Corruption, usually defined as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’ can have considerable impacts on society and the economy, and it can undermine trust in politicians and democratic institutions. Corruption can lead to public money being spent on projects that line the pockets of corrupt politicians instead of delivering benefits for communities. Corruption costs the public purse, increased costs for businesses, diminishes external investment, reduces the efficiency of public administration and can cause harm to public services. Corruption by its nature is concealed by those involved and without proper means for reporting and recording incidents nationally, statistics and data are unavailable. The scale of the problem is unknown.
The Conservative and Lib Dem Coalition government between 2010 and 2015 significantly weakened protections and safeguards against corruption in local government. In particular, they disbanded the Audit Commission and leaving its role to be fulfilled by the private sector; and abolished the Standards Board for England along with national codes and standards against corruption, leaving local authorities responsible for ‘self-regulation’.
In Shropshire the risk of corruption is exacerbated by the concentration of local government powers and responsibilities in single unitary authorities which replaced the former two-tier council system, as well as the adoption of a ‘leader and cabinet’ governance model instead of the committee system. Furthermore, the electoral reality of safe and uncontested seats in many parts of Shropshire enables the domination of each unitary council by a single party (Conservatives or Labour) with two-thirds control.
The Shropshire Party places the fight against corruption and practices which enable or facilitate corrupt practices as one of its highest priorities. The risk of corruption in Shropshire is worsened by the political context of our unitary authorities where opposition parties are limited in their capacity to hold the administration to account. The governing parties are able to use their dominance to limit opportunities for transparency and accountabilities, for example by keeping control of audit and scrutiny committees. These practices have to end.
Our key policies are:
- We will fight and expose corruption and corrupt practices at every opportunity and support others in doing the same.
- We call for the reinstatement of a set of legally enforceable minimum ethical standards at a national level and the reestablishment of the Audit Commission to provide independent auditing of local authorities.
- We demand that private sector contractors hired to provide services in the public interest must be subject to high ethical standards including the ‘Nolan Principles’ and should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act with respect to work carried out for local authorities.
- We will always seek to ensure that council audit and scrutiny committees are balanced, independent and adequately resourced to investigate issues, regularly carry out corruption risk assessments, and hold the council fully to account.
- We will seek to strengthen mechanisms and protections for whistleblowers.
- We will seek to enforce commitments undertaken by developers under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, and ensure any failures are a matter of public record.
- We will campaign for electoral reform put an end to safe and uncontested seats which enable a single party to control councils without fear of being replaced.