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05.10.15

One-party councils waste £2.6bn a year through ‘corrupt’ procurement

Single-party councils could be wasting almost £3bn a year through a lack of scrutiny of their procurement processes, according to a report by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).

The study, by Cambridge University academic Mihály Fazekas, looked at the savings in contracting between single-party councils (or with a significant number of uncontested seats) and more politically competitive councils in a pool of 132,000 public procurement contracts between 2009 and 2013.

It also calculated their procurement process against a ‘corruption risk index’, where it looked at ‘red flags’ such as where only a single bid was submitted or there was a reduced length of time between advertising the bid and the submission deadline. It established that one-party councils are around 50% more at risk of corruption than competitive councils.

The ERS claimed the difference between these types of councils compares to the difference between the average Swedish municipality and the average Estonian municipality, which “doesn’t bode well for democracy or council coffers”.

Fazekas said: “The persistence of uncontested seats and one-party dominated councils at the local level is a cause for concern across England in terms of quality of public services, value for money, and government responsiveness to citizen needs. One particular high-risk area is the integrity of government contracting when controls of corruption are weak.

“In modern democracies, one of the main pillars of good government and control of corruption is elections and electoral accountability. The change of political leadership or the risk of such change is expected to discipline holders of political power to use it for the public good rather than their own private benefit.”

And ERS chief executive, Katie Ghose, said: “It’s not true of all one-party councils, but it’s bound to be true of some – and this new research suggests that lack of scrutiny could be costing us dear.

“The fact that taxpayers in England could be losing out on £2.6bn a year in potential savings is a damning indictment of an electoral system that gives huge artificial majorities to parties and undermines scrutiny. This kind of waste would be unjustifiable at the best of times, let alone during a period of austerity.

“The risk of corruption at the local level should set off alarm bells in Whitehall. The public are getting a poor deal through our voting system.”

Josiah Mortimer, communications officer at the ERS, said that a fairer and more proportional electoral system – “such as the one used in Scotland for local elections” – would make one-party councils “a thing of the past”.

Comments

D Ashmore   05/10/2015 at 13:11

Quote. "Josiah Mortimer, communications officer at the ERS, said that a fairer and more proportional electoral system – “such as the one used in Scotland for local elections” – would make one-party councils a thing of the past”. Too right! Time England caught up, and went over to the fairer proportional representation voting system. Looking at this report there would be a real financial benefit for doing so in some councils, and less 'corrupt purchasing'. Are there any other studies taking place on other possible 'corrupt practices', like planning and development, for example.

Icini   05/10/2015 at 13:24

Let me add to this that in an effort to increase "efficiency", councils are tending to reduce face to face communication between elected members and officers. Easy to do when any one party has a large majority. When you only get to talk to portfolio holders or very senior officers it's hard to judge exactly what's going on.

Cllr Derek Allcard   05/10/2015 at 14:11

I consider this article as offensive. Do you really believe that councillors are dishonest unless scrutinised? It implies that corrution is endemic, and I would dearly like to see evidence of this.

Icini   05/10/2015 at 15:32

The article does not say councillors are dishonest, it states that where there is no impartial scrutiny such potential exists. Authorities where there is no or a small opposition are at risk. Councillors who are members of the ruling party are often reluctant to challenge their own authority. Not a financial matter but look at Rotherham if you want an example of this.

Les G   05/10/2015 at 20:14

There is some evidence of "bias" in some of our Council decisions. Certainly infested parties seem to know decisions they shouldn't.

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