The Bickerstaffe Record
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Cutting makes the Council deaf

04.25.09 | Comment?

I’ve been big this week on scandalous behaviour by our Conservative Council administration in West Lancashire.  There’s still a post to come on the institutionally derelict shambles that was Full Council on Wednesday night, but I think what I’m going to say now is a bigger scandal.  Sitting comfortably?

A week or two back I wrote a short funding application I wanted to submit to the North West Employers Organisation Member Innovation Fund for a £4,500 for resources to organise and host a series of public budgeting eetings across the District, seeking to get a wide range of people involved in giving informed views on what the council’s money should be spent on. 

The project was designed to be completely independent of Council officer time, and would have no financial implications for the council whatsoever.  I committed myself to the project’s management and accountablity for the project finances.

I submitted it to the Council for their review, as approval by the Council is needed before NWEO can grant money.  I’m not sure why, as the fund is about council member innovation – that’s just their rule.

The Council administration refused to approve it, on the basis that there weren’t sufficient staff resources to give professional advice in the time available.  The reason given for this was that there is a major ‘downsizing’ (ie. cutting) review going on at the moment.

This response, I would note in passing, is from the same council that gave councillors one working day in January to provide comments on its draft response to the Regional Funding Advice process, which will go into the Comprehensive Spending Review – that small matter of how and where billions of pounds of public money gets spent.   As far as I’m aware, I’m the only councillor that gave comments.

But, eager to move on without too much fuss, I wrote to NWEO and asked if I could submit my bid as draft before the deadline, and get authorisation from the Council later.  NWEO agreed readily.

This week, I got a note from NWEO asking if I could now get authorisation.   I asked the Council if my bid could now be reviewed.  I received a note back saying that this was not possible because time could not be given.  The downsizing review was again given as a reason.  I was invited to submit the bid for review at a later time in the event of a further funding round.

If this wasn’t scandalous enough, a motion was presented to Full Council (item 23) on Wednesday by a Conservative councillor, seeking engagement with the government’s Sustainable Communities Act process. 

This is in itself a very good thing, and the Labour group supported the motion.  One question from a Labour member, however, was where the staff resources could be found to carry out the work needed to prepare a submission by the end of July.   This was not a problem, we were told, because officer time could be allocated from the Assistant Chief Executive’s Division.

There you go. then. A Labour councillor submits a four page bid asking for review and signature – a bid that has nothing to do with Council officer time beyond the time taken to read and sign off the bid.  This can’t be done. I do not know whether the bid has ever even been looked at. A Conservative councillor puts forward aproposal requiring significant officer involvement.  That’s no problem to find time for. 

Both proposed pieces of work are, essentially, about involving the public more in the process of government.  I would contend that my proposal is about more direct engagement in the democratic process. 

As it stands, it seems to me that this Council is not interested in what the public has to say about how it spends its money, and by refusing to forward my bid, has set itself actively AGAINST the idea of councillors going out and, in a structured and participative manner, bothering to find out what people think and want.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions about this Council’s way of doing things.

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