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

Memorandum by Bill Acraman, West Sussex County Council Councillor, Mid Sussex North (LAG 49)

  You will have received a response from West Sussex Governance committee on the working so far of the Local Government Act. However, some additional comment from individual councillors of the authority might be welcome.

  A large number of councillors (almost certainly a majority) feel that we are now obliged to operate a less satisfactory system than before. The committee system had its weaknesses and needed reform, rather than abandonment.

  The system we now have, as the WSCC note makes clear, is a situation where a small number of councillors—the cabinet or executive—now have an unmanageable workload, whilst the bulk of councillors have less to do and have minimal influence on the course of events. They were elected to play a part in the government of the county, which they are quite unable to perform.

  A result of this imbalance is that three of the seven cabinet members do not wish to serve any longer in the cabinet; there are a large number of councillors choosing not to stand again this May, because they are unhappy with the system and all parties are having difficulty in recruiting candidates for the May elections.

  It will be increasingly difficult to recruit people to cabinet positions. Those in full time employment would find it impossible to combine a full time job with another job requiring more than three days of work at County Hall per week. Those no longer working are also reluctant. There are more things in their lives than taking on an underpaid, but virtually full time job and few will wish to make that commitment.

  Overview or scrutiny committees (christened Select committees in West Sussex) are not proving successful. As feared, they are little more than talking shops. They take no decisions; can be dismissed as irrelevant by both executive members and officers. So far, they have mostly been presented with broad brush feel good papers on aspects of county policy with which few could disagree. The sorts of decisions on specific matters that were previously voted on by the old committees are no longer even debated. A fait accompli decision by cabinet member is announced and that normally is that. I would expect from that comment the more successful call in procedure that has been used for four high profile matters in the last year.

  Area committees and community planning are still only in the trial stage, so their success or not is for the future.

February 2001

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