Posts Tagged ‘Shire Group of IDBs’

Danvm Drainage Commissioners: best practice?

February 13, 2015

Readers are well able to judge for themselves if the images below illustrate examples of best practice management

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Whilst we’d not imagine that the works are those of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners themselves, that is to say actual Board members, is it perhaps contractors engaged and supervised by Shire Group of IDBs management services, or is it their workforce?

Interestingly, whilst trying to locate Shire Group Policies on hedgerow management a document ‘Hedgerows’ was located in Environment this BAP Guidance Note (neither dated nor authored) is commendable as it extols the virtues of hedgerows for wildlife, prevention of soil erosion etc.  It ‘aims’ to avoid ‘over-trimming’ and ‘Retain hedgerow trees’.

Shire Group oft recite adherence to best practice and they are to be commended for their insistence upon it, regularly informing meetings that they always ensure that contractors are briefed as to environmental issues when undertaking works.  An immediate investigation was promised ….

Shire Group management service Minutes often identify issues and the approach to resolution?  Shire Group of IDBs have Environment Committees, Environment Officers but ….

It might be that this ‘Guidance’ is aimed at other people to encourage them to look after the wonderful Inclosure Award hedgerows in the Fishlake and Sykehouse area?

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Some Inclosure hedgerows were lost to the massive engineering works deemed essential for the ‘Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme’ others have been lost as fields are amalgamated to accommodate modern farm machinery and a once pastoral landscape in a low lying natural wetland and flood plain is transformed to a productive prairescape, much of funded through agri-welfare payments and subsidies.

Keep on badgering away …. & Public Bodies; are they accountable?

February 6, 2015

On 3rd February The Guardian newspaper published a copy of the DEFRA TB Badger Policy Board Risk Review Register.

This document was drawn up by a board which included both DEFRA civil servants and senior NFU representatives. The board met in secret and its minutes were not published, yet it provided advice to DEFRA ministers on all the key risks concerning the implementation of a badger cull policy in England.

This document was only released following a Freedom of Information request by the Badger Trust and an extremely protracted battle with DEFRA in the Upper Tribunal, with the support of the Information Commissioner.

As you can see from the article, the badger cull policy was implemented despite the fact that it was considered to be highly costly to the tax payer, pose a real danger of spreading TB in cattle via perturbation and lead to a significant increase in badger persecution.

Despite previous written assurances, the Secretary of State for the Environment Liz Truss advised Dominic Dyer (CEO of the Badger Trust) last Thursday that she would no longer meet with the Badger Trust before the final dissolution of parliament at the end of March and the start of the general election campaign, (which, in the view of the Badger Trusts, is very likely to mark the end of her time as environment secretary).

Dyer reports further that the Prime Minister has personally intervened on this issue and we now have a meeting fixed for 2nd March 2015 with the DEFRA Secretary of State.

Dyer explained that the Badger Trust will have many key issues to address with Liz Truss at this meeting and we will keep the public informed of the outcome.

The Badger Cull Risk Register is both revealing and worrying at the same time, not least because of the lack of open and transparent conduct but also that at a time of cut backs it is deemed acceptable to cull badgers at a cost of £6.5m for the first two years with associated Policing costs adding a further £3.5m for the first year alone.  The Prime Minister, David Cameron, admitted that the badger cull policy was “probably the most unpopular policy I’m responsible for”.  Will it make a difference on 7 May?  Sadly it seems despite the current incumbents proclaiming ‘the greenest Government ever’ that the environment remains low on politician’s agendas despite the badger cull being one of the most popular topics in MPs ‘intrays’?

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‘Moor’ draining campaigning updates ….

Board meetings in secret, minutes not published, obstructive and incomplete/unsatisfactory responses to FoI requests (see badger item above) …. but it could almost have been an article about local Drainage Boards in the Doncaster district serviced by the Shire Group of IDBs? **  One might be forgiven for thinking that Public Bodies * are not accountable but just funded by the public purse?

Increasing Transparency, Efficiency, Accountability and Enabling Wider Public Value …. we can dream?  In the interim we have Danvm Drainage Commissioners Governance Audit 2014 still incomplete in terms of the DMBC Recommendations*** being actioned or implemented in full.  See also the Recommendations Status, Section D in the interim ‘reply’ particularly.   At the risk of being accused of satire, some of the entries are a ‘delight’ to read particularly if any reader has ever sat in as an observer at an Internal Drainage Board meeting?

