Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gag Removed ?

I thought you would appreciate this latest exchange of emails between Councillor and Council.

Not a victory yet, more an attempt to inform me that they always meant to change their mind and did so themselves without my intervention, and in response to my constituents challenge not mine, but still good news for my constituent.


I fully understand the Council's position in respect of the 2004 Traffic Management Act and I would not dream of interfering or playing a part in the decision making process or in deciding the outcome of any individual challenge or representation.

However please do not presume my intention or intent. Nor should you challenge my constituents right to involve me to seek advice and ask me to seek clarification from yourselves.

I have every right to represent my constituents and argue their case up to the point of not interfering in the decision making process. Therefore could you please advise me on the points I have legitimately made and if you have any difficulty in doing so I suggest you raise this with the Chief Executive and or the Monitoring Officer.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Tony Clarke,
Castle Ward

Dear Cllr Clarke

Thank you for your recent email.

I can inform you that the Penalty Charge Notice has already been withdrawn on the basis that a valid permit was produced as part of the challenge lodged by your constituent.

Yours sincerely

Mrs J S******* - Parking Investigation Team Leader
Parking Services - Northamptonshire County Council

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Do they honestly think they can silence me?

Hot on the heels of yesterdays blog outlining the lengths some will go to undermine the role of democratically elected Councillors, today's blog outlines an equally worrying attempt by the officer class to silence the elected voices.

This time take a bow J*** S*******, Parking Investigation Team Leader at Northamptonshire County Council.

I have exchanged many an email with J*** and her predecessors over the years in defence of my constituents. In fact over a period of 10 years plus as a local Councillor and 8 years as an MP I must have dealt with 100's if not 1000's of complaints regarding wrongly issued parking tickets and over zealous parking wardens.

My latest case involves a nice guy who lives in a residents permit parking scheme who was ticketed for not displaying his permit. He puts it at the top of his windscreen, the parking warden not seeing it, ticketed him and took a pretty poor photo which proved nothing. My constituent having failed to get any sense from the system and a refusal to withdraw the ticket came to me for help.

I respectfully pointed out to Parking Services that the guy had a permit, had paid for it, it is registered on the system and that the Councils evidence was inconclusive, so would they please consider withdrawing the ticket.

It's called "Representation" you can find a broader understanding of the concept within the "Representation of the People Act 2000"

But J*** quoted a different act to me when answering my enquiry. She told me:

"Unfortunately we are unable to process the request you have made on behalf of your constituent, as the Traffic Management Act 2004 clearly states that "elected members and unauthorised staff should not, under any circumstances, play a part in deciding the outcome of individual challenges or representations"

She then tried to tell me that should my constituent have any queries then he should contact Parking Services himself!

Do they think I was born yesterday? Do they really think I can be silenced? The change in the law in 2004 simply made it clear that Councillors had no magic bullet to cancel a ticket, and that they cannot instruct the Council to do so. It wasn't a charter for officers to be able to silence local councillors and deny residents proper representation

I responded to her and to the Chief Executive of the Council pointing out to them that I had no intention of "playing a part in deciding the outcome" that is for her and her team to do, but no one was going to stop me representing my constituents and standing up for them if I believe the Council has acted wrongly

My very duty as a Councillor is to represent my constituents, and to ensure they get fair play, and to ensure that the Council on to which I am elected has a fair system in place for dealing with such complaints.

It is up to my constituents to ask me if they wish me to represent them and put their case. It is up to me to offer whatever advice I wish back to them.

But when I get obstructive, over officious responses back to me as an elected member from an officer who should know better, then as I did yesterday I really start to question whether or not any democratic accountability is left within our system of local governance.

Some of you may remember last year when the County Council tried to raise the costs of residents permits in Northampton from £25 for a residents and Visitors permit to £60 for what is already an appalling service. The Council were shamed into withdrawing their plans and under the then portfolio holder Cllr Bob Seary they promised a review of the scheme?

So what happened to it?

Perhaps if the Council don't like me representing individually the people who elected me, then I should simply ask all the people within the scheme area and in other schemes in the town to individually write in a formal complaint to the Council asking them where the review they have been promised has got to?

We could then if not satisfied with their answer all take up individual cases with the Local Government Ombudsman to enquire as to whether the Council are administrating the scheme correctly and fairly?

Perhaps we could ask why their staff have only a selective knowledge of the 2004 Act and why they are suggesting Councillors cannot represent their constituents or act on their behalf?

I am so angry and so incensed by this attempt to silence an elected member that I am now even more determined to represent constituents with such cases. So if you have been given a ticket in Castle Ward get in touch, I will be more than happy to fight your corner. I can't take the decision to squash the ticket, that is clearly not within my power, but I will not be told who I can and cannot represent and how I can or cannot represent them.

I will not be silenced.

