Local one party states are a gift for cronies and lobbyists

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 30th April 2021

England is likely to see swathes of ‘one-party councils’ picked next week, under England and Wales’ one-party takes all local electoral system.

Spread out over a whole council area, one party can get near 100% representation with less than half of the vote. When councils handle billions in contracts and public services, this poses major risks of dodgy contracts and lobbying going unscrutinised.

While Westminster’s lobbying scandal continues to grow, we need to have a closer look, closer to home.

In 2015 we found that councils dominated by single parties could be wasting as much as £2.6bn a year through a lack of scrutiny of their procurement processes.

The study, The Cost of One Party Councils, looked at thousands of public sector contracts, and found that one-party dominated councils are around 50% more at risk of corruption than politically competitive councils, paying far over the odds to lobbyist contractors.

Scotland and Northern Ireland already use a fair, proportional system for electing councillors – making local one-party states a thing of the past. Wales is letting local areas scrap First Past the Post and switch to the same system as Scotland and NI – the Single Transferable Vote.

Local one-party fiefdoms plague local government in England – with growing powers often wielded with shrinking oversight. It is a potential gift for lobbyists and shady contractors.

We often see the absurdity of ‘scrutiny committees’ – reviewing millions of pounds in contracts – being dominated by the same party in office.

The risks of winner-takes-all politics – of sloppy decision-making and dodgy dealings – are clear. One party councils could be wasting billions of pounds a year through a lack of proper oversight, according to the research. The warped voting system is actively raising the risks of corruption in England.

Voters deserve fair representation, not unjust domination by one party. Across England, voters want real choice and a clear voice – but they’re unable to break through the one-party ceiling.

A shift to proportional representation is vital to provide the effective scrutiny that voters need and deserve, and to open up the town hall cliques at last.

Instead, the Home Secretary is planning to make things worse by imposing First Past the Post on Mayors and PCC elections, a move that will hinder independents and deprive voters of real choice.

Nobody saved money by not checking things properly. If we want efficient local government, we need an effective local democracy, and then means councils that properly reflect their local areas.

Photo by Christopher Bill on Unsplash

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