Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Sham consultation

There is obviously a certain amount of nervousness about council spending, as politicians do not suddenly launch on consultation schemes, unbidden, over their budget.

However, this consultation – carried out by Buckinghamshire County Council - is a sham. This type of exercise is managed by the local authority, and the responses can be easily manipulated to give exactly the answers that are wanted - a cynical attempt to gain legitimacy for a programme that has none.

Meanwhile, council waste goes on uninterrupted. In the space of a few days, we see one council spend £40,000 on balls, another is forced to spend £350,000 on cancelled photocopiers while another spends £325,000 on golden goodbyes.

Elsewhere, an Essex council admits to wasting £477,513 on an abortive housing plan, while Brent council is accused of wasting £70,000 it could have spent on books, Middlesbrough taxpayers are having to confront a £86,000-a-year bill for an empty building, and Leicestershire County Council wastes over £100,000 on an unnecessary PR contract.

Up and down the country we can trawl, finding hundreds of thousands of pounds, which become millions, then tens and then hundreds of millions. Some newspapers make a speciality of such stories, while the TPA can always get a reaction from its many examples. But we need more than tee-hee stories or even empty consultations. We need to take control - something which the politicians are not doing.

The only meaningful control is an annual referendum, a system which has been tried before but abandoned because it gave the wrong answers. Unless we take the power to veto spending, the waste will go on.

I wonder how long it is going to be before people tire of empty gestures and start demanding the real thing, real power to control how their money is spent.