Monday, 28 September 2009

No accountability, No democracy, No point

Tonight Northampton Borough Council asks it's 47 elected Councillors to vote on its "Annual Governance Statement" which gives an external auditors view on whether or not the Council ensures its business is conducted in accordance with the law and whether or not its systems of internal control are sufficient to manage risk.

NBC's external auditors KPMG who get paid around £250,000 a year to tick the right boxes over this and the financial audit have said amongst other things this year that:

"There are a number of concerns that the internal structure of NBC does not always match the portfolio holder responsibilities." and also that:

"There was also a concern from portfolio holders that their political “hot topics” which had immediate media and public attention did not receive the same degree of focus on the agenda as items on improvement plans. The council’s communications team have been working to address this."

On top of the above we then also pay Price Waterhouse Cooper a further fee for carrying out an "Internal Audit"

And then if we weren't audited enough we then have our national rating set by the government which despite all our auditing still puts NBC at the bottom of the pile as a "Poor" 1 star Council.

So tonight I will vote against the statement of Annual Governance, not least because I have little faith in the number crunchers and auditors who are to me nothing more than a bunch of overpaid and over remote consultants, but also because I believe on Northampton Borough Council that we do not have any local governance at present. The report tonight is really about 2008/09 but its findings only magnify the current difficulties in 2009.

Decisions you see,now and then are not taken by Councillors, not even within the Cabinets inner circle, they are taken by Senior Council Officers at their management board and handed down to a puppet administration as a "Fait Accompli"

Opposition Councillors and even Councillors within the ruling Party are the last to find out what the Council is planning or implementing. Budgets are changed, services withdrawn, expenditure agreed, staff appointed, all without even a pretence of elected accountability or proper electoral scrutiny.

This year it is worst than ever. For instance we all voted reluctantly in February for a rise in fees for Pest Control Services to help us balance the books, the Council then went and scrapped the Service altogether! Officers also agreed deals with other authorities to enter into partnerships to Market Test and possibly deliver core services and set on staff without any approval from Cabinet.

Last week 250 staff at Cliftonville were told they were moving out of their offices completely and that redundancies will most probably arise, all without even a mention of the plan to elected members. So why do we bother then with Councillors? after all we are hardly flavour of the month amongst the electorate, so why not let the people making all the decisions take all the flak and deal with all the complaints?

Why indeed? because it can only get worse. With all of the three main Political Parties bragging at their conferences about who will cut public expenditure the most, we know that Local Government has nothing to look forward to over the next few years other than Cuts on top of Cuts on top of Cuts.

Council Leaders will be told then, even more so than now, by their Chief Executives not what they can choose to do, but simply that these are the cuts you will implement, and that you can't say that there will not be any more.

Of course to hide all of this Councils will continue to champion its capital projects and grant aided schemes to cover up for their subservient obedience. In Northampton this means we get a new Fountain on the Market Square to look at whilst at the same time they close all the Public Toilets. It means we get a new Marina in Beckett's Park whilst our existing green spaces become overgrown and turned into "wildlife areas" due to cut backs in grass cutting and grounds maintenance. And it means that a town which can't even afford to employ a rat man can afford to have a "Market Square Entertainments Officer" to keep us all happy when buying our bananas.

Well the other 46 "elected" members can go along with all this deceit if they please, but I am not prepared to mislead anybody. I seriously say to my electorate that the only thing they get back from me for their vote at present is a glorified Social Worker and an awkward bugger happy to stir up the pot and fight on their behalf to make sure they get their share of a increasingly poor service.

I even contemplated standing down last week, resigning my seat and forcing a by election to stand once again on a platform of no confidence in our electoral system, only the cost of such a move at a time when every penny needs to be spent on the most needy in our society stopped me from doing so.

But I wont be silenced, I won't go along with the flow and I wont pretend to the voters that the Council's improving when it is clear that that is not the case.

I believe however that I am not alone. I believe that there are also those in all three parties who also agree with me. Some of them over the past few months have had the courage to tell me so, a smaller number have been willing to support me in the chamber at the time of a vote.

When times are very hard and when the Government trys to clamp down on spending whilst at the same time is still telling you that you must build more houses and provide for more people then we need elected councillors more than ever who are prepared to stand up and fight for our town and collectively take on those who oppose us. We need Councillors from all party's willing to put Politics to one side and work together to secure a better deal for Northampton.

What we don't want and don't deserve is a bunch of lily livered cowards unable or unwilling to challenge authority at local or national level and not prepared to stand up and declare that they have the elected authority and that they will make the choices and the decisions on behalf of the people who elected them.

Those willing to vote against the Annual Governance Statement tonight or even willing to abstain may just start to show the public that all is not lost.



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Thank you for visiting "tonyclarkegreenparty" The views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They are made by me personally in my own capacity as free citizen and not as representative of any outside body or council that I may serve on or be employed by. However if anyone is offended by any of these comments or feels that they should be corrected then please contact me in the first instance at and I will do my best to consider your comments and correct any errors.


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