Examination of witnesses (Questions 251
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
CLLR A PHILIP
HENDRY CBE, MR
SHORTLAND and MR
251. May I welcome you to the Committee and
ask you to identify yourselves?
(Mr Jones) Thank you. I am Tegwyn Jones, I am the
Policy Manager of South Somerset District Council.
(Ms Shortland) Jill Shortland, Leader of South Somerset
(Cllr Hendry) Philip Hendry, Leader of Bedfordshire
(Mr Bell) David Bell, Chief Executive of Bedfordshire
Chairman: Do either of you want to say anything
by way of introduction, or are you happy for us to go straight
into questions? Straight into questions.
252. You are both, to a lesser or greater degree,
looking at area arrangements. Can I ask you what role area arrangements
can play in the new political management structures, beginning
with South Somerset?
(Ms Shortland) As you will see, I hope, from the paperwork
that you have been given we have had area committees in place
for a great deal of time. From our point of view what we were
hoping was that the new arrangements would not interfere with
what we see as being a successful way of working, and we appeared
before the Select Committee to actually give evidence 18 months
ago now to ensure, or to give evidence to hope to ensure, the
legislation was framed in that way. From our point of view now,
having been working with a pilot system for two yearsand
we changed it last year to try and reflect what we thought was
going to be in the legislation, we are almost there and we are
going to change again this yearthat is the nature of the
process, as far as we see it. We see what the Government has set
out as a framework and we, hopefully, can be flexible within that
framework. The benefits, certainly from our point of view, are
that all members of the council are effectively and actively involved
in the decision-making process on their area committees, and that
the functions that we have delegated to area committees are relevant
for that geographical area across the whole council.
253. I understand that. How are you going to
be able to carry on with it under the new arrangements?
(Ms Shortland) All the guidance that I have seen shows
that we can carry on with it under the new arrangements. As far
as we are concerned, it looks like the guidance notes have been
written for South Somerset District Council, so we have interpreted
it that way.
254. What is your population?
(Ms Shortland) 155,000. We have got a very large geographical
spread. That is the difference for South Somerset. We have a very
large area, which is rural with urban centres.
255. Does it balance out fairly well in size
of population? Approximately what size are the area committees?
(Ms Shortland) Area South is probably the biggest
in population terms but that is because Area South covers predominantly
Yeovil and the hinterland around it. Area East, for example, on
the other extreme, has a smaller population but has a much larger
geographical area. In terms of members, they range from having
19 elected membersobviously each elected member's ward
is about the same size across the whole district in population
termsdown to 13 on Area East.
256. Can I ask you whether, to fit in with the
new arrangements, you have had to distort your structure in a
way that you consider to be, perhaps, disadvantageous to your
(Ms Shortland) Last year we did and we changed the
way that we work to try and make it fit with the new arrangements.
The new cabinet that came in, instead of the old district committee,
was a change of membership in order to try and comply with what
the Government was saying we should be doing. It just did not
work. We found it very difficult to effectively take decisions
and effectively scrutinise those decisions. We became more an
authority which was looking at just the area committeesfour
areas coming together in a bodyas opposed to being a strategic
authority. We had the help of the Improvement and Development
Agency, which we invited in to do a review of our authority, and
with their help we have actually changed. The new cabinet this
year has been changed to move away from having area chairmen on
our cabinet because they said that we were in danger, they felt,
of eventually, if we carried on this way of working, becoming
effectively four mini-authorities in amongst a big authority.
So we have changed the way we are structured now to try and get
the best, if you like, of the legislation as well as the best
way of working for the council.
257. I can see from the evidence you have given
us that what you have done is you have had to change from having
this area based structure with executive functions to putting
those area chairmen on to the executivethat is rightand
now you have had to change that to then go, as I understand it,
so that the area chairmen are now part of the scrutiny committee
and the executive are the people with the functions that roll
across the whole of the district.
(Ms Shortland) Yes, but that has not changed the work
of the area committees. The area committee worktheir decision
making, their monitoring of their areahas not changed at
all, so their public face, if you like, has not changed at all.
(Mr Jones) There are still some executive decisions
that are made by area committees.
(Mr Jones) There are some.
259. But there are some that are no longer made
by them. Is that right?
(Mr Jones) Yes, indeed the vast majority of the executive
decisions are made by the leader and the cabinet.