The long-awaited previously confidential report by EDDC’s internal auditors on governance of councillors has been published today, after a refusal to make it public under the freedom of information act last month.
Part of the reason it was so sought after, was because it assessed whether adequate systems were in place to counteract any possibility of bribery and corruption - an issue of considerable public interest currently.
Given its scope and the events of March this year, which saw ex councillor Graham Brown sensationally exposed by undercover Daily Telegraph reporters, you might think that the report would be in-depth analysing deeply the systems, with a view to making meaningful recommendations. But actually, it is remarkably anodyne, draws simplistic conclusions and makes some very strange connections indeed.
Here’s a key paragraph from the audit report “During the course of this year the activities of one Councillor was drawn to senior management’s attention by an outside source. The Council took appropriate action in relation to this matter and the
Councillor has now resigned.
This review included a review of Councillor’s declared interests and of the complaints procedures. Internal Audit can confirm the Council holds a complete set of Councillor’s declared interests; it can demonstrate exempt and sensitive information is well managed; and a robust complaints procedure is in operation.”
We are told as members that it is down to us to be honest and comply with the code of conduct. This is reasonable because officers cannot go checking the land registry on the offchance we might own more land than we are declaring, nor can they check our bank accounts.
The council relies on councillors to be honest and open. Instead there might be a question about what checks and balances are employed when there is reasonable suspicion that a councillor is not declaring all their interests.
The report goes on to make points about ensuring that participants at meetings are clearly defined on agendas.
Most bizarrely, the risk relating to the risk of the possibility of “using their position unfairly for personal gain” is thought could be remedied by a personal development review, offered annually to councillors!
The key controls recommended by internal auditors are:
? The Council comply fully with their statutory responsibilities, including the Constitution .
? The Council have a suitable Officer (Democratic Services) who ensures the Council adheres to the latest statutory requirements.
? A register is maintained of all associated decision making forums and is subject to scrutiny.
? All Decision Making Groups, including outside bodies, have clear Terms of Reference.
? All Councillors receive clear guidance and training on their roles and responsibilities in decision making, including a Code of Conduct.
? All personal interests of Councillors are declared and the responsibilities and decisions they make reflect this.
? Transparency of Council meetings is maintained.
? A robust complaints procedure is in place
Considering that there is a police investigation ongoing into the fallout of that Daily Telegraph expose of 11 March, which also names an officer of the council, the report is remarkably lightweight and takes much for granted. It does not ask pertinent questions designed at catching potential problems. Rather it seems to make assumptions (sometimes strange assumptions) and draws simplistic conclusions.
The agenda (below) for EDDC’s next audit and governance meeting on Thursday 14 November, starts at 2pm and will be held in the council chamber. There will be 15 minutes at the beginning of the meeting for members of the public to ask questions.