I had personally come to the conclusion that the root cause of the issue is largely the Localism Act 2011—and I now have that confirmed by a report published in January entitled Local Government Ethical Standards - A Review by the  Committee on Standards in Public Life  (You can read the whole report HERE). The Localism Act gave local authorities more freedom to govern themselves, by removing checks and balances including a robust external Standards Board to ensure that standards were upheld. 

 

According to the Committee: “This review was … to assure ourselves that the current framework, particularly since the Localism Act 2011, is conducive to promoting and maintaining the standards expected by the public.”

 

The report makes reference to various behaviours that have occurred in Councils across the country since the Localism Act was passed—ones that we see constantly here in RBWM.

 

Some of them are below:

 

Northamptonshire County Council

“Members told us that they had been informed that ‘you can only ask that at scrutiny meetings and not outside a meeting’, that ‘I need to get permission from the Cabinet member to discuss this with you’ or just not getting a response. Councillors told us that they felt if they asked difficult questions at Audit Committee or scrutiny meetings they would be replaced...”

[PLAIN ENGLISH – Officers should treat all Councillors the same and all information should be available to them.]

 

Tower Hamlets Borough Council

“The inspectors found an ambiguity in the demarcation between official and political activity by officers. “

[PLAIN ENGLISH – Officers have been politicised and are effectively working for the party in power.]

 

“If the Chief Executive is weak and senior officers are not backed up then they are stymied as there is nowhere else to go.”  Dame Stella Manzie DBE

[PLAIN ENGLISH – If Officers don’t do what they are told, even if they know it is wrong, they are forced to leave.]

 

“What you see in cases of corporate failure is that the relationship between members and officers gets ‘bent’ – either with over-dominant Councillors and weak Officers, or indeed vice versa. A ‘member-led authority’ can become ‘member-dominant’.” Dame Stella Manzie DBE

[PLAIN ENGLISH – There should be healthy challenge between Senior Councillors and Officers. But ultimately the Senior Officers are the gatekeepers to our democracy and should refuse to participate in wrong behaviour.]

 

“Press reports show continuing instances of bullying, insulting, offensive and inappropriate behaviour towards fellow members, public and officers. Even when action is taken, in the worst cases, the limited sanctions that can be imposed are ignored or even seen as a ‘badge of honour’...” David Prince CBE

[PLAIN ENGLISH – As there are no consequences to bad behaviour, the behaviour becomes the norm.]

 

So what did the Localism Act do? 

The Localism Act was a product of the Coalition Government of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, and was sold to the public as “putting power in the hands of local people”.  Unfortunately, the reality is that it put power in the hands of local politicians, which is not quite the same thing! As Lord Acton wrote in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.”

 

The evidence of this is plain for all to see here in RBWM. I recall, back in 2011, the then Senior Councillors Burbage, Bicknell and Dudley rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect of the Localism Act being implemented – I now know why!

 

Why has this affected our local democracy?

Once you devolve power down to local councillors, it is up to them to monitor and demand good behaviour from their peers. To quote Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

 

Those of us who left the Conservative Group before or at the time of the failed vote of no confidence on their leader, Cllr Simon Dudley, in early 2018, had encouraged those “good men” to sort this out over many years.  Clearly, they had no desire to do so: Councillors either condoned it or left.

 

What will ‘the Borough first’ do differently?

 

The main reason for tBf’s existence is to change this way of working, so that the Council truly works for the public it serves.

 

One of our key policies is that, on taking control of the Council, we will locally impose on ourselves a set of changes to the Council Constitution to restore openness, trust, representation and accountability. We will rigorously defend the Nolan Principles of Public Life set out HERE, and the Council’s Code of Conduct HERE.

 

We will ensure that appointments are openly made on merit, not patronage to a Leader, and ensure that challenge and scrutiny takes place so that policies genuinely evolve based on evidence and consultation.

 

Whilst the Localism Act allows poor behaviour, Councillors do not have to take advantage of it. In fact, Councils all around the country maintain good standards and work well for their communities. It is therefore incumbent on electors to ensure that they vote for those who are committed to protecting democracy and hold themselves to the higher standard that our community expects.

 

You can trust that all tBf candidates are selected on this basis, so that together we can make a better, stronger Borough that all can believe in.

 

Councillor Claire Stretton is a member of ‘the Borough first’ and represents Boyn Hill.

 

Published and Promoted by Charles Hollingsworth on behalf of “the BOROUGH first“, both of PO BOX 4919, Maidenhead, SL60 1LS

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Published and Promoted by Charles Hollingsworth on behalf of “the BOROUGH first“ both of PO BOX 4919, Maidenhead, SL60 1LS