Examination of witnesses (Questions 156
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
CONNOLLY and MR
156. Can I welcome you to the Committee, and
ask you to identify ourselves for the record.
(Mr Stewart) Steve Stewart, Head of Corporate Strategy
Unit, Middlesbrough Borough Council.
(Ms Connolly) Sylvia Connolly, Deputy Leader of Middlesbrough
(Mr Houghton) Stephen Houghton, Leader of Barnsley
(Mr Coppard) Phil Coppard, Chief Executive of Barnsley
157. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction,
or are you happy to go straight to questions.
(Mr Houghton) Straight to questions.
158. Could you each tell us in turn what are
the benefits of your experimental arrangements?
(Mr Houghton) From a member perspective in Barnsley,
first of all, we have a more open system in the modernised arrangements
than we had previously. As a result of that, I think the public
understands the decision-making process of the council much more.
Elected members understand their roles more clearly, where under
the old system the roles were mixed in. In terms of decision-making
it is much more streamlined and therefore much more effective.
Overall I think we have seen service improvements arising from
the modernised arrangements.
Sir Paul Beresford
159. Could you explain the openness. You have
just said it is more open. How is it more open?
(Mr Houghton) Under the previous committee system
the decisions by and large were taken behind closed doors by the
political groups; that is no longer the case. The decisions are
obviously taken by cabinet on day-to-day matters within policy
and within budget. The cabinet recommends to the full council
directions in terms of key areas of the council's work. That is
an open process done in public to which, occasionally, the public
and certain members and the press are in attendance.
160. You do not have political group meetings
discussing these items at any stage?
(Mr Houghton) We do, but the political group meetings
come at the end of the process and not at the beginning, which
was the case under the previous system.
161. When was Barnsley last not controlled by
the Labour Party?
(Mr Coppard) 1933.
Mrs Dunwoody: A very intelligent group of people!
162. Perhaps your colleagues from Middlesbrough
could tell us what they think are the main strengths of the changes
they have put in?
(Ms Connolly) We feel that the decision-making process
is more streamlined now. We have fewer meetings and we are able
to deal with issues quicker than we did before. It is less cumbersome;
there is less time spent in meetings. Therefore, councillors are
able to spend more time in the community, instead of spending
all of their time in the town hall. Cabinet meetings are open;
they are publicly held. Therefore, there is a transparency about
the decision-making. We find we have taken a flexible view of
how we deal with our new structures; and we have been able to
change as we have gone along. We are able to find new ways of
working and pilot new ways of working. All of our non-executive
members have a role in scrutiny, and some of them have other responsibilities
163. When was Middlesbrough last not controlled
by the Labour Party?
(Ms Connolly) Some time in the 1940s, I think.
164. What do you think the main weaknesses are
which you have found in the new system?
(Mr Houghton) Initially I think cultural weaknesses.
Members were not used to the new form of governance. We had 150
years of one particular type of arrangement and members found
it difficult (and some members still do find it difficult) to
come to terms with the new roles and responsibilities. As a result
of that, I think training and development of members is a key
issue under the modernised arrangements, so people are aware and
understand what is required of them from the new system and they
are given the development and the skills in order to carry that
through. That is certainly an issue for us early on. Also on an
officer level, officers have had to come to terms with changes
in the way we do our business, and that has not always been easy
either because the relationships have started to change. It does
take time for people to get used to that, and for people to take
advantage of what has been brought about.
(Mr Coppard) I just want to add to what has been said
about the advantages of the new system from an officer perspective.
What it does mean is that there is just a single point of political
165. You mean there is just one member you have
(Mr Coppard) There is one cabinet. I should say that
all decisions in Barnsley are taken collectively by the cabinet
and they are not proposing to make use of the ability to have
single member decisions. All decisions are collective. There is
a single point of authoritythe cabinet. Previously we had
14 committees, each with a chairman and chief officer; each operated
a conspiracy to smuggle their business through the committee;
and each one represented a political power base separate from
the leader of the council and separate from the rule of the political
group. There were all those tensions and the senior management
team struggled to operate in that environment. Now the senior
management team has a very clear, single political agenda that
is set by the cabinet and any differences can be resolved.