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Recently, Shire Group of IDBs advised Doncaster East IDB that they should decline admission to Finance Committee sub-committee meetings and in the same letter failed to provide good reason beyond offering ‘no policy’, another contra guidance and contra DDC Governance Audit Recommendations but c’est la Doncaster area IDBs?  This same Board held a ‘Meeting Called by Chairman 9.7.2014’ and a side meeting immediately thereafter,  the minutes of the former eventually made public 18.11.2014 those of the ‘side meeting’ however …. when a request was made, the following reply was received:

With reference to your FOI request 9th January 2015,

1. There are no Minutes of the meeting following the Extraordinary Meeting 9.6.14.  [in case readers are confused …. the typographical error made by Shire Group of IDBs was later acknowledged.]

2. This was a private meeting.

3. This communication is not available to third parties.

Doncaster East IDB is a Public Body and funded through the public purse, see * above?  No minutes, private meeting, third parties – contra guidelines, contra best practice, contra recent Governance Audit 2014 on one of their other Doncaster Boards – accountability?

** The Forum takes an interest in the modus operandi of three Boards whose areas abut the principal peatlands in our area of geographical interest.  Other management services are available, other IDBs also operate in the Humberhead Levels.  See previous related blog posts ….

*** DMBC have made recommendations, however Appointed Members have reminded the Board that they are not obliged to accept recommendations or to implement them.  It was however interesting to note that DDC did accept the findings.  Whilst they endeavour to undertake improvements no timeframe is published for the Audit to be signed off.

 

 

 

 

IDB accountability part 2 …

January 28, 2015

We wrote yesterday of issues around Internal Drainage Boards and accessing information funded through the public purse, today we continue analysis of the workings of these Public Bodies.

This post poses the question, why has the governance of these amalgamated Boards taken so long to be established?  Even after two years as well as a Shadow Board operating before final amalgamation, it seems that there are policies and procedures still being written and sub-committees still being set up?

What also causes the Forum concern are the number of wetland habitats in the DEIDB area which are in unfavourable condition. More worrying is that there seems to be an inertia to address such issues, despite the establishment of an Environment Committee within the DEIDB, there appears little by way of tangible action?  Two such examples of inaction or neglect despite knowledge of the situation (and recorded in Board minutes) might be at Haxey Grange Fen (another site in decline and neglected by statutory Public Bodies) and Hatfield Chase Drains SSSI?

In 2007 the Forum undertook a survey of a number of these SSSI Drains and concluded that they were still declining, the findings of the survey was reported to both Natural England, the IDB and the Environment Agency at the time and a paper published in 2011 in Thorne & Hatfield Moors Papers Volume 8.

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The image shows North Engine Drain, a SSSI maintained by the Environment Agency. 

Wildlife friendly maintenance can be seen with vegetation cuts done on rotation. 

Regular readers might also recall that we have sought information about transparent governence through the WhatDoTheyKnow website, details of FoI requests to the DDC can be found and progress followed here. Doncaster East IDB here.

Are the Doncaster Boards management services delivering good governance are they mindful of procedure and open conduct where public funds are concerned? We would encourage all readers to take an interest in the work of local drainage boards, they are not just about drainage but biodiversity and water management which includes flood defence.  Why not attend Board meetings as a member of the public, observe conduct of those in public office …. sadly the public were excluded from the ‘extraordinary’ meeting of Board Chairs of 9 July 2014 and despite what the minutes record, the minutes of the second meeting are not yet released …. yes, we made a request hoping that they would be furnished in a timely manner having naively assumed that they were written almost immediately after those already posted (four months later on 18 November 2014) on the web for 9 July 2014. Our request made 9 January received the standard …. a reply in 20 days!  Watch this space for the outcome?

The next meetings, open to the public are those of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners on Friday 6 February 2015 at 9.30am, the meeting papers are available as a download via the Shire Group of IDBs but they do not provide the detail of the venue.  The next meeting scheduled for the Doncaster East IDB is to be held on Friday 13 February 2015 (generally an afternoon meeting) but there is no detail or papers yet available on the Shire Group of IDBs website.  The Clerk to both Boards can be contacted on 01302 337798.

