Are you really happy with your lot? The 2011 council elections in the East Riding of Yorkshire

September 26, 2011 12:37 PM

TPA supporter, Oliver Johnston, reflects on the election results in the East Riding of Yorkshire earlier this year, and on what the future holds for democracy in the county.

Vox populi, vox dei.  But only if it is heard.  If the people have spoken, are these really the results that they wanted?  One wonders whether the Taxpayers' Alliance (TPA) is getting the message wrong, or simply not being heard.  In any event, the horse can only be led to the water, the voter must itself act and cast its vote.

Conservative-led East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) has featured regularly in TPA newsletters, for various decisions seemingly with little obvious benefit for those whom ERYC purports to serve.  Perhaps the most exceptional and exceptionable decision, only one year before this year's council elections, was the crass resolution to make a discretionary payment of £364,205 to former corporate resources director Sue Lockwood.  That is roughly £1 per person (2001 census) in the East Riding.  In a rare episode of open fraternal criticism, this decision was even impugned by local Conservative MP Graham Stuart, but to no avail.

This was not the only matter worthy of reproach.  Above-inflation pay rises for senior officers and a perceived authoritarian approach to the leadership of council business, with overview and scrutiny unwelcome, should have given cause to dissatisfaction and a determination to ring the changes.

However, come polling day the ruling Conservative Party increased its majority stranglehold with all senior figures retaining their offices.  Winning 53 seats, an increase of eight on the 2007 results, this resulted in an invincible 79 per cent. majority.  To be sure, there are circumstantial reasons for this outcome, such as the devastating collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, a somewhat resurgent Labour Party ineffectively increasing its share of the vote in certain wards and a number of independent candidates – many individually worthy of consideration – attracting a wide smattering of votes.  But turnout was resolutely depressing, albeit marginally increased on 2007, at generally somewhere between low to mid forties, across all wards.  So more people voted, and yet the same ruling councillors were returned, only this time with a reinforced majority and therefore with even less by way of opposition.

Opposition within ERYC is in name only and those who disagree or contest soon find themselves on the outside and not being re-selected.  Indeed, within the ruling party, only a select few councillors are permitted to call in decisions.  Further, it is understood that following this year's elections the number, and therefore the range and effectiveness, of scrutiny committees is to be reduced.  In this way, the 'right' result can more easily be achieved.

Moreover, the 2011 elections resulted in some important countervailing independent voices no longer being part of ERYC.  Hardly surprising when confronted with the might of the party machine.  Independent candidates prepared thoughtful campaign material, with a personal feeling and authenticity that can never be replicated by the party presses.  Yet, with barely the batting of an eyelid, an unknown debutante candidate was elected over independent candidates of long-standing local commitment, surely because of the party affiliation.  The blue rosette could seemingly have been attached to a stuffed toy of choice and attained office.

If this is the electorate confirming that ERYC really can do no better, provides absolute value for money and is worthy of reward in this manner, then truly trimming the fat from public authority excess and obtaining total procedural propriety remains a very distant aspiration.

As previously written, ERYC is fundamentally a well-run local authority.  And so it should be, given its benign demographic composition and the absence of significant problem areas.  Accordingly, there is every reason for the electorate to focus more sharply on the probity and judgment of those making decisions.  There is no particular feeling on the ground that the personalities currently holding office are indispensable to the effective administration of council business.

The TPA incontrovertibly demands that taxation raised is spent carefully and responsibly.  This does not include stupendous discretionary payments to retiring officers and above inflation pay rises for senior officers for doing a job for which there are plenty of capable replacement candidates available if the already considerable rewards are not deemed sufficient, all the while increasing the council tax take.  Those responsible for taking decisions must be properly accountable for them.

TPA publications are not intended to preach to the converted, that is pointless, but to inform and, perhaps, enlighten.  But the decision to effect change belongs to the electorate.  This did not happen in the 2011 ERYC elections.

Either the TPA has got this all wrong in ERYC recently, or ignorance, forgetfulness and/or apathy prevails.  On the street there is no appetite for four more years of the same, but that is what the electorate has got, and with interest.  There is a clear disconnect between what people want for their money and what they perceive they are getting, and they did nothing to narrow that gap.  Particularly in these challenging economic times, more than in recent years, the public wants a voice.  Seemingly, it does not want to use the voice that it already has.

