Going round in circles: A tale of democracy, York style

14 Aug 2014 @ 5.00 pm
| Opinion, Politics

Gwen Swinburn has some questions about the way the council works

City of York Council HQ

Bear with me: I am going to try to explain about this business of the (missing) City of York Council audit on democratic services. You know, the one kept under wraps for six months and shared only when councillors and then I demanded it.

This is the document by public sector auditors Veritau assessing York council’s “democratic and decision making process and its transparency”.

The report raised concerns about how the council makes key decisions; its lack of transparency; the fact that it published outdated information, and more.

So how did this appraisal of York council’s democratic credentials work? The best way to explain is by a series of questions and answers…

Who commissioned the democratic audit?
York council’s S151 officer – Ian Floyd, director of customer and business support services.

(Every council must appoint an S151 officer, who monitors various aspects of the authority’s work, including supporting and advising the democratic process.)

Whose department was the focus of the democratic audit?
Mr Floyd’s.

Who did auditors Veritau report to?
Mr Floyd.

Who wrote the council audit response?
The monitoring officer.

Who reports to…?
Mr Floyd.

Who do the democratic services staffers report to?
Mr Floyd.

When councillors demanded to see a copy of the report, who did the audits defer to?
Mr Floyd.

So: where were the checks and where were is the balance?
Everyone involved with this audit worked to Mr Floyd.

What happened to the audit

The report was completed last December. And what did Mr Floyd do with this audit of democratic services, about his department written by his staff? He waits six months.

Then he gets another of his staff to write a one-plus page, rose-tinted, significantly sanitised summary for the audit and governance committee

Apparently there is a monitoring plan, but it’s not shared. It’s all behind closed doors – Mr Floyd’s doors!

There are no checks, there are no balances, and shockingly it seems “we” have only collectively just realised.

Meanwhile when brave Councillor Jenny Brooks had the audacity to ask for a copy of the audit, the auditors looked surprised and said it’s up to – you guessed it – Mr Floyd…

Post script: where can the good citizens of York find this audit of democratic services? On the committee page of the council’s website? On its “transparency” page?

Nope, you can only get it from the York Press and YorkMix.

But on the council site you can of course find the rose tinted report from, you guessed it, one of Mr Floyd’s staff.

  Gwen Swinburn is a governance expert based in York

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