Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The inconvenience of accountability

Hot on the heels of last week's post about the attempts by Dundee City Council's ruling administration to have cross-party discussions on the forthcoming budget cuts thrashed out in private comes another local attempt to avoid proper scrutiny, this time in the form of the Tayside Police Joint Board.

Convener Ian Mackintosh said that, in an effort to save money in anticipation of the forthcoming financial stringency, Tayside Police might have to refuse to entertain government police inspectors and the box-ticking of performance monitoring because of the heavy demands that these processes put on manpower. The force might also have to refuse freedom of information requests, according to Councillor Mackintosh.

Naturally, Courier journalist Stefan Morkis takes issue with this, pointing out that Tayside Police is obliged by law to comply with FoI enquiries, and that the appeals process would ensure any request was granted, ultimately at greater cost to the taxpayer than if the enquiry had been dealt with in the first place as required by law. He also says that if the force opted out of the inspection and review process then that would make Tayside Police "entirely unaccountable".

Thus Stefan clearly thinks little of the joint board's scrutiny role, although he doesn't say that directly. But the board has form on this type of thing, and it's not that long since Audit Scotland criticised its councillor members, claiming scrutiny was weak and that they did not fully understand their role, thus essentially the same criticism made regarding Dundee City Council. And, as pointed out here in the past, joint board members perhaps vindicated Audit Scotland's criticisms by indignantly claiming that if things are going well then there's no need for challenges from councillors, which in effect means the board is relying on others and the force itself to perform the scrutiny role.

Thus it's perhaps no surprise that its convener now seems to consider that aspects of pesky accountability should be jettisoned because they're financially inconvenient. Maybe a better idea would be to abolish the board itself, and the money saved could be allocated to maintaining what element of scrutiny actually exists, because it's self-evident that councillors perform no useful function in this regard.

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