Birmingham, B29

Thursday, 14 May 2009

pricing democracy

posted by pindec
How do local MPs stack up in the expenses row?

Dr Lynne Jones has published her own response, which says she abhors the abuse whilst taking a sly swipe at "well-paid journalists". Nevertheless, she embraces the transparency principle, linking to her They Work For You figures, which show that apart from staffing costs where she was ranked 15th out of 645, she's mostly way down the list of expense claims.

This is particularly interesting given that she's stepping down at the next election, and in contrast to efforts by others to feather their nests while on the way out.

Nearby Stephen McCabe (MP for Hall Green), on the other hand, overclaimed for his mortgage, which surprisingly doesn't make a mention on his website. He also voted strongly against a transparent parliament - a position which he may well find is untenable prior to the next election.

Local councillors

The row made me wonder about Birmingham City Council expenses transparency - and it's clear there's a lot of work to be done. It seems ridiculous (very Douglas Adams) that the Register of Allowances is only relevant to the current financial year, and that it and the full Register of Members Interests are only viewable in person at the Council House during office hours. [edit - thanks to Robert for digging out the URL for the Members Allowances - though note it's still a set of PDFs rather than a searchable data source].

How can it be acceptable that some members can opt out of the e-version of the Register of Members Interests? It may not be a legal requirement to provide an e-register, but surely it's an accountability requirement - especially given that the Council's Local Code of Governance claims the following:

"Governance is about how local governance bodies ensure that they are doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people, in a timely, inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner;"

Having an unsearchable expenses register and a partial e-register of interests is neither open nor accountable.

Also note that the e-version of the Register of Members' Interests is a scanned hand-written document filed by member (and therefore also unsearchable). To achieve "effective scrutiny", the Council should provide all this data online for people to query, visualise and cross-reference with, say, Councillor voting patterns to make up their own minds.

I'm not assuming that Councillors are overclaiming expenses, or voting in line with their special interests, but hiding the data in hand-written documents will conceal any patterns both from voters and from the scrutineers. Humans just aren't very good at visualising patterns from flat numbers, and if we don't have the data to make some shiny pie charts then voters may assume the worst.

So, out of interest, I've transcribed what information is available from the e-Register of Members' Interests here for B29 (Selly Oak) Councillors (be aware that transcription errors may arise from it mostly being hand-written):

Wright, Robert (LibDem) (see also his blog)

Statutory Register (07):

(i) Membership/control/management of bodies appointed/nominated by BCC
  • Local Access Forum
(ii) Other bodies
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Unlock Democracy (formerly Charter 88)
  • Amnesty International
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Public and Commercial Services Union
  • Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors
(iii) Any employment or business carried on by him
  • Civil Servant
(iv) Any person or body who employs or has appointed him:
  • Water Services Regulation Authority
(v) Any person or body other than BCC who has made a payment to him in respect of election or expenses in carrying out duties:
  • Selly Oak & Edgbaston Liberal Democrats
(viii) any land in BCC's area in which he has a financial interest:
  • 26 Cecil Road, Selly Park, B29 7QQ
Gifts Register: (07/08)
  • Birmingham Rep - 2 tickets for Hysteria (declined - est value £25)
  • 2 x West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority / Centro - meal (est value £25)
  • Birmingham Rep - 2 tickets for Rafta (est value £25)
  • Hyder Consulting Ltd - meal & ticket to carol concert - (est value over £25)
He was fortunate to decline the tickets for Hysteria - it was one of the worst plays I've seen for years (we left in the interval).

Interestingly, Robert both works for the Water Authority, appears to live in the area in Selly Park (Cecil Road) that got flooded last year, and has been dined by Hyder Consulting - an advisory and design consultancy working with BCC to try and solve the urban flooding issues - perhaps they are involved in the B29 flood modelling?

RADCLIFFE, DAVID (LibDem)

Statutory Register (07/08):

(ii) Other bodies
  • Liberal Democrats
  • University College Union
  • Association of University Administrators
  • Electoral Reform Society
  • Cyclists Touring Club
  • New Politics Network
  • Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors
  • Push Bikes
(iii) Any employment or business carried on by him
  • Senior Planning Officer, University of Birmingham
(iv) Any person or body who employs or has appointed him:
  • University of Birmingham
(v) Any person or body other than BCC who has made a payment to him in respect of election or expenses in carrying out duties:
  • Selly Oak Liberal Democrats
(viii) any land in BCC's area in which he has a financial interest:
  • 46 Regent St, Stirchley, B30 2LG
Gifts Register: (07/08)
  • WMPTA - meal (est value £25)
  • Birmigham Rep - 2 tickets for "Our House" (est value £50)
  • Birmingham Rep - 2 tickets for "His Dark Materials pt1" (est value £50)
  • Birmingham Rep - 2 tickets for "His Dark Materials pt 2" (est value £40)


DOW, ALISTAIR (LibDem)

Statutory Register (07):

(i) Membership/control/management of bodies appointed/nominated by BCC
  • Muntz Trust
  • SIFA / Fireside
  • Kings Norton United Charities
  • Birmingham Opera
  • Birmingham University Court
(ii) Other bodies
  • Aston University Free Church Chaplaincy
  • Warwickshire monthly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
(v) Any person or body other than BCC who has made a payment to him in respect of election or expenses in carrying out duties:
  • Selly Oak and Edgbaston Liberal Democrats
(viii) any land in BCC's area in which he has a financial interest:
  • 23 Hindon Square, Birmingham, B15 3HA
Gifts Register: (07/08)
  • 2 sets (?) Birmingham Rep tickets (refused)
  • PTEG dinner (est value £25)
  • Hippodrome - 2 tickets (est value £25)
  • Old Rep - 2 tickets (est value £25)
  • Robert Keys Associates - guest at Birmingham Post awards lunch (est value £25)
  • Redcliffe Catering - dinner (est value £25)
  • PTEG - dinner (est value £25)
  • Hyder Consulting - meal and carol concert (est value over £25)
PTEG may refer to the Passenger Transport Executive Group (publicly funded policy/strategy group on public transport). Robert Keys Associates - I couldn't find. Redcliffe Catering are local catering contractors.

There. That was a bit tedious, wasn't it? It's interesting to reveal the interests of our local counillors, but I still want to see their expenses .... Though it looks like the Birmingham Rep spends quite a lot of time giving out tickets to local councillors.

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1 Comments:

  • At 11:11 pm, May 25, 2009 , Blogger Robert Wright said...

    Annual payment schedules for councillors' allowances and expenses are on the Birmingham City Council website on this page (although you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find them!).

     

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