Friday 3 May 2013

This is a democracy, and the people don't like it.

The 2013 Oxfordshire County Council election results were counted today. Voter turnout was 32% just under a third of the electorate, two thirds, despite the lovely weather didn't bother to vote. The Conservatives were one seat short of keeping control of the council. Thankfully UKIP didn't get any divisions but the Labour party, Lib Dems and Greens didn't really make any significant gains either, the Tories are lucky the Labour party have such a poor leader and have no alternatives to current policies. There was however four independent candidates that won which can only be a good thing for us people who vote on issues rather than for parties.

The Conservative group will meet tomorrow to decide on a way forward and to try and understand where they went wrong. My view is they didn't actually step up and speak for the people that voted for them for the past elections, they have been bounced into following the party line and this has damaged their vote. 

On the libraries issue, which I'm obviously going to write about, the current policy was decided without consulting the Tory group, the civil servants claim to have had a few meetings about using volunteers but there isn't a shred of documentation to show they actually had a single thing to do with this policy and yet supported it, despite the fact civil servants are supposed to look at evidence then make recommendations on policy ideas that come forward. The scrutiny committee are supposed to be a robust challenge to cabinet yet they waved it through on party lines.

The Tory group had no say in it because it came down from the Prime Minister in a most undemocratic fashion and it was announced to the media before they had a say as Cllr Peter Handley said in the local paper last year: "not as with the library fiasco where one person was making the decisions, talking to the press and then expecting the group to agree with what had been announced" “This has happened several times over recent years.” 

Very few councillors spoke out about the library decision, the current leader Ian Hudspeth spoke to cabinet and put his views and was concerned about the sustainability of volunteers, the methodology used and was of the view that the savings could be made elsewhere

The councillors that speak out against the views of their own parties are the ones who we should encourage, those that sit and nod along like the churchhill dog to whatever bum plasma that comes down from Cameron need to step up and represent the views of the electorate and have some independence of mind.

In a healthy democracy we need councillors with a backbone who will be open and have their own views in public, this is how it is supposed to work, the party whip has no place in local government in my view, it damages proper policy formulation when the central office dictate policy from Number 10. 

Since the scheme for the libraries was passed by cabinet, the back office costs of the library service has gone up by 1.3 million, remember the supposed savings by slashing 21 libraries is only 313k. I got the break down from OCC yesterday:

The cultural services recharge has dropped by 56% but most of the other recharges have gone up, some massively. OCC put a bit of an explanation with the FOI which I didn't request but I think it amounts to they haven't made the savings in these areas yet, well they have a lot of work to turn that ship around I think. They went straight to the front line in a bleeding stump attack on libraries in my view and the above unjustified increases above should be where the 313k saving are made. The libraries that are being cut should be re-designated as statutory because of the flawed analysis, the undemocratic and opaque nature of the decision making (who decided where the cut off point for statutory/non-statutory should be and based on what??)  OCC cannot answer any of these questions on the volunteers policy despite repeated attempts to get answers, the obvious answer is because they weren't made in the proper way with the decisions made behind closed doors without minutes being taken and the decisions weren't tested against what available evidence there is.

I hope the Tories don't think a drift to the right is the answer, UKIP didn't nobble the vote for the Tories, Cameron did, he had no place interfering in local matters, despite his supposed support for localism. I hope they realize that if they want to engage the 70% they need to be open, transparent, work properly with the civil servants and debate these things robustly in the group and in public so the correct decisions are arrived at that deliver good public services. Otherwise we end up with bad decision making, sham consultations and no scrutiny which means policy is a mess and everyone sees it and it damages peoples belief in the political process so they don't bother to vote. If they don't sort it out, the voter turnout will continue to decline and independents won't be put off running because of the power of the party machines and the parties will become slowly extinct.

P.S and not specifically on Libraries, if the parties spend the next four years with tribal, ideological bickering and cock jousting (sadly it seems to be a male politicians issue) I will be very cross. You are supposed to work together in the public good not mud slinging trying to get one over on the other side, people before party otherwise there will be no parties if you keep it up!!!

The FOI on the ever increasing service support/other expenditure costs:

The FOI response showing not notes, emails, minutes or any other documents exists showing the formulation of the volunteers policy:

I have questioned this above response as it worrying if meetings are taking place and nothing is written down, there are more important things councils deal with than libraries and if other policy formulation decisions are taken without any documentation it could be a series matter.

1 comment:

  1. The staggering increases in support costs in just one year need further explanation from OCC.