Let’s hope we are able to report positive updates tomorrow, in the interim we are considering creating a database of the number of Freedom of Information requests made to Shire Group of IDBs management services relating to IDBs …. now, as we have previously mentioned the Forum observe three ‘local’ Boards but there are others this company currently provide services to, so watch this space?

To get a flavour of ‘neighbouring’ campaigners see:

Drainage Board Governance and Accountability

Management of the Board

With some fifteen FoIs identified on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, this lady is clearly a determined campaigner and a champion of accountable governance where public funds are concerned.

‘Moor’ drainage of public funds?

January 15, 2015

Regular readers will be aware that our ‘motto’ Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, is a delightful legacy from the time of the late Stephen Warburton’s involvement with the Forum’s conservation campaigning which causes us to scrutinise the expenditure of public funds amongst other such governance related issues.

Readers may also be aware perhaps that SWW was, and the Forum still is, very involved with trying to hold Public Bodies to account in terms of open and transparent conduct of business.  Last year we reported on the Danvm Drainage Commissioners Governance Audit Report publication, an investigation triggered by a local resident who similarly believed in open and transparent accountability.

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Unfortunately there are now issues where the management service provision of the Doncaster East IDB, that is to say the Shire Group of IDBs are ignoring requests to provide documentation relating to procedural conduct.  The Executive are not seeking advance sight of draft reports, merely information about correct and appropriately authorised expenditure and formally recorded process.

More information and details of our request, which was ignored when submitted to the Board, can be found via the What Do They Know website.

An example of drain side slumping.  Heavy machinery compacted soil and inundation all illustrated here can cause such slumping.

DMBC What Do They Know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

July 20, 2014

Readers may recall Forum involvement with a Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme around Fishlake, a delightful rural hamlet amidst a once much more substantive pastoral landscape.  It is sad to report that over the last couple of decades it has been evolving into an agri-industrialised landscape which has lost many hedgerows, dew ponds and other wildlife friendly corners as every inch is maximised for commercial return.  As smaller family farms struggle to survive many are forced to quit and they become subsumed into larger more economically viable units.

The Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme was promoted through the Danvm Drainage Commissioners and funded through the Coal Authority.

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Massively engineered drainage channels, missing wildlife friendly options are increasingly a feature of the agricultural landscape of today.

The Forum presented a case that this scheme was excessive in terms of loss of ancient hedgerows and as a result of local lobbying the scheme was amended slightly and less hedgerow lost.  What was not fully explored at the time, in our opinion, was a detailed cost benefit analysis in terms of public funds.

Internal Drainage Boards, archaic institutions whose membership comprises landowners (generally agricultural interests in this area) and Local Authority appointees.  In recent years many of the smaller Boards have amalgamated and the areas now covered are considerable in terms of acreage, or perhaps one should convert to the metric unit hectare.

There are three local Boards which the Forum take particular interest in are Black Drain DB, Danvm Drainage Commissioners and Doncaster East IDB.

Members of the public, the special levy payer are entitled to attend Board meetings as observers.  In recent years some of the Board papers have become public documents and some are available on the Shire Group of IDBs website.

WhatDoTheyKnow is a tool whereby members of the public can request information from statutory agencies and authorities.  The Forum has made such a request of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council in the matter of the recent Audit of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.  Click here to see that request and follow its progress by subscribing to the website updates.

We are not anticipating that DMBC will release the Audit Report as we understand that there are issues around its findings, but we will keep readers posted of developments.

As an independent observer in some of these meetings I have heard more than once the reminder that IDBs must modernise and demonstrate public benefit, the shadow of  Caldicot & Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board Audit (2010 – 11)  hangs heavily in the background and as a reminder of accountability.

This report is issued in the public interest under Section 22 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004. I have issued this report to draw the public’s attention to a failure in governance arrangements and inadequacies in management and internal control at Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board. As a result of such failures the Drainage Board has, in my view, acted unlawfully on occasions.

I have concluded that the Drainage Board has not been governed and managed effectively for a number of years. I found that its governance framework was inadequate and some elements I would have expected to find within a robust governance framework were absent.

The findings of the above report might be somewhat astonishing, particularly to the public ?  Even now, to anyone trying to understand the complexities which still operate and who witness the conduct of members of these Boards, it is clear that there is still a way to go in terms of accountability and modernisation?  Hats of to those who have triggered the DDC Audit and here’s to reading the report in due course.


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