Good Governance is a democratic Issue
All of us are public servants and so our first and last duty is to our residents. We are living in strange times with information available to us like never before, but equally, with a growth of cynicism and suspicion around the quality of that information and fake news.
It’s our job to create a situation with our residents founded on trust. A system that is truly open, transparent and fair. That means good governance.
We know that trust took a terrible knock over the Sixfields fiasco. We live with decisions made in that era that were just plain wrong. Selling Sekhemka, pedestrianising Abington Street, putting buses in the Drapery, a dysfunctional bus station. This was the era of 3 minute Cabinet meetings. In that era, nationally, risk profiles in single tier LAs increased by 37%. Spending power reduced by 29%. Demand went up. Crucially, resources for good governance fell by 34%. (NAO report 2018)
Residents’ objections were not heard and trust in the council’s decisions evaporated.
More recently, in the Borough things have moved on and have improved. We have invested more in Governance, audit receives reports on Governance strategy and issues, we have an independent chair of audit. Cabinet meetings last longer. Full Cabinet reports are received. We receive full corporate performance reports, Portfolios’ make themselves available for questions and comments. We track motions that are passed. All good.
So what is left to do? We have a three tier audit system that is unwieldy. We have audit reports from the internal auditors, external auditors and LGSS. Surely LGSS should be incorporated into the internal audit?
It is just plain common sense that the administrations cannot scrutinise themselves. The Caller report of 2018 into the County, made a point of highlighting that as a failing. Our scrutiny function should be headed up by the opposition and we should be making far more use of pre-scrutiny.
We have been calling for a long time now for proper financial scrutiny. On audit we keep being reminded that audit is not scrutiny. That is true. One is backward looking and one is forward looking.
However, because there is no finance scrutiny we are understandably anxious and there is inevitably mission creep.
Why are we raising these issues now? There are two main reasons. One is Local Government reorganisation and one is the lessons we are learning from the Covid crisis. Local Government reorganisation gives us the opportunity to start over with a new social contract with our residents. We need to develop trust in local politics.
We need to maximise the turn out in the polls to ensure we have a sound democratic base that is accountable to the electorate.
With Covid, we have seen how important trust is. If people trust the messengers, they trust the message and compliance is high.
As public servants we are all stewards of the public good and public resources. We need Governance that is open, transparent and fair. We want to be known as people who get the work done and do it well. Our governance needs to be outcome focussed. Focussed on performance. It needs to be for the people, by the people, with the people.