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Sunday 1 June 2014

Secrecy and Scrutiny

The next Brent Council meeting is rushing into a number of ill advised Constitutional changes without proper discussion.  I have commented before that the election debate featured little actual debate.  These proposals must have been in draft at that time but were not made publicly available.  Indeed, I do not think that they have been discussed even in the Labour Party, or in any meaningful way, by the Labour Group.

This post is about the scrutiny function, which has long concerned me.  Given the whole point of scrutiny is to make sure that the spending of public money is transparent and above board, the secrecy with which these changes are being treated is particularly ironic.  Rather than consider the functions of scrutiny properly, the report simply seems to cut it back to the legislative minimum.  Properly, scrutiny should be about:

  • Engaging the wider public
  • Allowing a form of partnership working with non-Council bodies spending public money in Brent (e.g. the NHS)
  • Improving the Council's own operations.  

I have argued before that Brent Council scrutiny is inadequate, and that that was linked to the failings of the councillors as much as the structures.  It is fair to say that it has not been treated seriously by many members of the committees themselves. 

The proposed single committee structure is unlikely to change any of this.  Full Council meetings, which are pretty meaningless, and cannot even bind the Executive, are unlikely to take up the slack  Indeed it might have been specifically designed to do away with meaningful scrutiny altogether. At a time when barriers to corruption in local government are being systematically dismantled, and lower resources put a premium on good quality decision making, this is exactly the opposite of what should be done.

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