Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Councillor Margaret Begg, Warwick District Council (LAG 03)

  I refer to your Press Notice on Local Authority Governance and, on behalf of the Leader of the Council`s Executive, Councillor Margaret Begg, I would submit the following comments.

  1.  Whilst the decision making process is faster on the Executive, accountability has not been improved as the Council is a balanced authority and has decided that that balance will be reflected on the Executive. The Executive/Scrutiny division of responsibilities may well work with one Party in overall control. It does not, however, work well in a balanced Authority.

  2.  There is also a real difficulty in achieving greater efficiency, transparency and accountability in local government in an area where there are two tiers of local government. The public do not understand (nor care) which Authority provides a particular service and does not know which Authority is accountable.

  3.  Non-Executive Councillors feel marginalised and many do not get any satisfaction from the role of Scrutiny. The division between officers and members has increased significantly and the local electorate is confused by the fact that not all Councillors are involved in day-to-day decision making and by arbitrary distinctions between County and District responsibilities.

  4.  The Scrutiny Committees have struggled to find a clear role but this may improve with time. Best Value is an important duty but undertaking fundamental reviews is not a sufficiently satisfactory role for non-Executive members. The representational role of non-Executive members outside the Town Hall is still seen as quite separate to committee work.

  5.  In an Authority with no overall control and an all Party Executive, the call-in system does not work very well and Scrutiny is unlikely to be very keen to hold the Executive to account.

  6.  The disadvantage of having a Mayor in Warwick District is that we already have four Town Mayors, a Chairman of the District Council and a Chairman of the County Council. To have a directly elected Mayor with specific powers in the same area as ceremonial Mayors would be very confusing.

  The advantage of having a Mayor is that there would be clear accountability and responsibility. However, in a local authority area with four towns and a significant rural area a directly elected Mayor will always be seen as favouring the town or area which elected them.

  There are issues also about the concentration of power in the hands of one person, whether that person would have the necessary skills and the opportunity for secrecy and corruption.

Janie Barrett

Chief Executive

January 2001

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