Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Housing Scandal Pratfalls

I've just been having a read of the Evening Post's reports about last night's Council meeting called to discuss the recent Audit Commission report on council house thievery. You might have heard something of this.

It turns out that, despite all the rhetoric, NCC aren't going to make a formal referral to the police after all. Strangely, the formal response issued immediately on publication of the report which quoted Jon Collins extensively (and which I linked to in my earlier article) seems to be no longer available so I can't go back and compare his attitude then with now.

[Update, thanks to Nick B (see comments) here's a quote from JoCo from that statement;

"The Police were informed in 2006 of investigations into these matters and we may ask them to consider again whether they should investigate them now. Where individuals involved in any of these cases are still employed by either organisation internal investigations will be commenced immediately." (my emphasis)

So he left himself some wiggle room. We 'may' ask the police to look into it but, now much of the fuss has died down we're not going to bother. Lets move on eh people?]

However the fun really starts when opposition councillors start suggesting that, horror of horrors, Labour councillors might possibly have realised that their humble and completely legitimate representations on behalf of their constituents got them a not totally legitimate leg up the queue. Cllr Brian Grocock is the headline boy on this one. For some reason he pretended that a constituent was a relative when contacting on his behalf. Its difficult to imagine a reason for this other than that the clear message that 'Cllr Grocock's lad' needed a house pronto would be heard loud and clear.

One of the Lib Dems highlighted a case where JoCo himself wrote in on behalf of a constituent resulting in a memo from Tyron Browne saying

"As you are aware this is a case that has been brought to my attention by the leader, I should appreciate it, therefore, if you would arrange for an offer to be made as soon as possible."

On being confronted with this JoCo apparently showed his statesmanlike qualities by calling the Lib Dem a 'prat' and blaming his secretary.

Whats interesting to me here is the whole dynamic of what was happening in NCH at the time and, probably, for years previously. Councillors will say in their defence that they never explicitly ordered staff to bump their constituents up the queue and therefore accusations of a conspiracy are unfounded. Yet clearly the report from the Audit Commission shows that those constituents clearly benefited.

I think there are parallels with a media theory constructed by Chomsky and Herman called the 'Propaganda Model'. This examines how the media's capitalist interests effectively 'filter' the stories that are published but not necessarily by an explicit central 'command' from capitalists. Rather a "...decentralized and nonconspiratorial...system of control and processing..." occurs, carried out by individuals who nevertheless are aware of what's expected of them.

So I think a similar thing was happening at NCH/NCC Housing Dept. Of course, councillors never said "move these people to the top of the queue" because they never needed to do, staff already knew what to do. Occasionally a hint would have to be dropped such as claiming that the constituent was a grandson for instance but generally the wheels were already well greased.

Incidentally this whole business of Cllr Grocock is very strange. In an ideal world where everybody is above board, when a Councillor makes representations on behalf of a constituent who is also a close family member or friend, in my experience at other authorities they would declare this interest. The idea being that everyone is open and honest and a councillor's family doesn't get an unfair advantage.

Yet in Nottingham, the Grocock case shows that not only had this basic principle of accountability flown out of the window, it had actually been turned inside out so that a Councillor, knowing that one of his family members would get special treatment, went as far as pretending that a constituent was a family member so they could take advantage of the family special offers too. Unbelievable.

1 comment:

Nick B. said...

Google still have a cached copy of that original response...