Apparently the Labour cabinet were in uproar last night over the final report of the riots scrutiny panel. Usually Labour cabinet meetings are just a rubber stamping session where the administration formally agrees its business by agreeing a succession of detailed papers drawn up by officers. The Labour cabinet members hardly ever say anything at these meetings. Most of the talking is done by Labour leader Julian Bell. There is almost no debate.
Last night was different. Each Labour cabinet member took it in turns to lay into their own Cllr Shital Manro, the riots panel chairman and chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC), and tell him how much they hated the report. They gave the impression that they hated him too but that is another matter. Cllr Manro was reduced to pointing out that it might have been useful if they had bothered to read drafts of the report earlier in the process. The cabinet demanded that the report is re-written and, bizarrely, Cllr Manro agreed. Whenever does HM Government ask for a select committee report to be re-written? They can ignore it but they can’t change it. Labour really doesn’t get scrutiny.
They were considering a report by a cross party group of members into the riot; three Labour, three Conservative and one LibDem worked on the report, including me. It was a comprehensive bit of work and the report totally failed to make any political points. Indeed in his forward the panel’s chairman, Cllr Manro, said:
As we set about our work we were deluged with theories on the causes of the disturbances, theories which appeared mainly based on justifying entrenched views on the organisation of Society.
We discovered that although recognising the financial background and the pressures of a consumer society, less than 1% of our young people were on the streets that night and over half of those arrested did not come from Ealing. We, therefore, firmly concluded that it was opportunistic criminality that occurred and not a significant reflection of much else.
The report is well worth a read, see here. It lays out what happened and points out clearly what worked well and what didn’t.
This report, like all scrutiny reports that go to cabinet, was sent for noting (by cabinet). Scrutiny is designed to challenge the executive and to make recommendations for improvement in a non-partisan way. It is hard to see how cabinet can send back a scrutiny report to OSC for revision. They can ignore the report’s recommendations if they like. They can point out any shortcomings that they feel there might be. They cannot rewrite history. The report was a product of scrutiny, not the executive.