One-party councils raise corruption risks, ERS finds

18 Aug 15

A forthcoming report by the Electoral Reform Society is to raise concerns that local authorities dominated by a single political party appear more prone to corruption than councils where there is a more even balance between parties.

The research, which is being prepared by the ERS as part of its work into local accountability, will be published next month in time for the autumn party political conference season.

Ahead of publication, Public Finance has been told that the report will demonstrate that councils dominated by one group – measured by uncontested seats or one party holding two-thirds of council seats – are at greater risk of corruption, particularly in procurement decisions.

The research by University of Cambridge academic Mihály Fazekas points to a “clear relationship between poor accountability at the ballot box and risks of corruption in local government contracting”, the ERS told PF.

The study has used data on contracts from 2009 to 2013 to look for procurement “red flags” – such as where only a single bid is submitted or where there was a shortened length of time between advertising the bid and the submission deadline. It has also looked at the difference between the original estimated contract value and the actual final contract value, with savings indicating healthy competition among bidders.

The final report will show that weak accountability in either council elections or party control can lead to both a substantially higher corruption risk and lower procurement cost savings, ERS deputy chief executive Darren Hughes told PF.

Ahead of publication of the report, he said that a clear link has been established between unopposed local councils and poor contracting.

“When single parties have almost complete control of councils, it appears that this is a recipe for laziness when it comes to securing decent contracts for services,” Hughes explained.

“The public seem to be getting a much poorer deal in areas where they have what are essentially single-party states running their services. It’s an extremely worrying situation.

“England and Wales’ first past the post voting system for local elections only makes this worse, with parties able to win the vast majority of seats often on a minority of the vote. A proportional system, such as the systems used in Northern Ireland and Scotland, would make ‘one party states’ a thing of the past – and would bring greater transparency and scrutiny to current shady contracting committees,” Hughes said.

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