Democracy is not a free ride.  Change is either wanted or it is not; one should put up or shut up.  It will be interesting to see whether collectively people will engage and act to ensure value for money in public spheres, and whether the TPA can continue to develop a meaningful role here.TPA supporter, Oliver Johnston, reflects on the election results in the East Riding of Yorkshire earlier this year, and on what the future holds for democracy in the county.

Vox populi, vox dei.  But only if it is heard.  If the people have spoken, are these really the results that they wanted?  One wonders whether the Taxpayers' Alliance (TPA) is getting the message wrong, or simply not being heard.  In any event, the horse can only be led to the water, the voter must itself act and cast its vote.

Conservative-led East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) has featured regularly in TPA newsletters, for various decisions seemingly with little obvious benefit for those whom ERYC purports to serve.  Perhaps the most exceptional and exceptionable decision, only one year before this year's council elections, was the crass resolution to make a discretionary payment of £364,205 to former corporate resources director Sue Lockwood.  That is roughly £1 per person (2001 census) in the East Riding.  In a rare episode of open fraternal criticism, this decision was even impugned by local Conservative MP Graham Stuart, but to no avail.

This was not the only matter worthy of reproach.  Above-inflation pay rises for senior officers and a perceived authoritarian approach to the leadership of council business, with overview and scrutiny unwelcome, should have given cause to dissatisfaction and a determination to ring the changes.

However, come polling day the ruling Conservative Party increased its majority stranglehold with all senior figures retaining their offices.  Winning 53 seats, an increase of eight on the 2007 results, this resulted in an invincible 79 per cent. majority.  To be sure, there are circumstantial reasons for this outcome, such as the devastating collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, a somewhat resurgent Labour Party ineffectively increasing its share of the vote in certain wards and a number of independent candidates – many individually worthy of consideration – attracting a wide smattering of votes.  But turnout was resolutely depressing, albeit marginally increased on 2007, at generally somewhere between low to mid forties, across all wards.  So more people voted, and yet the same ruling councillors were returned, only this time with a reinforced majority and therefore with even less by way of opposition.

Opposition within ERYC is in name only and those who disagree or contest soon find themselves on the outside and not being re-selected.  Indeed, within the ruling party, only a select few councillors are permitted to call in decisions.  Further, it is understood that following this year's elections the number, and therefore the range and effectiveness, of scrutiny committees is to be reduced.  In this way, the 'right' result can more easily be achieved.

Moreover, the 2011 elections resulted in some important countervailing independent voices no longer being part of ERYC.  Hardly surprising when confronted with the might of the party machine.  Independent candidates prepared thoughtful campaign material, with a personal feeling and authenticity that can never be replicated by the party presses.  Yet, with barely the batting of an eyelid, an unknown debutante candidate was elected over independent candidates of long-standing local commitment, surely because of the party affiliation.  The blue rosette could seemingly have been attached to a stuffed toy of choice and attained office.

If this is the electorate confirming that ERYC really can do no better, provides absolute value for money and is worthy of reward in this manner, then truly trimming the fat from public authority excess and obtaining total procedural propriety remains a very distant aspiration.

As previously written, ERYC is fundamentally a well-run local authority.  And so it should be, given its benign demographic composition and the absence of significant problem areas.  Accordingly, there is every reason for the electorate to focus more sharply on the probity and judgment of those making decisions.  There is no particular feeling on the ground that the personalities currently holding office are indispensable to the effective administration of council business.

The TPA incontrovertibly demands that taxation raised is spent carefully and responsibly.  This does not include stupendous discretionary payments to retiring officers and above inflation pay rises for senior officers for doing a job for which there are plenty of capable replacement candidates available if the already considerable rewards are not deemed sufficient, all the while increasing the council tax take.  Those responsible for taking decisions must be properly accountable for them.

TPA publications are not intended to preach to the converted, that is pointless, but to inform and, perhaps, enlighten.  But the decision to effect change belongs to the electorate.  This did not happen in the 2011 ERYC elections.

Either the TPA has got this all wrong in ERYC recently, or ignorance, forgetfulness and/or apathy prevails.  On the street there is no appetite for four more years of the same, but that is what the electorate has got, and with interest.  There is a clear disconnect between what people want for their money and what they perceive they are getting, and they did nothing to narrow that gap.  Particularly in these challenging economic times, more than in recent years, the public wants a voice.  Seemingly, it does not want to use the voice that it already has.

Democracy is not a free ride.  Change is either wanted or it is not; one should put up or shut up.  It will be interesting to see whether collectively people will engage and act to ensure value for money in public spheres, and whether the TPA can continue to develop a meaningful role here.

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