Our stalwart Surrey TPA organiser Peter Webb gives us his campaign diary for Febrary, March and April.
During the period campaigning has continued the pattern as before with local emphasis directed at the County Council. In particular:
Following the meeting on 28th January for 2009-10 budget briefing a press statement was issued and protests made. Steve Bowers attacked the failure to cancel a 2.75% LA pay award. At the close of the meeting our nominated ‘mentor’, Cllr Gosling, Member for Resources, invited a note of matters of continuing concern. Our agenda went in on 10th and 14th March and a meeting is arranged for 18th May. This will lead off with our questioning (John Bosten) of the need for retention of £300m invested funds. The public pension scandal is never far from our missives and quotes to the local press. On more than one topic we have taken to involving the Interim Chief Executive Michael Frater as a mark of dissatisfaction with the attention of the elected “political management”.
Kevin Court and Gerald Gilbert on 9th February attended the SPA (Police Authority) budget meeting.and came away reasonably satisfied with the standard of consideration being given. On 14th April PW attended, at the behest of his County Councillor, the public (just) meeting at Police HQ to consider the draft appeal against Government cap on the budget increase. While silent on the justification for the budget I stated that the cap was effectively the only protection for taxpayers, and questioned the £3.1m cost of a cap. This was explained as £1.6m lost revenue and £1.5m for actual re-billing by each borough and which I still questioned. The Government’s decision is not yet due.
Our Gerald Gilbert has pursued the question of the law and practice on ‘consultation’ (eg on the budget) and Audit Commission stance on it. I supported him with a request to the MD Audit Commission to answer certain questions. A detailed reply was received. In both this and another area (see below) it seems that the law and intention is so tangled up with legislative detail and compliance ‘sickness’ that all clarity has been drained. There seems no intention for public participation and perhaps this would be a denial of management’s right to manage. This also perhaps throws into relief the question of the effectiveness and intelligence gathering of and by councillors.
Our Peter Ruck engaged in a detailed exchange with his Mole Valley District Council Contact on aspects of the general and managerial approach surrounding the budget. Detailed but predictable response resulted.
Prolonged argument has taken place and is still ongoing after the auditor’s qualification with the County Accounts 2007-08 involving the District Auditor and Audit and Governance Committee who, it turns out, are delegated to adopt and approve the Audited Accounts. This was contained in a letter to Interim Chief Executive Michael Frater as follows:
“While I now know the process for formal accounts approval I am still amazed at the inept if well meaning approach adopted throughout a period of months which I experienced. It took from October, ie 7 months since the end of the subject accounting period, until well into 2009 for me to get an answer after routing via the District Auditor to Stewart Nash (Committee Officer). My questions were simple and brief (see Contact ref 1945) and could have been quickly and simply answered, at least as regards the process and facts of accounts adoption and approval.
My concern started after eventually seeing the audited accounts. On seeing them, and adopting a life-long practice as a shareholder I looked first at the Auditor’s Report. On seeing the qualification I was alerted and concerned to think that the Accounts were suspect or hands were in the till or some such. Used to the simple ‘true and fair’ concept and auditors’ opinions on that I was not prepared for the care with which the District Auditor now has to reflect compliance sickness and choose his words so as to drain meaning and clear expression for the public. I needed him to explain to me what he meant since the Council could not. He has done this and I am not sure if I am the wiser.”
On 31st March I sent on my own account to Bob Neill MP for the Shadow C&LGC a critique of their Control Shift Green Paper, Returning Power to Local Communities. My MP Jeremy Hunt has maintained an interest and in the absence of a response has agreed to write to Mr Neill.
As a pilot ‘target’ Richard Gates, Leader of Waverley Boro Council was asked for reactions to coming consolidated ‘Whole of Government Accounts’ (WGA) 2009-10. No answer but Jeremy Hunt MP has written, so far without result, to Government asking for the impact assessment on WBC. I have asked Surrey CC a similar question and they have confirmed that they are ready to ‘go’ on this but with no opinions or facts on policy or governance..
With anonymous supporter input and high-grade technical advice from family member I questioned MP Anne Milton (Shadow Health) on projected top NHS IT management change following £billions of cost and delay etc. There seems to be questionable thinking on need for central patient record database now that technology advance, which has overtaken the ‘rolling out’ approach, would allow retention of individual records with internet access. The question was routed to a Shadow MP leading on this question, and acknowledged, but nothing further heard.
Published letters by PW and other supporters have continued alongside regular requests for comment from the Surrey Advertiser. As well topics above subjects have ranged over ‘Equality, Diversity and confusion’, unfair government funding, SEEDA, deflated claims by SCC of ‘modest’ council tax increase, overspend on childrens’ service, MPs expenses, free bus passes being the gift of taxpayers not government as claimed, and top fat cats etc.