Stevenage Borough Council’s feeble one party so-called ‘scrutiny arrangements’ were brought sharply into focus at a meeting of their Scrutiny and Overview Committee on 28.7.2014.
(1) Officials had failed for the third time running to present a report on unacceptable delays to their Customer Service Centre telephone response times, which had been agreed following questions from Robin Parker in March. They now say they have lost the question!
(2) A very badly written officer report, on behalf of the relevant Executive member, which was full of errors, stated that the councils funding reductions in recent years had been brought about by the government’s austerity programme of cuts. This may be true for some of the cuts since 2011, but in reality the cuts in Stevenage started as long ago as 2007, when the majority Labour group were forced to get to grips with their decades-long overspending. This fact was corrected only when raised and pointed out by Robin Parker. (Note that so-called ‘Executive reports’ are in fact written by council officials and this was just one of several errors which would have gone uncorrected if Robin had not pinpointed them.)
(3) A report trumpeted the fact that the town’s mayor can come from “any class, gender or ethnic background”. Robin’s attempt to include in the report the fact that the mayor must also be Labour – whilst true – was voted down by the committee closing ranks, with the help of the lone, feeble Tory member of the committee. This is why we refer to ‘Labour’s mayor’ in Stevenage.
(4) In a classic admission of unsuitability for the job, the chair of the committee asked for a long awaited report on the Media and Communications work of the council, to be delayed until “she has more chairing experience.” This was stated in an official written report to the committee. Needless to say, the other committee members (all Labour plus the aforementioned Tory) all agreed. Robin Parker was the only one to point out that if the chair cannot cope with chairing a review on this important topic, then the chair is unsuitable for the job. Following this admission, he said that if she cannot cope, then she should be replaced with someone who can do the job. Note that the chair gets an extra allowance of £8,795, plus her basic allowance of £7,195, total £15,990 a year, for not being able to cope. The Liberal Democrats first called for such a review 32 years ago. So maybe one more delay will not make much difference! Media and Communications deal with all the publicity and propaganda that is issued by Stevenage Borough Council. In the past, some of this has broken broadcasting and election guidelines, some council publications have given prominence to an unelected Labour candidate in Stevenage and another published a factually incorrect front page article highlighting Labour’s success at local council elections.
Note that the chair of Scrutiny and Overview Committee and the chairs of both Select Committees, all of which perform some scrutiny functions, must all be Labour – the same party that dominates the council with 85% of the seats.
Leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group, Cllr. Robin Parker C.C., commented: “These few issues serves to highlight yet again the fact that local council taxpayers are short changed by the domination of the Labour party in Stevenage.”