Tagged: council officials

‘Public at mercy of council pen-pushers’ says civil rights group

The number of council officials with the power to enter homes in South Tyneside is too high, say civil rights campaigners.

South Tyneside Council employs 61 officers who have powers of entry which enable them to barge into homes and businesses across the borough.

This covers regulatory roles such environmental health and trading standards officers.

However, campaigners at Big Brother Watch (BBW) – a civil liberties and privacy group which obtained the figures – believe the public has been left ‘at the mercy of pen-pushers who can enter our homes as they please’.

But council bosses say that it’s very rare for an officer to gain entry to a property by force, with the normal procedure being to notify occupiers first.

A South Tyneside Council spokesman said:

“Powers of entry are set out by Parliament when enacting legislation and are essential to enable councils to carry out their statutory functions.

“They are available to staff across our regulatory services, which cover things like seizing illicit goods from business premises and enforcing building regulations, to carrying out environmental health inspections and food safety checks where there is a risk to public health.

“It is rare that officers have to exercise this power as a right, as most property owners and businesses premises permit entry.

“The council has robust policies and procedures in place to ensure that these powers are only used where necessary and that they are used properly and in accordance with the law.

“Without these powers the council would not be able to provide the same level of reassurance and protection local people demand and deserve.”

South Tyneside Council has 11 building control officers with powers, 14 planning officials, 13 trading standards and licensing officers and 23 environmental health workers.

Newcastle City Council employes 107 officers with powers of entry.

North Tyneside Council told the BBW it has zero officers.

Northumberland County has 541.

Sunderland City Council refused to provide their figures due time and cost restraints.

Emma Carr, director of BBW, said:

“Few people would expect that public officials would have the power to enter your home or business, often without a warrant or police escort. The general public have been left high and dry, at the mercy of an army of pen-pushers who can enter our homes as they please.

“There have been a number of missed opportunities to rectify this, including the Protection of Freedoms Act and the Home Office’s review of the powers, yet both have failed to tackle the number of officials with these powers.”

Source – Shields Gazette,  16 Jan 2015

New North East super council is given the green light

A new super council will be formed on April 1, allowing the North East to compete for millions of pounds in Government funding.

After months of internal rows and territorial battles, the North East’s seven council leaders have secured Government backing to form a Combined Authority.

The move means, for example, that decisions over major transport and jobs investment in Northumberland or Newcastle must be made only after the views of the other council leaders have been taken into account.

There will be no changes to local councils, with voters still electing their local councillor and the same group collecting bins and looking after those in care.

> But we won’t get to vote in matters directly involving this super council ?

But behind the scenes the North East Combined Authority will be seen as the lead voice for the region in Whitehall.

The seven leaders, and their chief executives, will share decision making over skills, transport and investment, have the chance to secure control over any devolved Government budgets and a say in how the region bids for the £2bn Government Growth Fund.

> And no doubt they’ll also share an extra wad in their pay packets.

Cities minister Mr Clark has told MPs he thinks it is “a huge advance in the North East” and called for council leaders, MPs and other jobs groups to come together to formally discuss with him the next steps for the region.

> And will we – those most affected by any decisions – have any input ?

Former regional minister Nick Brown recently secured a series of regular meetings with the cities minister amid concerns the region’s case was not being heard in parliament.

Last night he told The Journal: “If we want access to the money we have to comply with the Government’s preferred structures, and it is very important that members of parliament are involved and can represent their constituents.”

The combined authority sees Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council and Sunderland City Council form a legally binding structure with the power to borrow cash and the responsibility to share risk.

Simon Henig, the Durham council leader set to chair the combined authority, said: “Working together is the best way to promote jobs and growth and to secure devolution of funding, powers and responsibilities from Government.

“We share ambitious plans for the future of our area and we are determined to work together to deliver them.

“We are therefore delighted to receive today’s news from Cabinet Office and look forward to the necessary formalities being progressed so that we can launch on April 1 this year. This is an important and exciting moment in our history and we are ready now to deliver on our ambitious plans.”

Hopes of forming a combined authority had appeared slim earlier this year when  Sunderland Council had halted the process amid concerns that Newcastle would hold too much influence.

Ministers, civil servants and council officials put pressure on Sunderland to drop its objections, but it was only once leader Paul Watson secured a stronger negotiating hand on the leaders’ board that it could go ahead.

There were then further delays when Sunderland decided to hold out for a multi-million pound investment package from the Government for Wearside before going ahead.

This Sunderland City Deal, set to see some £50m spent on a new business park based around Nissan, is now in the final stage of negotiations.

> So it’s all decided, signed, sealed and delivered. You had no input, it doesn’t appear you’ll ever get the chance for meaningful input… but then, this is  all about the really important people, like councillors and businessmen.  Business as usual, in fact.

Source – Newcastle Journal,  06 March 2014