A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, April 07, 2008

There goes another way of representing constituents

One of my pet hates is the gradual erosion of councillors' and MPs' powers to advocate on behalf of individual constituents.

This started with the new Licensing Act, which stopped councillors from initiating campaigns against licensing applications from premises in our wards that might be causing a nuisance - we can react if approached first by residents but are no longer allowed to spot a licensing issue and prompt residents to object to it.

Now, I learn that the Traffic Management Act 2004, which defines how local authorities must now run their parking enforcement operations, came into force on 31 March 2008. Under the Act councillors and MPs can no longer become involved in representations against penalty charge notices (PCNs). This includes forwarding an appeal on behalf of a constituent. So, if a constituent comes to me, or their MP, asking us to make representations on their behalf, we have to say no.

It's frustrating enough for members of the public to deal with officialdom. But when the law actually starts banning elected representatives from helping constituents who come to them for help on these issues, it must be doubly frustrating and alienating.

Surely those of us elected to public office should have the right to exercise our own judgement about when and when not to make representations on behalf of a constituent - and our constituents should have a right to expect us to advocate for them - not have the policy areas where we are allowed to do this constrained by law?

Where is this going to end - will it become illegal to intervene in housing cases, or about library fines, or about school place allocations, or about immigration cases?

What is the point in the ward/constituency representative role of councillors and MPs if we are not allowed to speak up for individual residents on any subject they want our help on?

These kind of constraints particularly hurt the most socially excluded. The articulate middle classes can often write letters, submit appeals, turn up to committee meetings and speak etc. themselves. People without the confidence or communication skills to do this - perhaps because they are intimidated by officialdom or English is their second language - rely on councillors and MPs to speak out on their behalf when they feel something has been mal-administered or might adversely affect them.

10 Comments:

Blogger Merseymike said...

This also appears contradictory to the government's position in setting up the cabinet system - to give local councillors more time to concentrate on this sort of local issue.

I was suspicious then, and for good reason!

11:28 am, April 07, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Der! It's your unelected government that has bought in these new rules. The Conservatives are the new peoples party.

BACK BORIS!!!

8:10 pm, April 07, 2008

 
Anonymous Rich said...

Since Labour has been in power councils have waged war on the motorists and yet road deaths have soared and congestion is worse. About three years ago I got 3 points for going just 4mph over the speed limit,,,,this is blatant taxation. There are more boy racers using our roads as race tracks yet councils attack motorists who on the whole stick to the speed limits.

Having lost a close relative to an RTA I'm the first to campaign for responsible driving. But they way in which motorists are being attacked by electronic policing is disgraceful. The courts will now allow the issuing of parking tickets via CCTV.

What we need is more police not electronics. We need to go back to human judgment...where it is the police officer that decides whether your driving is dangerous and not a camera.

9:30 pm, April 07, 2008

 
Anonymous Rich said...

No mention of the removal of the 10% tax rate luke. Something that will hurt all hard working people earning less than 18k....but no mention of this at all.

How the hell can you lot support this government.

9:42 pm, April 07, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you still have the right of representation - you just are not allowed to make the decision on any query or appeal, unless Hackney have made an arbutrary decision based on the guidance:
11.21 Elected members may wish to review their parking representations
policies, particularly in the area of discretion, to ensure consistency with published policies. However, elected members and unauthorised staff should not, under any circumstances, play a part in deciding the outcome of individual challenges or representations. This is to ensure
that only fully trained staff make decisions on the facts presented.
The authority’s standing orders should be specific as to which officers have the authority to cancel PCNs. There should also be a clear audit trail of decisions taken with reasons for those decisions.

10:48 pm, April 07, 2008

 
Anonymous Dyanne Costello said...

Thanks Luke. I too am appalled by the "gradual erosion of councillors' and MPs' powers to advocate on behalf of individual constituents [which] started with the new Licensing Act."

Any chance you could brief us on which fool you think is responsible for this stupid act?

3:05 am, April 08, 2008

 
Anonymous Adam Peat said...

dyanne - It was a concession made to the drinks industry intended to alleviate fears over abuses of process following liberalisation and the switch of licensing from magistrates to local councils. That was IMHO a sensible move. Magistrates job is to judge on matters of law, not formulate local licensing policy. It is fairly apparent given the aggressive way in which pub chains have fought efforts to restrict licences that aspects of the legislation could be amended whilst still giving the right to take an authority to judicial review if any councillor is actually showing predjudice.

Agree with Luke's general point too. it is ridiculous that directly elected representatives, with a mandate from the people should have less freedom to express opinions on matters that affect their constituents than private citizens. The erosion has been substantially extended by the menacing antics of the Standards Commissioners in England & Wales. The creation of this office was a lamentable error, with easilly foreseeable consequences as the various jobsworths sought to make work for themselves and stake out their territory, eagerly assisted by thousands of frivolous, vexatious and downright vicious referrals of local councillors by their political enemies. The power to disqualify an elected official should rest only with the crown courts and the electorate. British local government managed perfectly well without this position and it has not noticeably improved the general standard of conduct of councillors one iota.

9:47 am, April 08, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a moment I thought I read "There goes another way of representing consultants"

1:24 pm, April 08, 2008

 
Anonymous Dan said...

Luke, I'm not sure this is right (in either case) - it may be that someone has misunderstood the law and/or is being over-cautious.

Do you have the statutory references here?

6:04 pm, April 08, 2008

 
Anonymous Darren Parker said...

"The erosion has been substantially extended by the menacing antics of the Standards Commissioners in England & Wales. The creation of this office was a lamentable error, with easilly foreseeable consequences as the various jobsworths sought to make work for themselves and stake out their territory, eagerly assisted by thousands of frivolous, vexatious and downright vicious referrals of local councillors by their political enemies. The power to disqualify an elected official should rest only with the crown courts and the electorate."

Hear, hear! I was only a little bit naughty and it was Luke wot put me up to it, after all.

8:12 pm, April 08, 2008

 

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