Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Councillor Barrie Sutton, Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council (LAG 01)

  It has taken more than 100 years to speciously conclude that the Local Authority Committee system does not work.

  It has taken less than two years for those Authorities in Wales, who adopted a Cabinet/Executive and Leader system of governance, to realise that it is shambolic.

  Please do not disregard this letter on the grounds that it is from Wales and should have been addressed to the Welsh Assembly. The primary legislation on Local Authority "modernisation" was enacted by Westminster, not the Cardiff Bay talking shop.

  What is more efficient, transparent and accountable than the time honoured Committee system?

  My Council's Committees, like those of so many other Authorities, meet in a monthly cycle. Here policies are initiated, debated and decided under the public eye and sent to full Council for approbation or otherwise. Policy decisions, therefore, hardly ever take more than four weeks for corporate approval. Committee composition means that at least half the members of the Council take part in Committee decisions and conclusions. Full Council making the final endorsement or not.

  The Cabinet/Executive with Leader model strikes me as cabalistic and anti-democratic. 10 members of Council or less will make policy decisions—less than a quarter of the present Council membership. The remainder will find themselves side-lined into scrutiny committees having little or no influence over policy making. How can such an arrangement be more democratic, transparent etc, when less publicly elected members are participants. It creates two classes of Councillor and is highly divisive.

  As a Local Authority we have not sought to be secretive about any aspect of Council affairs with the exception of matters deemed exempt information under the Local Government Act 1972, Paragraph 7, 12A. The Press and our Public Libraries receive all Committee Agenda and Minutes including those of full Council which is surely the policy of all local Authorities. We certainly do not require any Home Office directives on transparency.

  I read that "sitting in committees" is to be interpreted as something negative, whereas participating in Committee decisions must surely be something positive. Further, membership of Council Committees is not a limitation of one's community advocacy, in fact, quite the opposite! Committee membership enables a Councillor to express, on behalf of his/her constituents, their concerns about x or y decisions by Council.

  May I remark that for Cabinet/Executive with Leader one may equally substitute Mayor & Executive style governance.

Barrie Sutton


Housing Committee

January 2001

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