On 16th June 2016 Grant Thornton issued a damning report on the conduct of the Council in the 2012-2015 period highlighting in particular, poor practice in areas of governance, as well as specifics on poor decision making and project management which has cost the Council and the Tax payer considerable amounts of money. Cllr Roy Webb, in his speech made reference to the fact that, in his 40+ years in the Council chamber, he had never read anything so bad, and didn’t wish to see anything like this again.
The report made some severe observations about how Council Members were bringing political motivation into decision making.
On the subject of the Job Evaluation programme
“The pay option adopted in October 2013 for staff subject to Job Evalution was motivated, according to officers, by a political desire to protect refuse workers, whom Members feared, might strike prior to the May 2014 elections, if they received an unfavourable pay outcome. This resulted in extra costs of £3m in the short term, to ensure that similar staff were treated comparably to the refuse workers. Some Members argue that the aim was to protect groups of staff more broadly. The pay option adopted proved costly at a time when the Council knew that it needed to save £77m over three years. The meetings at which these matters were discussed were not minuted, so the basis for the decision was neither transparent nor accountable, nor was the decision approved in writing by any committee of the Council.”
And on Taxi Licensing, the involvement of Members was also considered to be less than independent at times:
“Officers have stated that some Members on the Taxi Licensing Committee have in the past lobbied on individual drivers’ behalf when decisions on granting taxi licences have been made. The Committee has also made some very poor decisions during the period 2012-2015, which have involved granting taxi licences to individuals with criminal records who have committed offences including hate crime, harassment, intimidation and making improper comments to young females.”
The report contains a lot of detail, and is largely historical, but the meeting last night should not have been focussed on the past, but on what was actually going to be done to ensure that this could not happen in the future. The publication of the report did give the non-Labour Councillors licence to talk in very candid terms about their views on current questionable practices, the blurring of lines between Councillors of Officers and, most importantly the culture within the Council today.
This was an opportunity for self-reflection and a time to truly consider how that unsavoury culture can be rectified to ensure that the Council serves the community better. That should have been uppermost in the minds of the Council, and particularly the ruling Labour Party. This did not happen.
Motions put forward by the opposition parties to make the Governance more robust, or to censure Council Members who were cited for inappropriate practices, were voted down by the whipped Labour Party. There was no sound logic presented – it was just to vote an opposition amendment down. In response to impassioned speeches by Councillors to such an important report there was much fiddling with smart phones and lack of focus and attention. The impression given was that the whole event was a nuisance and a distraction on a Friday evening.
Those implicated in the report made no comment, their only response was through body language as they shuffled in their seats and fidgeted. A brave person might have stood up, a good person may have apologised, but this was never going to happen. After 2.5 hours we had the closing speech from Ranjit Banwait, an opportunity for reconciliation, vision and leadership – that is what should have happened and would have been impressive. But this was not an opportunity for Banwait to depart from tradition.
In his strictly limited 5 minutes, he opened up by attacking Cllr Evans regarding the proceedings brought against him regarding his Court Case in May ( which concluded that there was no impropriety on his part), and then by focussing his attention on pointing fingers at other Members, reading sections of the report, and highlighting that they were all victims of bad advice. No comment was made about how he was going to take the report seriously, be inclusive in developing the way forwards, ensure that recommendations were implemented, and take some personal accountability for changing the culture of the Council.
An opportunity missed or perhaps something more fundamental? As Cllr Wood stated in his speech, to paraphrase David Cameron “For God’s sake man, just Go!” Sometimes culture can only change from the top
Banwait’s speech was punctuated by a member of the public unfurling a large banner, whose severely disabled young son is at Ivy House School, and is being disadvantaged by the cuts to the TA salaries. Banwait has continually failed to respond to requests by Parents to meet them – ignoring the people he is there to serve
Categories: Derby City Council