166. Have you had any instance of any of your
councillors involved in scrutiny, as opposed to be involved in
cabinet, of being able to highlight some decision or some problem
with a decision which is not in the interests of the ratepayers?
(Mr Coppard) I am not sure "not in the interests
of the ratepayers", but certainly scrutiny committees are
very sharp on pulling up the cabinet on matters where they have
167. Have they been able to influence, and has
there been an instance in which there has been a change in decision?
(Mr Coppard) I think there are two parts to that:
on the proactive part of that agenda, where they conduct their
own investigations into matters, they have very significantly
influenced the council's policy in a number of areas.
(Mr Coppard) On road safety, for example, we now have
a system of 20 mile an hour zones around schools in the borough,
which is a direct result of the scrutiny commission bringing that
to the cabinet's attention.
169. Of course, changes like that would have
been invisible before because they would have taken place within
(Mr Coppard) No, they were strangled by the ruling
group, I think.
170. What is the second part, because you said
there are two parts?
(Mr Coppard) There is the reactive part as well. Obviously
the scrutiny commissions do scrutinise the actual decisions of
the cabinet. There have been quite a number of instances where
they have referred cabinet decisions back for further consideration.
171. How many of those have been reversed?
(Mr Coppard) I think very few have been reversed,
but a number have been modified.
Sir Paul Beresford
172. The procedure for that is that the executive
make a decision and, surprise, surprise, nobody in the majority
group knows about it; it goes through to the scrutiny committee
where a number of the majority group decide they do not like it,
so then does it go back for majority group decision?
(Mr Houghton) Could I just explain the process. In
Barnsley the cabinet can do two things: it can take day-to-day
decisions within policy and within budget. If the decision is
required either to introduce a new policy or change policy or
it is outside budget constraints that have been set, that must
be a recommendation to the council and that is a decision of all
members of the council to do that. The cabinet obviously outputs
its day-to-day decisions or its recommendations through the system.
The cabinet agenda is circulated to all members of the council
prior to the meeting. All cabinet decisions and recommendations
are circulated to all members of the council at the end of every
cabinet meeting, so people are fully aware of what is going on
in and around the cabinet. The meetings are open so if people
wish to attend, they do. Indeed some members, if there is an issue
about their individual ward or a general issue of concern, often
attend the cabinet meeting to see what is going on. Scrutiny commissions
then can obviously oversee what has happened within those cabinet
meetings. Particularly on recommended items, each one of those
is pulled in for scrutiny before it proceeds to full council.
The scrutiny commissions will take a view: either they are happy
with what is going forward and they pass that through; if they
are not happy they can refer that back to the cabinet and ask
them to have another look at the issue of concern. Indeed, on
a number of occasions they do so.
173. How many hours do the cabinet members put
in as opposed to how many hours the scrutiny members put in, in
terms of council business?
(Mr Houghton) It is difficult to assess. At the end
of the day, it depends on each individual member and their commitment
to the process. There is no doubt that the cabinet members do
put in hours far in excess of what is expected, and certainly
some of the chairs of the various scrutiny bodies, but I cannot
say that it is X hours for one and X hours for another.
174. What are the allowances for each category?
(Mr Houghton) The allowances were set by an independent
review panel 12 months ago. I have not got the figures before
me for individuals, but it is about £5,000 per year for the
chair of the scrutiny body.
175. How much do you get as Leader?
(Mr Houghton) There is a basic allowance plus a special
responsibility allowance of £17,000.
176. A total of £17,000?
(Mr Houghton) No, there is a basic allowance of round
about £7,500 on top on that.
(Mr Coppard) Every member gets the basic allowance
and then there is a special responsibility allowance on top of
177. And cabinet members?
(Mr Houghton) They will get a basic plus the SRA.
178. Which is?
(Mr Houghton) I cannot remember the SRA off-hand.
(Mr Houghton) I would think it is around £10,000.