Written submissions by community investigative journalists Love Wapping and ShepwayVox to the House of Commons Communities & Local Government select committee examining the Overview & Scrutiny (O&S) functions of local authorities have been published on the Parliament.uk site.
Counterweight to Executive Mayors
According to the House of Commons briefing paper on the subject “Overview and scrutiny committees were established in English and Welsh local authorities by the Local Government Act 2000. They were intended as a counterweight to the new executive structures created by that Act (elected mayors or leaders and cabinets). Their role was to develop and review policy and make recommendations to the council.”
Counterweight to elected mayors? Like Lutfur Rahman? Well that worked really well, didn’t it?
The CLG select committee is meeting to ascertain if the Overview & Scrutiny function in local authorities works as it should do. It aims to highlight examples where scrutiny has worked well, and instances where it has not.
LW readers can guess which of those two categories Tower Hamlets Overview & Scrutiny functions between 2010 and 2014 fall into. (Hint: It isn’t the first one.)
Swamping O&S as a political tactic
While the LW submission to the select committee waffles on so much it needs an Executive Summary (see below) the ShepwayVox submission is much more concise pointing out the political tactic of Shepway District Council (SDC) swamping it’s scrutiny committee with too much information, on at least two documented occasions O&S papers of between 600 and 700 pages.
“Shepway District Council continued reliance on submitting 500 pages plus for Cllrs. to read through is too much. All too often they include important financial documents with many numbers in them which confuse the Cllrs. who are neither trained or qualified accountants”, says Bryan Rylands, the public face of the ShepwayVox team.
“Furthermore the Scrutiny Committee fail to involve the community in the agenda for the year, by advertising community issues which may be of concern to the local community. It is non-existent. Nor do SDC promote this function or attempt to explain it.
The Scrutiny committee at SDC is a political tool, used all too often to prevent debate and so could best be summed up as “the lion that has failed to roar”
Summary of LW submission
- Community journalists have an important role to play in the external audit of local authorities
- Lambeth Council is considering attempting to stop citizens audit rights because of the sterling work by People’s Audit
- My work investigating the activities of Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets First in my own borough was undertaken simply because no one else was doing anything. Not the mainstream media, not the police, not government.
- While many community journalists are very capable investigators they all need better access to local authority documentation, enhanced powers and better tools
- The Independent Community News Network (ICNN) has an important role to play in working with the DCLG to enhance external audit abilities of community journalists
You can find the full Love Wapping submission here.
Neither a spokesperson for LW or the Wapping Mole was available for comment at the time of publication.
Related Internet Links
- Eric Pickles ‘wants to unleash an army of armchair auditors’ – DCLG (2010)
- ShepwayVox – team of community investigative journalists in Folkstone area
- People’s Audit – citizen auditors in London Borough of Lambeth
- Lambeth Council
- Love Wapping – that’s us!
- House of Commons briefing paper Overview and scrutiny in local government (PDF) House of Commons Library
- Independent Community News Network (ICNN)