Posts Tagged ‘Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB Report In the Public Interest’

‘Moor’ public money down the drain?

January 26, 2015

Are IDBs accountable?  Who is in charge of them & who are they ultimately answerable to? 

It was hoped that today’s blog post would be a nature notes one, but sadly there seems to be a greater urgency for continuing to scrutinise the business  of local Public Bodies, again!

The Forum ‘observes’ three Internal Drainage Boards whose area abuts our geographical area of interest, notably Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI.  Ideally we would also observe the others but it is a matter of capacity as well as time.  The Boards currently observed are Black Drain Drainage Board, Danvm Drainage Commissioners and Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board.

P1030700

Close examination shows debris and death

Tomorrow we hope to show good practice in terms of wildlife friendly maintenance of drains.

It is interesting that members of the public have only relatively recently been allowed to observe main Board meetings whilst their sub-committees operate a ‘closed door’ policy, with the Environment Committee or Water Level Management (previously Maintenance) or Finance Committee are no-go areas to public scrutiny.  One might be forgiven for wondering why, particularly after the findings of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners Governance Audit published in October 2014?  Recommendations were made and published, some are deemed complete, some underway and some outstanding.  There appears to be no review date, so how long is a piece of string?  There is it seems a Task & Finish Group looking at the Governance Audit Report, perhaps they will provide an update at the forthcoming Board Meeting on Friday 6 February?  The Board Papers published on the website, indicate the day, date and time but omit the venue.  The Clerk to DDC can be contacted on 01302 337798.  Previous DDC meetings have been held in Epsom House at Adwick, Shire Group of IDBs offices.

It also seems that it is not just the Forum’s Executive have serious concerns about open and transparent conduct of IDBs as Public Bodies.  Examine the Meeting Papers for the forthcoming Board Meeting of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners of Friday 6 February 2015, note particularly the contents of Section 10.2 Complaints/Queries Complaint 1. 

Note then the minutes of a Doncaster East IDB meeting at which a DMBC senior officer from their legal department gave a presentation about conduct in Public Office (Nolan Principles post Caldicot & Wentlooge Audit in the Public Interest).  Openness transparency and good governance minute 2014.4

Openness transparency and good governance

2014.4.The Chair invited Roger Harvey to speak regarding declaration of interest and wider governance issues. RH confirmed DMBC had identified fundamental issues in connection with IDBs that required addressing. He had taken the key role for Board Members from the Environment Agency “Only do that which the Board is empowered to do by law” noting if anything was outside the terms of reference it was ultra vires, that is beyond Board power.  He advised the Board had a duty to safeguard public money, to operate economically, efficiently and effectively.  Individual members can be liable if they act in  an unreasonable way.  RH referred to the Nolan Principles of Public Life noting Members should lead by example.  He suggested if decisions are to be made within the law they must: 1. Regard all relevant considerations, 2. Use correct processes and procedure or subject the Board to challenge by Judicial Review, 3. Act prudently, 4. Use specific powers within the law, 5. Be proportionate and balanced, legitimate, objective and use the least intrusive means of addressing the aim sought, 6. Provide the best use of public funds.  He noted that Declarations of Interest were felt to be a delicate balance for land owning members however the test of whether a Member’s interest is greater than the rest of the people served by the Board is useful to have in mind.  He advised everything the Board does should be open to public scrutiny and the public should be able to attend all meetings held by the Board.  He advised the Board did not have to follow the advice of its professionals but must have very good reason s why it has not followed the advice of Officers.       

RH advised capital expenditure requires an audit trail and any capital expenditure must be for the benefit of Board District not a landowner. He advised DMBC was looking at how effective governance of IDBs is and warned a DMBC Scrutiny Committee could question Board members on decisions made.

KK confirmed he would like the public to attend meetings and ask questions to show transparency. It was agreed questions could be asked at the start of the meeting provided the question had been brought to the attention of the Clerk a week before the meeting to ensure answers could be provided. JB suggested documenting rules of public engagement, KK suggested the Clerk would circulate appropriate wording to Members but specific questions must be asked by the Public, not general comments and questions could not be repeated.

Perhaps an observer could be forgiven for interpreting that minute as a gentle advice, but it seems that neither the Board members or ‘professional advisers’ have taken any notice of it?  The meeting was in June 2014 and no sign of a door even ajar in terms of public observation of the Finance or Environment Committee? Similarly one might think that any question might receive an answer if submitted to the Clerk a week prior to a Board meeting?  Incidentally, Board meetings are not openly advertised and it is often difficult to establish detail, but a bit of Yorkshire tenacity has been known to yield results.

