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How Important is Openness In Decision Making As More Powers Are Devolved To Orkney?

Orkney Islands Council is currently running a consultation on their proposed procurement policy. ‘The Policy outlines how the Council takes a responsible and sustainable approach to procurement.’ This is how council money is spent.

OIC must ‘consider how in conducting the procurement process it can:

  • Improve the economic, social, and environmental wellbeing of the authority’s area
  • Facilitate the involvement of small and medium enterprises, third sector bodies
    and supported businesses in the process
  • Promote innovation’

It must also represent ‘value for money’.

 Executive Director of Corporate Services, Gillian Morrison said:

“The draft sustainable procurement policy sets out the aims of this Council in ensuring that the way we buy goods and services represents value for public money at the same time as supporting and benefiting our local community.”

Meet the BuyerAt a ‘Meet the Buyer Event’ over 50 representatives of businesses and organisations came together in Orkney  to hear about public procurement with the council and public bodies. The event was organised  by Orkney Islands Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. In Orkney 45% of the finance for public procurement is spent in Small and Medium businesses which compares to a Scottish average of 20%.

The Procurement Policy document is in line with the council’s aims and values an incredibly difficult balance to achieve between those and value for money. You can find out more and engage in the consultation here. The closing date for completed questionnaires is 17:00 on 16 November 2017. 

How Does Lobbying Affect Decision Making?

The issue of procurement also brings into the limelight the issue of lobbying.

Lobbying is: “the activity of trying to persuade someone in authority, usually an elected member of a government, to support laws or rules that  give your organization  or industry an advantage ” Cambridge Dictionary. 

Concern in how lobbying is affecting decision making at a national level has resulted in the Scottish Government setting up a Lobbying Register which will come into force in March of next year.

“the Lobbying Register website must be used by anyone who engages in regulated lobbying to record details of their activities. The Register is also searchable by anyone with an interest in finding out about regulated lobbying activity that has taken place.

All regulated lobbying in Scotland, as defined in the Lobbying (Scotland) Act, will have to be registered on Scotland’s new Lobbying Register.

Douglas Wands, The Acting Lobbying Registrar in the Scottish Parliament said:

 “It is vital that the system is not only transparent and informative but is easy to access and use.”

Guidance will also be issued on a Code of Conduct for those who engage in Lobbying.

What Happens At A Local Level

Local councillors also have to adhere to a code of conduct.

A spokesperson for the OIC informed The Orkney News:

“Following the local government elections in May this year, a comprehensive induction process was undertaken by Orkney’s newly elected Councillors. Lobbying and the Code of Conduct for Councillors were covered as part of the induction. Councillors also have access to advice from the Improvement Service, the national organisation which supports local government in Scotland.”

The advice to councillors on lobbying states:

“You may be lobbied by a wide range of people including individuals, organisations, companies and developers. As a general rule, it is an essential element of the democratic system that any individual should be able to lobby the Council or a councillor.”

“However, particular considerations apply when you are dealing with applications under regulatory powers such as planning and with matters of a quasi-judicial nature such as the determination of certain licence applications.”

If a councillor is found to have breached the code there are a range of measures that can be enacted from censuring (that’s getting a telling off) to disqualification as a councillor (that’s getting the sack).

What About Openness?

The Code of Conduct is very clear on the requirement for openness in decision making.

“You have a duty to be as open as possible about your decisions and actions, giving reasons for your decisions and restricting information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.”

steve-sankey

Steve Sankey councillor for East Mainland, South Ronaldsay and Burray

During the elections to the council this year concern was raised about the apparent secrecy in decision making in the OIC. Steve Sankey, now a Green councillor said during the campaign:

“There are many issues that are debated by councillors and officers in secret, and I’m wondering whether obfuscation is becoming more prevalent.”

“Like many of you I feel that too many decisions made by OIC are behind closed doors and secretive, including for example important decisions about local services, such as the Language Unit, and the future of the short-sea crossing from Burwick. This has to stop. Transparency and good communication are vital.”

At the recent visit to Orkney of the Rural, Economic, and Connectivity Committee (RECC) of the Scottish Parliament council representatives from both Orkney and Shetland were quizzed by MSPs about the openness of decision making in the Island Authorities.

The MSPs had held meetings with local organisations during the day and the issue of local decision making had been raised with them.

Islands (Scotland) Bill

Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2017. Licensed under the Scottish Parliament Copyright Licence Credit Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

 Being questioned by John Finnie MSP on the accountability of independent councillors, James Stockan replied that they were ‘accountable at every election‘.

What If More Powers Come To The Islands?

With the Islands Bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament and the proposed Islands Plan how decisions are made in Orkney will affect our lives in the islands even more.

The Islands Bill (Islands Proofing and the Islands Plan) has been described as being potentially ‘transformational’ by Leader of the OIC James Stockan. Additional revenues would also accrue to the OIC from the management of the Crown Estate when it is passed over to the council.

Openness in decision making, lobbying, procurement and the accountability of councillors are all important elements in how services are delivered in Orkney. Engaging in consultations is one aspect of this. Being aware of what your local councillor  and council is doing in your name will become increasingly essential as more powers are devolved to Orkney.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

 

 

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