Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum by Wychavon District Council (LAG 10(a))

  After the District Council elections two years ago we had 22 new members in a council of 49, we knew of the government's intention in respect of local authority governance but to have denied these new members any opportunity to participate in the decision making process would have been a denial of democracy.

  At least in parliament MPs have retained the right to participate in the decision making process.

  So we set out to devise a system that fulfils the government's intention without creating a two tier status of councillors. Our system as outlined in our written evidence is working very well. We are a very streamlined, efficient and outreaching community based authority. Reading the written evidence submitted it would appear that all other authorities where cabinet style administration has been introduced are setting up an alternative structure to retain the interests of the vast majority of the councillors who have been marginalised, and to seek in the county or rural district to identify with the community as part of the scrutiny system. Our approach is to involve the public and have the debate before the decision is taken. In our area community forums are unnecessary as we have some 85 elected parish councils. A forum is either just a talking shop or becomes a means to bypass the democratic structure.

  We are an authority created out of five local authorities. Area committees or forums would take us back to where we were all those years ago. We do not see why Hilary Armstrong chose an arbitrary population size of 85,000 where she would consider a fourth option.

  We believe that our electorate ought to have some say as to what is applicable in our district, it is a basic fact that this democratic principle has been ignored by the current process. Despite there being no provision for comments as part of our consultation a range of unsolicited comments highlighting this democracy issue were made, for example:

    —  I don't like any of these options. What is wrong with our present democratic system?

    —  The system as it is. None of the printed options are properly democractic. Directly elected mayors in our rural area would be a nonsense.

    —  I have to add that I dislike all three options—what is wrong with the present system. It seems to work very well.

  In 1999 the consultation paper Local Leadership, local choice contained a checklist of government suggestions (see below) about the immediate steps that councils could take and our current management arrangements have addressed the majority of them.

  Government checklist of immediate steps councils can take:

    —  reducing the number of committees:  19 down to five;

    —  reducing the number of members on those committees:  21/2 down to 13/14;

    —  reducing or abolishing attendance allowance:  Done;

    —  introducing prototype cabinets:  Leaders Panel;

    —  introducing overview and scrutiny panels:  BVSR Panels & Standing Committees—Performance Management;

    —  re-evaluating their whistleblowing procedures:  Done;

    —  introducing standards committees with independent members:  Waited for guidance, will do in 2001;

    —  reviewing codes of conduct they have in place for members:  Waited for guidance, will do in 2001;

    —  reviewing officer/member protocols:  Done;

    —  introducing independent committees to advise on member councillors allowances:  Done and activated;

    —  refocusing the efforts of councillors on becoming the engine for public participation in decision taking:  Walkabouts, consultation events, question time;

    —  the arrangements they have in place for training both newly elected and serving councillors:  Training plan for new members and working with neighbouring Councils to produce joint plan.

March 2001

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