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Thursday, March 24, 2005

 

Lincolnshire Poachers

Amid the general election fever, everyone seems to have forgotten that there will also be county council elections on 5th May. With any luck, this election will spell the final end for Lincolnshire's corrupt Tory county council.

This political scandal simply beggars belief (for the story so far, see my
posting of 29th November), the most notable event being the imprisonment of former Tory leader Jim Speechley for misconduct.

The latest development is the publication on 17th March of the
report of the Audit Commission's corporate governance inspection, and the political aftermath.

To say that the Audit Commission's report is a damning indictment would be an understatement, as this extract from the executive summary shows:

The council’s leadership is inadequate at a political, managerial, and community level. Leadership of the ruling political group is weak, and fails to establish expected norms of behaviour, conduct, and commitment to council business and councillor training. There has been a lack of political priority given to the implementation of recommendations arising from work commissioned by the council to help improve its governance. In particular there has been a failure to adequately progress the recommendations of the ethical governance audit. The council’s political leadership underestimates the impact that recent events, and their handling of them, continue to have on the council’s effectiveness, the morale of staff and on public perceptions of the council. We are not confident about the prospects for improvement in the council’s arrangements for leadership, culture and standards of conduct in the next 12 months given the denial of the need to change amongst key members of the executive.
Following the publication, the Tory leader Ian Croft and the rest of council's ruling executive resigned. Even then, Croft refused to accept responsibility for the council's failings in his resignation speech (see also national coverage from the BBC and Guardian but - surprise, surprise - nothing in the Tory press).

The local daily, the Lincolnshire Echo (whose editor is interviewed about the Echo's campaign against the council
here) had this to say yesterday about the collapse of the corrupt Tory regime:

There was a certain inevitability about the eventual demise of Ian Croft and his county council cabinet.

The council has, for several years now, been run by a lame-duck administration.

Councillor Croft and his cronies have lurched from one crisis to the next. Their credibility is in tatters.

Mistrusted, despised and cruelly ridiculed in roughly equal measure, they have led an authority which is demoralised and despondent.

Their crass ineptitude and bully-boy management style have made them unpopular among 15,000 council workers.

Their continual misuse of public funds has won them few friends among the county's long-suffering taxpayers.

Yesterday, at last, the county's ten most senior councillors decided to do the honourable thing. Even they realised that the game was finally up.

There is some suggestion that, astonishingly, clueless Coun Croft was keen to battle on. But facing fierce criticism from both independent inspectors and angry local Tory MPs - and with an election round the corner - even he realised it was time to go.

Now the people of Lincolnshire wait with bated breath to find out who will pick up the pieces after the disastrous reign of convicted criminal Jim Speechley and his stubbornly short-sighted sidekick Ian Croft. Surely things can't get any worse. Can they?
Apparently they can. The county council is now in a "constitutional crisis", according to the council's solicitor. The Labour opposition leader urged the creation of a cross-party caretaker administration until the elections in May but, incredibly, some of the Tory old guard were determined to cling on to power. Today they got their way, with the election of a new executive comprising only Tory councillors.

To an extent, it is gratifying that public bodies such as the Audit Commission can protect the public against corrupt councils. But the Liberal solution to such problems is ultimately public accountability rather than executive reports, otherwise we risk accepting the centralist logic that local people are unfit to run their own affairs.

Lincolnshire is a very Tory county (with six Conservatives out of seven MPs), but the ideal solution would be for the Tories to be swept out of the county council on 5th May on a popular vote.

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