The Forum Executive have been trying to establish a paper trail to evidence due dilegence for appropriate procedural authority to spend by DEIDB and the their management service provision.  To assist this we applied to attend as observers the Finance Committee meeting of 12 January 2015 and guess what?  That’s right, we were declined however the Clerk informed us that “The Minutes of the Finance Committee meeting will be available to view in Board meeting papers”.  Now, forgive any scepticism but as no date was mentioned watch this space …. however the Executive do not accept any liability for anyone who holds their breath!  Other obscure replies include the Administrative Officer referring to Finance Committee minutes being available in Board meeting papers.

Doncaster East Meeting Papers 27 June 2014

6.2.2 Minutes of the Finance Committee Meeting

The Board have already approved the minutes of the last Finance Committee meeting held on 24 January 2014. The draft minutes of the meeting held on the 6 June 2014 are attached.

Guess what?  That’s right, they were not appended.   Despite a courteous request to the Clerk to provide them by return, the regular practice of treating as an FoI request gains the management service provision 20 more working days.

There’s one thing for certain, the two Boards used here to illustrate examples of practice cannot be accused of application of consistency?  On the one hand there’s lip service to opening up meetings and then there’s excuses regularly presented over the period post amalgamation in 2012.  IDBs are made up of Local Authority appointees and elected members (generally large agricultural landowners or their agents).

The three Boards the Forum ‘observe’ are all supported by the Shire Group of IDBs management service provision which in turn is funded through the public purse.

Hopefully we will have an update for readers tomorrow ….

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Draining, badgering & harrier (ing) …. ‘moor’ calls for action?

November 24, 2014

DRAINING ….

Readers may recall that the Forum have an interest in the workings and particularly the open and transparent conduct of business by Internal Drainage Boards, public bodies who receive substantive funding through Special Levy collected by the Local Authorities.  Regular readers will also be aware that the Forum’s area of geographic interest is in the main, the peatlands of the Humberhead Levels, principally Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI.

Danvm Drainage Commissioners have recently been subject of a Governance Audit, the published report is hard to locate but to the determined it can be found on the Shire Group of IDBs website through the Danvm Drainage Commissioners page.

Linked to this Audit, an investigation into the modus operandi of the DDC, the Forum have also submitted a follow up Freedom of Information request to DMBC / DDC via the WhatDoTheyKnow website.  A response is advised as 4 December.  On the previous occasion we submitted a request, the refusal to release was five days overtime and further to the response we requested an Internal Review – we have heard nothing since!

The Shire Group of IDBs also provide management services to a number of other ‘Humberhead’ IDBs, including Doncaster East IDB and Black Drain Drainage Board.  Both Danvm DC and Doncaster East IDB were formed through amalgamation of a number of smaller boards in 2012, Black Drain DC is one of the last remaining smaller boards operating in the Humberhead Levels principally funded through the public purse.

The DDC Audit was not as damming perhaps as that which saw the demise of the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Drainage Board, but it was a revelation of current practice of a recently formed amalgamation of smaller Boards.

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A Hatfield Chase drainage channel …. debris first noted 28 September, still there despite more recently mown drain sides.  This despite an understanding that there are inspections carried out ahead of regular maintenance works.

Late maintenance can cause slumping.

Late maintenance can cause slumping.

Land worked right up to drain sides, another example of Hatfield Chase ditches.

Land worked right up to drain sides, another example of Hatfield Chase ditches.

BADGERING AWAY STILL ….   

The Badger Trust is still very active, quite rightly in our opinion, with events and activities which are keeping the issue in the public domain.  If you have an interest in the issue and the views of those listed then click on their names and assuming that the technology co-operates you will be taken to a UTube video with some excellent statistics offered in relation to the failure by Defra to undertake science and monitoring to validate the Badger Cull policy.

Chris Packham       Dominic Dyer       Pete Martin     Adrian Coward

The crucial message is that as well as caring people should also DO.  So, as winter draws in and the General Election looms get the pens out or better still a series of emails or start or join a social media campaign and play a part in raising the profile of unecessary and expensive cruel acts devoid of any credible scientific foundation.    The Badger Trust and Birders Against Wildlife Crime  websites are excellent source of ideas.

