Well my name has once again come up on the rota to sit on the Hartlepool Council Contract Scrutiny Panel. A committee so useless and pointless that it can't even get permanent members to sit on it, apart for the Chairman of course who receives an "additional responsibility allowance" for this vital post, amazing what people will do for an extra few quid a week.
A typical meeting starts with apologies for absence, mine usually! This week for example I has a full load of ready mixed concrete to lay on Monday morning and it arrives when the ready mix people decide it will. Order it for "first thing" and that can be any time between 8.00am and lunchtime. As anyone who has ever laid concrete will tell you it isn't really practical to take a break while tamping and leveling it and come back to it in a couple of hours, the dratted stuff will go off if you leave it and its very difficult to get a good finish after it has cured!). Anyway, after apologies we then open tenders for something or other, often vital things like the supply of fresh flowers for the Chief Executive's Office or the milk for the Mayor's Horlicks, all high level stuff. Of course the Councilors don't actually open anything, we just watch a number of Officers open envelopes and then sign a book to say they have seen them opened. The Officers then take the tenders away and "evaluate" them. The tenders opened at the previous meeting are then brought back to the Scrutiny panel and as a result of the evaluation a recommendation is made. To ensure no favouritism the tendering organisations are now referred to to as A, B, C, etc, no names are used, must be fair of course. The Councillors agree the Officer's recommendation, after all how can you challenge an "evaluation" and the contract is awarded.
The value added by having half a dozen councilors observe this process is precisely zero. The best thing that could be said for the Committee is that it usually doesn't take very long. Unfortunately to attend a half hour meeting can still take up a whole morning as the committee doesn't meet until 10.00am so there isn't time to do anything useful before hand, you just get started and then you have to leave to go to the meeting. Also by the time the meeting is over and you get back to work it's lunchtime and so the entire morning has been wasted.
If I was ever Chairman of this Committee (very, very unlikely that will ever happen, Chairman's positions are jealously guarded by the Labour Group and doled out as rewards for good boys and girls), but if I ever was Chairman, I'd hold the meeting at 8.00am so that it was over by 8.30am and I'd at least have the chance to do something useful with the rest of the morning, like earn a living! Still I suppose as the average Councilor is retired, unemployed, unemployable or in a nice public sector post with unlimited paid time off the the need to earn a living doesn't figure very high on their priority list. Of course this is one reason why so few people who live in the real world of mortgages, children, WORK, etc become Councilors, unless you have a very very understanding employer (or are retired, unemployed or unemployable or even better if you no longer need to work as you are getting a nice salary from the Boards, Trusts, etc that your mates have arranged for you) then getting time off work to attend pointless meetings isn't easy!