Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Our Representatives Working for Us

The planning application for the interpretation boards mentioned in this post was duly presented to the Peak District Planning Committee on Friday and approved by officers and elected members with barely a murmur. Neither the applicant nor the officer was asked a single question.

There are some conscientious public servants in national and local government and there are some elected members from various political parties who take their duties seriously when they serve on committees. Observation suggests they are a small minority and that many committees within local government either struggle with tasks beyond them or see their roles as simply filling a place because someone's got to do it. You get some idea of the way things are if you listen to the audio file of the meeting available online. It's  on this page; Click on Planning Committee for 2017-03-10. then scroll down and click the blue arrow against number 15 to listen. The printed minutes available do not even mention the item in question. This link has been changed from the original posted on Tuesday.

In theory all decisions taken by supposedly democratic institutions such as The Peak National Park Authority or Sheffield City Council should be put to a process of scrutiny and committees such as this one are part of that system. Unfortunately the quality of members is often unsatisfactory and scrutiny is rarely adequate nevermind rigorous. In this case there had been four carefully written objections which were probably not even read by members. The SWT applicant's statement that these were from a minority who opposed everything they did was not challenged or even queried. No other discussion happened.

There is a context for this sad state of affairs. The Westminster Communities and Local Government Select Committee is concerned at the state of scrutiny across local government and has called for evidence in order to produce a report and make recommendations. Locally Sheffield for Democracy has produced its own submission relating to Sheffield City Council and it can be read here.

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