When I did my University degree, it was part time over 6 years, rather than three years full time.
24 subjects whilst I was working in a pressure cooker of a job wasn’t easy but I stuck at it until I had one subject left to do, and I had planned to do that as a summer semester and then finish. Normally the summer subjects were a bit less intense than the main stream ones and my last one was to be an elective subject. I looked through the list and decided on “Government Administration”. How difficult could that be? Not so hard I mused and enrolled.
Boy was I wrong. This was in the late 80’s and there were lots of things happening in Australia and for that matter the world and a subject which I thought I knew a bit about was much more involved than I could ever imagine at the time.
As well as a week of Lectures we had to write 2 major essays from a list of about 10. To really get a good mark, they needed a great deal of work. So several hundred dollars later I had several publications to add to my library and I had to read them all as well….. before attempting the Essays.
I had to buy three Biographies and several other detailed books as well as a dictionary of Administrative Terminology.
Even though I had wanted an easy time to finish my degree, I rose to the occasion and tackled the subject full on and with gusto. I am glad I did so because now I generally understand how the Parliament works and why it works like it does.
This blog is a condensed version of why we vote for candidates, what they do, what the people who are fulltime employees do (Civil servants or officers) and the rules which generally govern them.
I have recently been watching the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the place where I was born and the way that they have been working in relation to the aged community in Residential Care on the Islands.
Frankly I have been appalled at the lack of understanding of Councillors and the officers who are responsible for the day to day running of the Council services.
This blog will explain why I think that the council have gone off the rails in their thinking and how the community of the Islands might rectify the undemocratic practices, which are happening at present.
Understanding the Westminster system of Parliamentary democracy.
At the Country Level
The Head of State is the Queen or Monarch of the day and they exercise their powers through the Prime Minister and cabinet Ministers chosen by the ruling party.
The Queen opens the Parliament and reads out the ruling party’s schedule of legislation which they want to introduce.
To introduce changes to the law of the land, the ruling party must put their plans before the Parliament in documents which are called Bills, and they are then voted on and passed if a majority agree in a vote on them. Both Houses of Parliament must pass a bill for it to become Law. Once it has been passed It becomes an Act of Parliament and is signed by the monarch (a largely ceremonial act in the 21st Century).
As we all know the Parliament at Westminster, consists of two Houses, The Lower is known as the House of Commons and the Upper House is known as the House of Lords.
The people who attend the Parliament are Members of Parliament and must be elected by divisions in the country known as constituencies. They are there to represent the people. That is the House of Commons. The Lords consist of Hereditary titled Lords (Dukes, Marquis, Earls, Viscounts and Barons). As well as life peers whose title lapses when they die.
Each house has a head. In the Commons this is the Speaker and in the Lords, The Lords Speaker. Each house is run according to a set of standing Orders, which detail the way business is to be discussed and voted on. Ample time is given to Bills to be fully discussed before they are voted on and pass into Law.
Sometimes an Act of Parliament allows the responsible minister to make regulations under the Act.
At the Local Level
In the case of Local Authorities or councils there is just one chamber and that chamber consists of Councillors or members.
Councillors are just like MP’s. They are the representatives of the community that is why there are elections to vote them in. MP’s and Councillors will normally have a list of current issues which dominate a community and on which they have a stance. Individuals in the community can make up their mind who to vote for from that set of values and policies.
Members of Council (Councillors) are elected by the community to represent the community in the governance of the community.
Full Councils meetings are held periodically and individual areas of Local Government are split off to be dealt with by Committees of Council. These meetings are also governed by standing orders which must be adhered to.
The Local Authority (Council) is governed by an Act of the Parliament at Westminster called the Local Government Act 1972. (As subsequently amended).
The Local Government Act specifically states when Councils can delegate Authority and what they should do when they delegate that Authority.
This can be found here:
Other Acts of the Parliament may also impact of what a council can do. In the case of the Isles of Scilly Council one such Act is the Health and Social Care Act 2008 and the regulations made by the Minister under that Act.