 

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

The recent badger cull has reputedly cost in the region of £5,200 per badger, they must be moving the goalposts again?  Weren’t we told it would only be a few hundred pounds per animal when OPatz initiated the trial? 

 

Birders Against Wildlife Crime: Recognise, Record, Report‘Eyes in the Field’ Wildlife Crime Conference, Buxton, Derbyshire Saturday 21st March 2015 has an excellent line up of speakers – limited places so get on and book yours.

The call for making wildlife crime a performance measure for the Police will bring resources to the issue.  With the illegal persecution of birds of prey particularly Hen Harriers, it is difficult to gather evidence to secure a prosection so Dr Mark Avery has set up an epetition calling for the Banning of driven grouse shooting which he suggests would be more effective.  It has certainly been a blue touch paper in terms of igniting a concerted effort to raise the profile of nature conservation, long may the debate continue ….

How many will we see in the Humberhead Levels this winter? Image: Tim Melling

How many will we see in the Humberhead Levels this winter?
Image: Tim Melling

Raptor politics, another campaigning website is also a valuable source of information.

In the words of Ghandi:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!

Greenblobpride

 

 

Whatever it is they [DMBC] know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, they don’t want to tell the public?

August 20, 2014

Readers were reminded on Monday about our Freedom of Information request to Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council about an Internal Audit undertaken on the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.

P1020692Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme: an example a project promoted by the Dun Drainage Commissioners and later their successors the Danvm DC.

DMBC had failed to comply with its own procedures.  Its own initial acknowledgement indicated a reply would be provided by 15 August, so five days overdue (or three if you accept the WhatDoTheyKnow website advice) and as there was no request for additional time we submitted a request for an Internal Review yesterday ….  today we receive an email update and a response was provided.

The FoI was made 19 July and it has taken until 20 August to “Refusal to Disclose Information” and then the reply describes it as the Danum Drainage Board.  It is now Danvm (note the spelling, a Board decision and one which DMBC were a party to) and they are the Drainage Commissioners, minor points maybe but this kind of inspection and performance is surely about attention to detail?

Notice under Section 17(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – REFUSAL TO DISCLOSE INFORMATION

Decision:

After carefully considering your request, the Council has decided to refuse to disclose the information you have asked for under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Basis for decision:

This law allows us to refuse to disclose information through the Freedom of Information Act process which is “information intended for future publication”. This is called an “exemption”.

Anyway, in short they are not prepared to release the information funded through the public purse until the Clerks to the DDC have seen it first.  The local IDBs including the two ‘super-boards’ are serviced by the Shire-Group of IDBs.  Read the rest of the letter via the WhatDoTheyKnow website here.

Why they cannot also release it to enquirers on the same day is not clear, a sceptic might then be forgiven for thinking  that perhaps then the Clerk and Administrator to the DDC will elect to apply their procedure and to take a further 20 days to provide it – this is open and transparent government?

Internal Drainage Boards have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and some organisations involved in attempting to hold them to account would consider this to be long overdue.  Many receive substantive amounts of public funding by way of Special Levy.  It is only recently that all the Local Authority nominated appointees have begun to attend and take an active part in scrutinising the business and conduct of local IDBs.  The Audit of Accounts 2010 – 2011 of the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB Report In the Public Interest makes quite astonishing reading …. is that of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners going to be a variation?

What would, in our opinion, have been prudent ahead of the amalgamations of the smaller localised IDBs in the area would have been thorough audits and appraisals in the public interest, but for some reason there does not appear to be rigorous application of best practice governance in this area.  If we revisit the analysis of the Defra encouraged amalgamations which created two large ‘super-boards’ in this area (Humberhead Levels) then we might be forgiven for asking why Defra the government agency responsible for Land Drainage did not require independent audit of each of the local boards as they were subsumed into the new arrangement?

So, will this DDC Audit Report see the light of day, will it be made available to the public?  Who will be found to be wanting?  Will there be any action if there is found to be any ‘issue(s)’?

Readers might recall the incident where a landowners lawful tenant caused damage to a SSSI on the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, neither the Rural Paymants Agency nor Natural England acted to either recover public funds or investigate the impact on the special feature of the SSSI.  Austerity measures introduced across many public services and yet no recovery of public funds where there was clear breach of cross compliance &c.?

 


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