Sunday, 26 January 2014

Lobbying: big business and big government in East Devon

The 'lobbying bill', having been rejected by the Lords:
Futures Forum: Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill rejected by Lords
will return to the Lords once more:
38 Degrees | Blog | Gagging law: we won the argument but lost the vote
BBC Democracy Live - Lobbying bill timetable branded an 'absolute disgrace'
Lobbying Bill shows 'contempt' as 'charity gagging' plans return to Commons | Western Daily Press

With East Devon's two MPs voting with the government:

An interesting comment:

Sir Peter Bottomley has branded constituents as stupid and a nuisance for emailing MP’s about issues such as the Lobbying Bill because it causes them so much work, see above.  Hugo Swire seems to side step extra work generated by nuisance constituents writing to him about any issue by not replying to them directly but simply issuing a statement on his web site , always pro party-line of course.
see: http://www.hugoswire.org.uk/transparency-lobbying-non-party-campaigning-and-trade-union-administration-bill      for his highly glossed spin on the lobbying bill.    

He seems to be congratulating the government for giving the Lords extra time to respond but then of course like the EDDC they just go ahead and do what they wanted to do in the first place so that they can get the gagging orders ready for the 2015 election.  This sounds very self serving.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill | Hugo Swire

Meanwhile, public speaking is going to be limited at District Council meetings:

(c) Where the public wish to raise a question on an issue 
which is not included as an agenda item for the 
meeting, this to be submitted in writing to Democratic 
Services in advance (two clear working days before 
the meeting) to enable a considered response to be 
given in writing at the meeting if time permits. The 
speaker who has submitted the question two clear 
days in advance to be able to ask a supplementary 
question relevant to the original question. Two days’ 
notice is not required if the question being put to the 
Committee relates to a subject already included as an 
agenda item; 


The standards committee had previously (at its October meeting) made a series of recommendations, which included proposals for public questions to be in writing in advance of meetings, BUT the proposals were qualified with “where possible”, which allowed flexibility.
Then at November’s cabinet meeting – blog link here - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/cabinet_rubber-stamps_public_speaking_restriction/ the same recommendation was overturned with the words “where possible” deleted, which meant that all questions not related to items on the agenda must be submitted in writing two working days ahead of the meeting.
Following criticism at the November cabinet meeting (largely from myself and Cllr Giles) that the carefully debated recommendations from the standards committee were arbitrarily overruled, a senior officer said that the new recommendation would be returned to the standards committee.
This morning the new restriction was voted through by two votes to one. Voting in favour were Cllrs Frances Newth and Geoff Chamberlain. Voting against the proposal was Cllr Susie Bond.
Several thought-provoking comments from the independent (external) members of the standards committee were made about this approach.  But unfortunately, the external members of the committee lost their voting entitlement as part of the Localism Act in 2011, meaning that councillors are now the only standards committee members with the right to vote. This is very wrong in my view.


Whilst it seems, therefore, that holding the District Council to account might be more difficult, it also seems that the District Council has not been held in great esteem of late, with the number of complaints against Councillors hitting a record:
Complaints against councillors in East Devon “way higher” than in other councils | Exeter Express and Echo
Futures Forum: "The incidence of complaints in East Devon was 'way higher' than in other councils..."

Meanwhile, the letters pages of the Herald have been voicing concern about the treatment of Independent Cllr Roger Giles over his revelation of Ottery Town Council meetings with the county's 'leading house-builder':
Whose agenda? - Letters - Sidmouth Herald
Secrecy mistake - Letters - Sidmouth Herald
Councillor criticised over ‘breach of rules’ - News - Sidmouth Herald
Probe launched over claims Ottery St Mary councillor is guilty of disclosing confidential information | Exeter Express and Echo

It is in this context that Independent Cllr Claire Wright has voiced misgivings about the influence of big business:

George Monbiot insightful article on big business lobbying

The article below is by George Monbiot a couple of months ago and is fascinating.
Or at least I think it is - mainly because it echoes my own concerns that this country is increasingly being governed by big business, which are then ploughing large amounts of cash into party coffers.
The conservative party has already profited handsomely from allowing the controversial national planning policy framework to be written by a team of developers - and there are plenty of other examples, as Mr Monbiot points out below, where big businesses has decided a policy outcome.
The NHS is still smarting over the drinks industry squashing proposals for a minimum price for alcohol - something that just about every senior doctor in this country thought would be an effective way of trying to reduce alcoholism.
Let’s also not forget HS2, which the government paid with taxpayers money, aggressive lobbyists, £50m (this is on top of the actual cost of HS2 which is £50bn) to turn people’s genuine concerns and objections, into nimby rhetoric.
This is supposedly what the lobbying bill was to address - or at least it was to make this sort of lobbying more transparent. But instead it threatens the free speech of charities and campaigning not-for-profit organisations. 
And our two MPs appear happy to close their eyes and go along with the whole thing.