The regulations can be found here.
General Discussion of this System of Government
It is important to understand the following:
1/ The system must follow a set of well established rules, worked out over hundreds of years.
2/ The members who are voted into Parliament (Members of Parliament) and voted onto Council (Members of council) are done so by the community. They are servants of the community – NOT the other way around. So if a problem occurs as it did with Park House on the Isles of Scilly, it is a failure of the system and a complete misunderstanding of the system to say it’s up to the community to fix the Park House failure. No Council meetings were held to vote on the closure of Park House.
3/ If Members of Parliament and Councillors are not responsible, then what is the use of voting them in? What other powers could the Isles of Scilly Council give to officers?
4/ Meetings are held to discuss issues arising in the community.
5/ Councillors are given pertinent information to make decisions by full time officers who are employed by the council. Normally they are expert at what they do and should advise and recommend action after canvassing a range of options before the councillors.
6/ It is abnormal for a council to delegate it’s legally given authority to a council officer to make a decision.
7/ There is a Legal principle called Delegatus Non Posit Delegare which applies in many council decisions. This means that the delegate cannot delegate.
8/ For example the Lawful Authority, the Minister for Health has delegated responsibility for the Council of the Isles of Scilly to run a residential service for aged persons (Park House). A member of council has signed this as the registered person. The registered person (in the case of the Isles of Scilly Service at Park House) has then to Nominate an individual (Nominated Person) to carry out the duties outlined in the regulations. Those regulations are very specific; they prescribe what the nominated individual must do. They do not authorise the nominated person the delegation of the Isles of Scilly council (as the service provider) authority to close the service down.
9/ Decisions made by a properly constituted meeting of the council and/or it’s committees should be by a majority and a Quorum (a minimum number to be a properly constituted meeting) should also be present.
Does the system run like you understand it should?
It is very important that the community have confidence in their council members and that they are taking notice of their constituency. Councillors are not one man/women bands who can do or say what they like. Before they make decisions they should discuss issues with the community they represent. They are the servants of the community.
How can you change the system to make it run as it should?
1/ Make sure you read what the candidate has said in their manifesto.
2/ Make a list of the things which you would like to see happen and a list you definitely don’t want to happen.
3/ Talk to the prospective councillors and ask them questions, ask them their views of the subjects which concern you.
4/ Talk to your neighbours and ask them to ask questions about what you think should happen in your community.
5/ Ask them what they think are a councillors duties?
6/ Inform yourself about issues. Don’t believe what you read in newspapers or what the News tells you. They may just be repeating a mantra someone else has told them. That often happens.
7/ If an answer is wordy, critically evaluate the answer and ask yourself, is that credible? If they use percentages, ask where they obtained the data they are using? Ask for a copy to read. If they can’t give it to you move onto the next candidate.
8/ Expect excellence from your candidate and expect them to be well informed. Ask them where you can read about what they say? Search the internet and get a wide range of views.
9/ If you think they are trying to bamboozle you with words then ask them what they mean. I read that the Isles of Scilly council is Sui Generis. Has it got a disease? No it’s just unique that’s all. Why not say it’s unique. But not that unique that it doesn’t have to follow the set down rules and clauses in the Local Government Act.
10/ Finally if it sounds too good to be true it normally is. People have to be responsible for their actions. Don’t be afraid to make complaints or have your say if you think they are exceeding their authority. Don’t be bullied. Make an effort to fight wrongdoing wherever you see it.
Why do you vote?
Do you vote because of your values?
Do you vote because you are swayed by a political ideology?
Do you vote on religious grounds?
Or do you vote for the best candidate who will do the right thing by the community?
Candidates and parties: A look at what they say they will do and a look at what they have actually done.
Do you believe them?
Are they credible?
Can you fact check what they say?
Do they make sense or is their message just political babble and sloganeering?