MID Devon District Council (MDDC) has a Scrutiny Committee, as do most councils. The Scrutiny Committee consists of 12 members and due to the political makeup of the council 10 of its members, which includes the chairperson, are from the majority Liberal Democrat Party.

There is ample guidance on the role of Scrutiny Committees and they can independently examine most functions of the council. The most recognised function is to be independent of the Cabinet and act as a “critical friend”.

In a recent Parliamentary discussion about the “goings on” at MDDC, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Simon Hoare, included in his response the following words: “My honourable friend is absolutely right to raise the importance of Scrutiny. Scrutiny is a key function of Local Government…It is particularly important when any party has a very large majority, as the Liberal Democrats do in Mid Devon at the moment. One almost needs to double up and double down on scrutiny in order to prove beyond peradventure that that job is being done.”

On December 18, 2023, the MDDC Scrutiny Committee received a “no blame – lessons learned” report into the Council-owned, loss-making 3Rivers Development Company, prepared by a working group of the committee.

The report is online for all to read.

It will be seen that it was prepared to a tight time schedule and the report authors openly accept that they would like to have had more time as they could not interview all the people they would like to have and they did not inspect all documents or listen to any audio recordings of meetings. They did not even speak to two former Leaders of the Council.

At the Scrutiny Committee Meeting members of the public drew attention to errors in the report and asked if the correct facts would be considered, more relevant evidence received and more time given.

It was also asked if the report was to be considered by Audit Committee, Cabinet or Full Council. All such questions and suggestions were met with a firm “NO”.

One public question was as to who had set the timescale for the presentation of the report.

The very clear response was “The Leader in conjunction with the Chair of Scrutiny.”

One of the authors of the report stated that he would have liked more time to have spoken to more people who could have provided information.

At Full Council on December 20, 2023, in response to a question from a member of the public, the Leader of the Council gave a firm “NO” to the report being further considered outside of the Scrutiny Committee and further stated his view that the Council would be satisfied with the report. 

The Leader appears to be dictating the work of the Scrutiny Committee and denying the Council any opportunity to consider and debate the “lessons learned” report.

The ruling party appear to be setting the curriculum, setting the questions, marking their own answers, and deciding the final outcome. 

All regardless of the full true facts which have never really been thoroughly sought or tested.

The public seem to be the only ones asking searching questions, like why couldn’t all the witnesses be interviewed; why was there no proper error checking of the final report and why are Council not being allowed to consider the report?

MDDC is looking to save money for the budget.

It appears that it could do away with the Scrutiny Committee and save a few thousands!

Barry G J Warren

Cherry Close

Willand Old Village