Examination of witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
KERRY and MS
140. Your evidence seems to suggest that the
new arrangements should respect local diversitythat tends
to suggest that it does not. Are you saying that in fact the new
arrangements perfectly respect local diversity?
(Ms Jeffrey) I think what we are saying is that local
diversity has come through the new arrangements, and we welcome
that; that we are pleased it has been possible for flexibility
to be used on the ground.
(Ms Kerry) Although it has to be said that some authorities
would wish for more flexibility than currently exists in order
to reflect the diversity of approach that they would like to adopt.
There are examples quoted in our evidence (and you will hear later)
from Barnsley Council and their view about deputy cabinet members
and deputy portfolio holders; and evidence also supplied by East
Riding and Yorkshire Council, which is a balanced council, which
has a particular view about a single leader role.
141. How many local authorities are there within
(Ms Kerry) 22.
142. Supposing the scrutiny panels of all those
22 decided they wanted to look at the work of the regional assemblywould
you be able to go and take part in 22 scrutiny hearings?
(Ms Kerry) Yes.
143. It is a lot of work?
(Ms Kerry) Yes, it would be a lot of work, but if
we were called to account in that particular way by our member
authorities we would, of course, appear before them.
144. Who would provide that scrutiny panel with
the expertise to ask you the awkward questions?
(Ms Jeffrey) I think at the end of the day the local
authorities' expertise about what we do at regional level is very
much about how they see us operate. Our relationship with leaders
and chief executives is obviously an important and developing
one. It is the knowledge that comes through that relationship
that would allow them to have sufficient information to scrutinise
us, were that what they wished to do.
145. Do you think it should be their role to
scrutinise you? Or should you yourselves have some scrutiny mechanism
(Ms Kerry) We do not have formal scrutiny arrangements
in place within the Regional Assembly at present; but we do adopt
a fairly informal and rigorous approach to what we do and how
we do it.
146. One of the roles is to represent the region,
is it not? Supposing we went for either of the two models to go
for elected mayors. Would there not be a conflict of interest
between someone representing the region vigorously and someone
perhaps representing Leeds or Sheffield as mayor?
(Ms Kerry) Under the current arrangements?
147. There are two models for setting up mayors
within the area. How do you see this fitting into the framework?
(Ms Kerry) We are very careful in our activities in
the Regional Assembly only to undertake work which is regional
in nature and is strategic and which does not cut across work
which is more properly undertaken at a local authority level.
Intrinsically I do not believe that there is any more scope for
conflict with a mayoral model of the type you have identified
than there is with the existing situation that existswith
leaders representing their individual local authorities and having
their first allegiance to those individual local authorities,
and those leaders acting corporately at the regional level.
Chairman: You think that the model for elected
mayors would not cause you problems at all?
148. I do not know whether you have noticed
but there is a slight dispute in this Place about the powers exercised
by the European Union and those powers exercised by Parliament.
You are saying you have found the magic solution. That by restraint
from the regional government or the regional assembly you would
be able to decide that this is a regional issue rather than an
issue that affects a city or a borough and, magically, you would
somehow be able to avoid this contest of responsibility?
(Ms Jeffrey) I think the difference lies in the structure
we have at the moment. What you have to remember is that the regional
assembly is made up of leaders of the individual local authorities;
they are not directly elected representatives.
149. The point the Chairman was making was,
when you get two competing mayors at different levels there is
the potential outcome, of a system that has been foisted on local
government under these Acts, of a problem.
(Ms Jeffrey) That is no different from the situation
we have currently, where leaders in the region meet together on
a regular basis to decide on issues of regional importance. Obviously
there will be times when the individual authority priority will
take precedence. If that is the case then we deal with that situation
as it arises.
150. Would Wychavon like to move to an elected
(Cllr Meikle) No.
151. Why not?
(Cllr Meikle) I think it is utterly and totally inappropriate
for a rural district that has three small towns which already
have their own mayors and 70 parishes. We have done the first
stage of the public consultation and there is no question about
itfrom the results of those responses we have had, from
organisations which include the parish councils, they would actually
opt for the status quo. In face-to-face consultation they
have actually put the question: "Isn't our elected member
going to be a second class member?"
152. Have you managed to steer them in that
direction, or is it totally spontaneous?
(Cllr Meikle) No, quite the reverse. We actually asked
to be allowed to give our own preferred choice and the Minister
refused specifically to allow us to do it. We could only consult
on the three options.
153. You think that was a really genuine consultation
with no steer from yourselves?
(Cllr Meikle) Hardly any. I have to say, if you are
having, as we do have, public consultation with the publicwe
have them in the three towns in January and Februaryif
you are in a face-to-face situation as we are this morning and
one is asked a question, one has to give an honest answer. Certainly
in the written publications, that have gone out prior to the consultation,
we have not actually proposed our own preferred choice.
154. Lastly, how many people actually participated
in that consultation?
(Cllr Meikle) Very small, and this is of some concern.
Again, it is not the subject of today, but we think that the amount
of consultation is reaching over-kill proportions. There is the
county council; there is the police; there is the health authority;
there is ourselves on the local structure plan; there is ourselves
on the budget; and there is ourselves on local government governance.
We do not find it very surprising we do not get much back in the
post. If we have a topic at a public meeting then we do get some
quite good attendances.
155. What do you call "quite good attendances"?
(Cllr Meikle) Between 70 and 90.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you both
for your evidence. Thank you.