The Bickerstaffe Record

Breaking News, Cotterill on the Council

‘Our truth, and nothing but our truth’

11.28.08 | Comment?

I reported the other day how spending at least £30,000 trying to resolve petty squabbles amongst the political hierarchy of West Lancashire was shameful.  Well, another day, and here’s another shameful episode in West Lancashire Toryland. 

This time the quantitative shame value is just £5,000, but the systematic use of power to control ‘the truth’ is of a different quality altogether.

So if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin: 

Regular readers will be aware that a couple of weeks ago I submitted a draft bid to the Council for consideration and, I hoped, onward submission to the ‘North West Members Innovation Fund’.  The process for the Fund is that the bid has to be approved by either the Chief Executive or the Council leader, before it is submitted for consideration by the North West Employer’s Organisation. 

The bid was for a (the maximum allowable) £5,000, and was about conducting research into the equity of service delivery.  Specifically, if you can bear with the rest of this dull paragraph, it was quantitative research into the hypothesis that there might be a causal relationship between living in a deprived Super Output Area, as defined by the Office for National Statistics, and a lower level of environmental health service delivery (proportionate to household number, size and density).  In keeping with my earlier disavowal of statistical methods as the sole tool for assessment of what happens to people in real life, I made clear that any statistical research produced would only be a heuristic device to inform later more humanised consideration.  Actually I set it out a little differently, but you know what I mean. 

As you’ve probably worked out by now, the bid was not approved by our Conservative Council.  The reasons given for the rejection of the bid were that a) the Council could not commit to officer time on the project; b) the project had no ‘practical benefit’ for residents in West Lancashire. 

The first, utterly spurious reason is swiftly dealt with.  Even in the first draft of the bid, I made clear that any officer action should be taken within existing resources, and that it was a councillor-led bid; that a councillor (i.e. me) would manage the research project and compile the final report.  I strengthened that in a second draft and made clear the Council’s view that the project would not be able to call on existing resources in any way.  I did not even receive acknowledgment that the second draft had been seen – the decision had clearly already been made. 

The second reason given for refusal was that the research would have no ‘practical benefit’.  I have to say I was flabbergasted when I read this response. 

Is the Council really saying that research into whether or not residents get an equitable service is of no benefit? 

Are they really then saying that Council expenditure on the Chief Executive videoblog IS of practical benefit? 

Are they really saying that spending Council money hosting a reception for two new ‘aldermen’, with lots of food and wine and expensive chit-chat, IS of practical benefit to my constituents? 

Are they really saying that flying a load of people to the twin town of Erkrath in Germany, lovely idea that that may be, practically changes the lives of our residents for the better?

Let’s get this straight.  I was proposing directly relevant research – research which would directly inform the policy making and budgeting process if it was taken in the spirit was intended.  It’s also research which goes beyond the narrow parameters of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment the Council always crows about, because it looks at a specific service area, while the current CPA framework ‘will not include diagnostic assessments of service areas’ (see para 21 here for the evidence).

And to do this, I was not seeking a penny of Council money; I was seeking outside funds that no-one else in the Council had got off their arse to make an application for.     

There was absolutely no criticism of the proposed methodology for regression analysis, no criticism of the (brief) review of secondary sources, and no criticism of the underlying rationale for the proposed research. 

The real reason for the refusal to allow the bid’s submission is that the Council is scared of what the research might reveal. 

They are scared that it might conflict with their comfortable certainty that they are a really good Council because they don’t spend much money.  They are scared of truths which expose their falsehoods.  The Councils actions on this are simply shameful. 

 While I’m pretty naffed off at having a proposal for proper research rejected for reasons which are unsound and clearly biased, I’ll get over it pretty quickly. In fact I’ve already sent the bid on to other Labour councillors in the North West whom I think I might be interested in adapting it for more reasoning Councils. 

The real issue is that no ‘truth’, other than the Council’s ‘truth’, is being allowed.   

For the Council, it is ‘true’ that they must surely be one of the best Councils in the country simply because they submitted an application to that effect.  To  the Council, the fact that in the last three years not a single Conservative backbencher has submitted any call-in on its Cabinet decisions, to scrutinise or challenge a decision that has been made, simply provides evidence that the Council does not need questioning. 

As is now my practice, I conclude in Habermasian terms (read the previous post all the way through, now, please), but I quote from one of his lesser known works: 

‘West Lancashire District Council? Shower of utter ********!’ (author’s translation)

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