Saturday, 31 January 2009

Couch Potato Councillors


Since coming to power in 1997, Labour has consistently undermined our public institutions with its complete and utter contempt for democracy and accountability. Once respected, politicians are now reviled by the public as nothing more than money grabbing opportunists.


So it was with a sense of utter disbelief to read that the Government is pressing ahead with plans to allow councillors to claim their fat allowances without even having to bother to turn up at the Town Hall and vote. This is despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of those consulted oppose the proposals, although undoubtedly a few councillors will welcome the opportunity to vote by text whilst stuffing themselves at a freebie dinner working hard for local residents.

Conservative local government spokesman Caroline Spellman said “At a time when council tax bills are to hit £120 a month and people are working harder than ever to make ends meet, it is incredible that Labour ministers are effectively pushing for some councilors to do less work for more money.”

Politicians are already seen as arrogant and aloof. Remote voting by text or internet is hardly likely to counter that perception. With the country in the grips of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, you would think the Government had better things to do than meddle with local democracy. Or has Gordon already finished saving the world?

8 comments:

Rog T said...

David,

I suspect that a rather crap idea from a Labour government will be welcomed with open arms by our rather crap Conservative Councillors !!!

I suspect that Gordon Brown hasn't been reading my blog too much lateley, otherwise he'd know what will happen around here.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps counsellors could just fill in a pile of blank voting slips in advance and leave them at the desk when they go to pick up their expenses , Then there would be no reason to come in at all.

Obviously, they don't actually need to be there for a debate because they way they will vote is already decided.

Statler and Waldorf said...

Statler and I wish we had spotted this first! Very good story, Young Miller.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Anon - the issue of whipping is something that needs to be looked into. There is nothing wrong with the ruling party whipping its councillors/MPs when trying to enact policies which were promised in an election manifesto. The problem arises when there is no mandate for a particular proposal.. In such a situation, elected politicians should be free to act according to their beliefs.

The opportunity for a remote voting system to be rigged or abused by party whips is something that also needs to be addressed should this crackpot scheme ever become a reality.

To Statler & Waldorf. Welcome back. The BBC (Barnet Blogging Community) have missed you!

Christine Melsom said...

Council Tax of £120 per month? I wish.
As long as council tax is used as a political football, things will never change.
This Government introduced the 'cabinet' system into local government and in one stroke killed off democracy.
The leader of our County Council says that 68 of the 79 councillors may just as well go home. They make no decisions and when they are asked to use their vote the result will invariably be along party lines. Take politics out of local government and that will go a long way towards restoring democracy.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Christine

I agree with you 100%. The Local Government Act 2000 has completely undermined the democratic process. In Barnet, most decisions are taken by just 9 out of 63 councillors. The rest can huff and puff, but to no avail.

The Chairmen of the various scrutiny committees are nominally voted on by the full council, but the ruling party will always get its way and that means, who the leader wants, the leader gets. That does not make for good scrutiny!

The Act also allows for major decisions to be taken by unelected Chief Officers under delegated powers - decisions which cannot be called in for scrutiny by elected councillors.

Hopefully, the next Conservative government will repeal or amend this awful Act but I suspect they will consider trying to save the economy as being a higher priority.

Rog T said...

David,

I think that within your comment lies the cause of many of our problems - "I suspect they will consider trying to save the economy as being a higher priority."

The reason for our current economic mess is because attention hasn't been paid to detail at a low level.

There is no scrutiny anywhere. A certain rather well known local Tory Councillor told me years ago that he suspected that 15% of the Council's budget was wasted with no value to the taxpayer. When pressed he agreed that his estimate was a conservative one.

I asked what he personally was doing. His response "You have to pick your battles". I calculated that this would probably translate into a 30% cut in council Tax bills. Now if I had an extra £600 odd, it would certainly make a difference. Translate that across the whole of Barnet and thats a huge saving.

Of course from my political perspecive, I'd take the view that some of the money saved should be invested in playing fields, better services etc. What is unacceptable is the fact that it is wasted.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Rog

You may be right, but if an incoming Conservative government said “Right, the first thing we’re going to fix is the committee system” people would accuse them of having lost the plot. And that is probably why Labour is using the gloom and doom of the economic crisis to get through these undemocratic initiatives, in the hope that we won’t notice or won’t care. It would not be the first time they have used a larger news story to “bury” bad news.