Month: November 2014

Winning political brownie points is not a solution for York

Yesterday York’s own LibCon coalition was taking by surprise that a request for a review to internally scrutinise the Lendal Bridge closure was turned down by the Economic and City Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Committee chair and former Liberal Democrat council leader Andrew Waller brought the motion on behalf of the LibDem-Conservative Coalition which is forming the biggest opposition block in York Council after Labour lost overall control of it in the last weeks. Green Cllr Andy D’Agorne held the deciding vote between the two camps and sided this time with the Labour group.

Greens promised in our last manifesto to speak out to challenge bad council decisions and management. Everyone in this city agrees on it and the external review reports shows that the management of the Lendal bridge trail was a disaster! But we also promised is to avoid the constant Westminster-style political “point scoring” which gives politics such a bad name. We have now an external report in the public domain which is already conducted and paid for. Even if this review is only reporting on “the information and recollections that have been willingly submitted by officers and the Cabinet Member in position at that time”, it already gives all the people involved a very bad testimonial.

Here just some of the highlights from the CMS Review of the Lendal Bridge Scheme:

“The Lendal Bridge scheme suffered from a lack of governance and robust project management from the very start of its development phase.”

“During the course of this review CMS were unable to find a single, clear and cohesive audit trail that plotted the progress of the scheme in a logical and transparent way.”

“…progress of the scheme was dependent upon a number of individual officers agreeing to deadlines for the delivery of key milestones … within a disparate and uncoordinated framework.”

“in isolation to a detailed project plan”, “no agreed stated objectives”, “not subsequently produced a clear audit trail of events”, “no named and agreed Senior Responsible Officer”, “no evidence of a critical path analysis”, “no accountable and responsible project board created”, “Individual officers were left to make seemingly critical decisions with no clear ‘safety net’ or checking procedures in place.”, “individual and bespoke meetings which had no formal agendas, minutes or action points recorded”.

This is just a selection and I would recommend reading the whole report and its recommendations:

What could another internal scrutiny have achieved?

It is obvious that the main intention or the internal scrutiny proposal was to draw out the media stories on the topic into the election period, rather than any genuine objective of learning lessons for future controversial council proposals. This political point scored for the LibCon opposition would have been funded by the taxpayer and drawn resources away from other tasks ahead and real scrutiny reviews that still need to be conducted up to May to learn lessons for the future.

From my point of view there is one main lesson to learn from Lendal Bridge and the Grand DeParty. Councillors need to accept that there are not universal geniuses who know everything and can do everything. In the most cases they are learned amateurs, who try to manage their voluntary job as councillors in their spare time. The city employs professional officers and experts and has advisory groups and committees. Councillors should take advise, listen to advise, act accordingly and let professional administrators, project and event mangers implement political ideas and visions. That is why we have them and pay them.

And before anyone suggests now that Greens are now “in bed with Labour” it is worth remembering that the two Green votes in support of the LibDem motion on the Local Plan brought that whole process to a halt at the last council meeting. Green Councillors did what they promised to make decisions based on the issue at the time and what we believe can be achieved for York.