Posts Tagged ‘Shire Group IDBs’

‘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.

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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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‘Drain’ of public funds & accountability of Public Bodies?

January 19, 2015

Readers will recall the Forum Executive’s concern around the promotion by the Dun which was subsequently amalgamated into the Danvm Drainage Commissioners  (DDC) of a massive drainage scheme in the Fishlake area.  This project, the Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme was deemed essential to ensure that properties were safeguarded and agricultural land restored to a previous state.  Various drains were cited as regularly flooding and the subsidence was considered to exacerbate these issues ….

It would seem fair to suggest that it is moderately wet at the moment where precipitation can be seen standing particularly in low lying areas?  The image taken today shows a drain deemed essential to evacuate water rapidly.  Whilst it might lack photographic merit it does provide an example of an expensive heavily engineered drain promoted as essential on the back of bad floods and one seemingly not discharging much water at the moment, or even recently from the look of the vegetation growth in it?

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It is interesting to examine Old Maps and those in the local archives and then cross referenced by ‘field walks/site visits’ to see the number of what were originally open drains (best for rapid evacuation of water) culverted?  Then research these against the number of applications for culverting to either the local planning authority or the local Internal Drainage Board?  With ever changing weather patterns there is surely a need to ensure that all aspects are considered when it comes to the siting of housing in low lying areas and flood plains?  The Government is increasingly requiring cost benefit analysis for public expenditure as it seeks to reduce spend (currently £8 of benefit for every £1 spent), so inevitably there are choices to be made when it comes to assessing risk against flooding.

What has the Environment Agency’s National Assessment of Flood Risk got to do with a Mining Remediation Scheme?  The best analogy we can offer is to ask the question why should the water board talk to the electricity board and the gas board talk to the telecommunication company when they need to dig up the road to lay ‘infrastructure’ services?  That and to plead for application of best practice, communication and accountability?

Look at the width of the drain and then calculate the land take and the cost of this which ultimately is bourne by the public purse (through the Coal Authority) and look at the volume of water ….

This scheme was promoted by the DDC, who readers will recall were subject of a Governance Audit Report in October 2014.

A traffic light approach has been made by the management service provision to indicate completed, underway and outstanding.  This appendix (Current Recommendation Status) was included in the document at the time of publication and it would seem that throughout the audit investigation the management service provision were involved?  Despite the full Board having met subsequent to the publication of the Governance Audit Report we have been unable to locate any further progress reports.  The management service provision to the three local IDBs the Forum observe* is provided by Shire Group of IDBs.  Whilst the public are now permitted to attend ordinary meetings of the Board’s, they are declined admission to Committee meetings, Board papers are with-held and only minutes are eventually uploaded to the Shire Group website not the full series of Board papers.

One recent upload of minutes for meetings of the Black Drain DB held on 24 January 2013 and 27 June 2013 was not undertaken until 22 December 2014 and that was only activated by intervention, some eighteen months in the undertaking?  Such practice could hardly be described as timely and demonstrative of best practice governance?

Despite recommendations made by the DMBC Governance Audit Report of the DDC there appears to have been very little  implementation of many of those recommendations around transparency and public engagement, why not?  Why do IDBs appear to continue to resist open and transparent conduct of business funded through the public purse?  It is most unfortunate that the Forum Executive find themselves having to submit another Freedom of Information request via What Do They Know about legal advice around recovery of public funds.  As ever, simply an acknowledgement, indicating a response will be made no later than Friday 13 January 2014!   

Internal Drainage Board membership is made up of DMBC nominees and elected members (generally landowners or often their land agents).  IDBs are Public Bodies and as such regulated and subject to legislative compliance.

* The three Boards which the Forum Executive currently observe are the two mentioned above, that is to say the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, the Black Drain Drainage Board and the Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board.

 

 

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

 

 

What Do They [Doncaster MBC] Know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

November 5, 2014

The Danvm Drainage Commissioners were subject of an Internal Audit of their Governance, the findings were eventually published by Doncaster MBC.  The Report (Ref.: DN-PL-13a-IN-E-DANVM) is not easily located, but the determined can eventually locate it under ‘news‘ on the Shire Group website.  Unfortunately the Shire Group of IDB website does not have a search facility so four clicks are needed to locate it, but that is only if you associate Governance / Audits with ‘news’.

The Executive are still analysing the 26 page document and in the interim have decided to submit another Freedom of Information Request to DMBC via the WhatDoTheyKnow website.  The website indicates that we will receive a response by 4 December.  Mmmh, the last time we submitted an FoI to DMBC, it was five days over its published time limit and still rejected and there has been no investigation as subsequently requested.

The Shire Group website has posted a notice on the DDC section which alerts interested parties that A meeting of the Board will be held 7th November 2014 at Shire Group of IDBs, Epsom House, Malton Way, Adwick le Street, Doncaster DN6 7FE commencing 9.30am”. 

The DDC is a public body and as such members of the public are able to attend the meetings as observers.  It would seem reasonable to assume that the Audit Report will be an agenda item as the Report was issued to the Commissioners on 9 October.  The Meeting Papers for the 7 November (some 60 pages) are available as a download via the DDC ‘news’ page. 

This is the first time that Meeting Papers have been made available from an IDB meeting, past endeavours to obtain Papers have met with resistence, Minutes have eventually been made available months later on the website so the Governance Audit has delivered one improvement thus far ….   As for any others, watch this space ….

 

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A recently engineered drain at Fishlake: part of the Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme.

Is this demonstrable best practice? 


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