Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government Robert Jenrick has been skewered by his involvement in a local planning case in London that circumstances suggest benefitted a Tory donor.
A debate has flared up over the role that Jenrick has played. But beyond the smokescreen that his involvement has provided for the PM, questions have been raised by journalists and politicians alike over the Minister’s interference in a local policy decision.
Lib Dem Leadership Contender Layla Moran has gone as far to state on Twitter that Jenrick has gained personally from the transaction and should as such immediately resign.
Ms Moran could be on very dodgy ground making such a statement if it is read purely in the sense of receiving a financial reward of some kind, and that is precisely the way that her Tweet reads when you relate it directly to the challenge from The Mail on Sunday’s Harry Cole.
When we hear the term corruption, most of us immediately assume that it only applies when there is an exchange of money involved. Yet corruption itself is by far a much more nebulous thing.
The term corruption arguably applies to any transaction in the public sector or government where any preferential interest or misuse of power in public office has been shown.
It is after all the cost of anything that has been done or any decisions made in the pursuit of self-interest on the public or the taxpayer – whatever that might be – that really matters. Because it is the outcome of that influence being applied that leaves the world around us and the experience that we have as mere mortals not turning out they should if all was being played fair that really counts.
The Planning system in the UK is fundamentally flawed. It has been for some time.
Unbeknown to many trusting local people, the planning decisions they think are being made by local councillors have already been framed by planning criteria that was set up and imposed by faceless bureaucrats in London.
It is therefore not decisions but interpretations of planning decisions that are locally made.
Regrettably, the way that the system is set up pretty much guarantees that dodgy decisions can be made with little scrutiny, simply because of how arduous and costly it is to appeal, particularly when powerful and malign influences or outright stupidity are involved.
As a former Councillor who effectively resigned my seat when I walked away from the Conservative Party over a local Group’s pursuit of a highly controversial planning strategy which was ultimately rejected by the Secretary of State, I am well acquainted with the dubious practices and decision making that defies all logic in terms of planning frameworks.
I may not have seen the passing of brown envelopes between councillors whose votes were for hire. But I am damned sure that with some of the decisions I saw made, there was too much smoke around the whole process and debate for there to have been no fires burning in between.
I have seen it happen frequently in other authorities too. Whilst it will always be very difficult for anyone without adequate power and influence to prove otherwise, the reality is that people in positions of power like Mr Jenrick can absolutely change the destiny of whole Towns, Villages, City suburbs and the people and communities within them simply by picking up the phone – if they so choose.
Yes, the whole system needs to change. But the fix is not so simple as letting Dominic Cummings roll in with the creation of yet another bureaucratic body to make decisions in a democracy that are themselves no longer democratic in any way.
Planning Committees are simply too big and there is too much scope for corruption in the broadest or pecuniary sense to be involved.
Corruption exists throughout government and the public sector. But this corruption exists as ideas, as behaviours, as preferences as well as picking up the phone or sending a letter, and there’s a lot more being lost by the public as a result than any money changing hands – if and when that is the level of corruption that is involved.