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ERYC’s ‘Secret Scrutiny’ Contrary To Recording Rules.

January 2, 2015

Responding to our campaign with the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Eric Pickles opened up council meetings for the public to record. This includes scrutiny meetings, where councillors publicly question decision-makers, holding them, the Council, and other publics services to account.

Well that’s the theory .. but regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that the East Riding Council holds all its ‘Scrutiny Reviews’ behind closed doors. We, the public, and all but a few hand-picked councillors, are not allowed to attend, let alone to exercise our right to record the meeting.

All councillors have a legal right to scrutinise anything that is the function of the Cabinet and anything which is not a function of the Cabinet. That means that they should be able to scrutinise any function or decision made by the Council.

Apparently the ERYC leadership doesn’t want our elected representatives to do their job of standing up for their residents, so the Council’s Constitution actually prohibits them from scrutinising ‘operational matters’ – that includes any decision made by Officers (according to some sources around 78% of council decisions).

Decisions made by Cabinet can be publicly scrutinised. In addition, councillors can use a process known as call-in to ask for an individual decision to be reconsidered or referred to the Full Council. All this is done in full view of the public and all members, and the whole thing can be recorded.

In stark contrast, actions and decisions made by officers can not be challenged or called-in. The only possible scrutiny is the manipulated and highly controlled, secretive, ‘behind-closed-doors’ Review. So much for openness and accountability in the East Riding.

But is this against the law?

It certainly is against the intent and spirit of the law, but ERYC choose to exploit the legislation by ‘scrutinising’ officers’ functions and decisions only within their secretive Scrutiny Review Panels where the reports are written by officers and are vetted by the senior management before being published. This dubious process is legitimised by the reports being ‘received’ by the regular scrutiny committee but not a single word can be changed by that stage.

East Riding Council conduct only a few reviews each year and have recently concentrated on scrutinising the activity of partners such as the Police and NHS. They have effectively neutered our councillors and removed the delegated officer decision-making from democratic accountability.

There is no legitimate need for excluding the public and members. ERYC’s 2007 Flood Review met in public to hear evidence, but heard sensitive evidence and deliberated in private. A recommendation that all future reviews follow that format was quietly quashed.

The ERYC – dubbed by the Taxpayers’ Alliance as the most secretive Council in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire – chose instead to continue to deliberately pervert their democratic checks and balances.

Why is this important to Bridlington?

The Police and Crime Commissioner and his Chief Constable refused to attend such a behind-closed-doors Scrutiny Review meeting to discuss increasing police numbers in Bridlington and Goole, so ERYC councillors then voted to refer them to the Parliamentary Committee On Standards In Public Life. The meeting with hand-picked councillors would almost certainly breach the law on public access and recording. The Commissioner and Chief Constable were entirely right to refuse, and had proposed an open meeting with all our elected members at Full Council, but this suggestion was inexplicably turned down by the Leader Parnaby and his Chief Executive.

Apart from our rights as residents and voters, if the Police have no confidence in the Council’s Review process and consider the secrecy unacceptable, what confidence can we residents have in it?

We will shortly be hearing the results of the Review into regeneration.
Justice for Brid called for this review and praised councillors for securing it.
How misplaced our praise was, as early indications are that any attempt to scrutinise what has gone wrong in Bridlington have been suppressed. We cannot even observe the whitewash to tell if the councillors are silenced or complicit.

No openness, no accountability, no democracy and officer-led. We hear those charges against ERYC over and over again. The review process demonstrates that those charges are well founded,
ERYC seem to have little regard for the law or democracy, but the rules on filming make their perversion of it unsustainable.
If ERYC don’t change and open their Scrutiny Review process to public and members, they are likely find themselves forced to do so, just as they were with recording.
Justice for Brid and other democracy campaign groups will see to that.

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