Indeed, the relationship between developers and council has been under the spotlight in East Devon lately:
Futures Forum: Development: 'commercial confidentiality', being held to 'ransom' and developers picking holes in each other’s sites.

The now-defunct, but at its time highly influential, East Devon Business Forum was largely made up of the District's larger companies:

The fiction that the EDBF represents all types of businesses in the district is exposed... by looking at the main attendees at their meetings.


And the District Council was more than happy to 'do business' with this grouping:

East Devon Business Forum, 3 February 2011 
Report by Karime Hassan, Corporate Director

Councillor Graham Brown was pleased to report that Karime Hassan, Corporate Director, had agreed to make a report to the Forum.

Karime Hassan reported that the biggest challenge facing the Business Forum was ensuring that there was a clear voice from business in East Devon. Before the formation of the Business Forum, engaging with business in East Devon had not always been easy, whereas in Exeter City there was a single voice for business. It had always easier to engage with resident groups and those who opposed development rather than those who were supportive. He confirmed that the regulatory regime that local authorities imposed could be felt to stifle business, particularly within the planning process. The way the local authority engaged with business was a matter of fundamental importance and had improved greatly due to the relationship EDDC had established with the Business Forum. 

The greater weight that had been given to the views of business since the establishment of the Business Forum was recognised, particularly over issues such as the lack of employment land supply.

Karime Hassan reported that the establishment of East Devon Business Forum had made his job as Corporate Director of EDDC easier as it was the voice of business in East Devon.

The question being, whether or not the EDBF was a 'lobby' - bringing us full circle to the beginning of this posting:
Chairman makes decision to postpone next Business TAFF meeting | Save Our Sidmouth
Futures Forum: Lobbying: East Devon Business Forum
New report: Scaring the living daylights out of people

To conclude: A challenge to George Monbiot from political theorist Kevin Carson on the relationship between big business on big government:

The Distorting Effects of Transportation Subsidies

This article won the 2011 Beth A. Hoffman Memorial Prize for Economic Writing.
Although critics on the left are very astute in describing the evils of present-day society, they usually fail to understand either the root of those problems (government intervention) or their solution (the operation of a freed market). In Progressive commentary on energy, pollution, and so on—otherwise often quite insightful—calls for government intervention are quite common. George Monbiot, for instance, has written that “[t]he only rational response to both the impending end of the Oil Age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming and our lives. But this cannot happen without massive political pressure.”
But this is precisely backward. Existing problems of excess energy consumption, pollution, big-box stores, the car culture, and suburban sprawl result from the “massive political pressure” that has already been applied, over the past several decades, to “redesign our cities, our farming, and our lives.” The root of all the problems Monbiot finds so objectionable is State intervention in the marketplace.
In particular, subsidies to transportation have probably done more than any other factor (with the possible exception of intellectual property law) to determine the present shape of the American corporate economy. Currently predominating firm sizes and market areas are the result of government subsidies to transportation.

Adam Smith argued over 200 years ago that the fairest way of funding transportation infrastructure was user fees rather than general revenues: “When the carriages which pass over a highway or a bridge, and the lighters which sail upon a navigable canal, pay toll in proportion to their weight or their tonnage, they pay for the maintenance of those public works exactly in proportion to the wear and tear which they occasion of them.”

This is not, however, how things were actually done. Powerful business interests have used their political influence since the beginning of American history to secure government funding for “internal improvements.” The real turning point was the government’s role in creating the railroad system from the mid-nineteenth century on. The national railroad system as we know it was almost entirely a creature of the State.

The Distorting Effects of Transportation Subsidies : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education
Center for a Stateless Society » Kevin Carson

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