Memorandum by the East Riding of Yorkshire
Council Liberal Democrat Group (LAG 05)
1. WHETHER THE
Generally, this has been improved for non-contentious
decisions. Contentious decisions can take at least as long as
under the previous committee system.
It is much less efficient for the Executive
to make decisions, which are then called in for scrutiny and then
sent back with recommendations to the Executive for reconsideration,
than to make decisions under the previous committee system.
Considerable time has to be spent in research
by Members of the Executive Committee, which meets fortnightly,
who cannot be experts in everything. They have to consult with
political group members to a much greater extent than previously
when each committee had its own expertise.
There is much less time to consider items for
decision. Executive papers are available less than a week before
each meeting. There is much less time for pre-information and
The legislation allows for less transparency
than was the case under the old committee system. Previously,
most issues were discussed and decisions made at committee meetings,
which were open to the public. Because the East Riding is a balanced
council, under the old system, the issues were genuinely discussed
in the open, and decisions were genuinely made at committee. This
is still the case for the East Riding but not necessarily elsewhere.
However, even in the East Riding, increased delegation to officers
and hence less transparency has been necessary to make the system
The requirement to have portfolio holders on
the Executive does not suit a balanced council nor does the requirement
to have one council leader. For example, how can the council leader
be expected to defend a decision to the public which neither he
nor his group supported? There is now a lack of clarity about
accountability. Officers have more delegated authority, another
loss of accountability.
2. IMPACT OF
(a) The role of councillors
The new system with the Executive/Scrutiny split
is divisive both within each political group and across the council,
and is inappropriate at this level of government. Each political
group is divided into the few who are the decision-makers and
"in the know" and the many who are "backbenchers".
Unless the Executive members are very assiduous in communicating
information and getting responses from the rest of the group,
the gulf between them can get wider and wider.
Previously more councillors had true decision
making responsibility by the nature of our committee structure
and because we are a balanced council. Now for the "backbenchers"
it seems as if they are the opposition, there to criticise council
decisions, to oppose council policy, not part of the council,
more like critical members of the public.
There is no change in our community leadership
role; that continues as before.
The "backbenchers" life is much more
complicated and uncoordinated. We are on Scrutiny committees,
working groups, best value review groups, and seem to spend more
time on less constructive activities than before. We spend the
time considering the issues and then can only make recommendations
to the Executive. We act as advisory groups, again much as the
public does on e.g. Conservation Advisory Groups.
(b) The role of local authority officers
The relationship between officers and councillors
is not clear under the new arrangements to either officers or
councillors, we are all still learning, but there are still difficult
areas, eg officers have been told not to discuss operational issues
with Scrutiny committee members which has caused resentment among
In an effort to improve communication to members,
each directorate produces a six weekly newsletter, but this is
not the equivalent of committee discussion of issues, or discussions
with spokespersons from each political group.
(c) The local electorate
They find the new system very confusing and
cannot see the rationale behind it. (See 1caccountability).
(a) Scrutiny Committees
At present Scrutiny Committees are not working
well. It is taking a long time for them to find out what their
role is and to begin to explore how best to carry it out. The
officers are not helpful, stating it is member led. We have had
some training, which has been useful, but not easy to apply.
Scrutiny committees are smaller than the previous
main committees, so effectiveness is very dependent on each member
taking an active part, not only on the committee but also on working
groups and best value panels. It requires a significant time commitment,
with only a power to make recommendations at the end of it.
(b) Area Committees
At present, this council's Area Committees are
only planning committees. It has been agreed in principle that
highways issues should also be part of their remit. The other
political groups have resisted true Area Committees, and Liberal
Democrats on their own cannot carry them through.
(c) Other devolved arrangements
The whole of the East Riding is now parished, but
there are enormous differences between them. Again, the other
political parties have resisted the devolvement of responsibilities
to the Parish Councils. The Parish Councils would need training,
especially the Parish Clerks, who have very varied levels of experience
and knowledge of local government.
The main difficulty is that the new arrangements
do not take account of politically balanced councils. The new
arrangements seem to be geared towards inner city councils with
single party overall majorities.
The presumption in favour of portfolio holders
is something that Balanced Councils have difficulty in complying
with. Each Party in this balanced relationship will nominate their
own "specialists" on the Executive. This system is employed
in the East Riding.
The commitment on Executive members is great,
to expect that Councils do not have substitutes is unrealistic.
Through illness, holidays or work demands Members of the Executive
may not always be available. In the East Riding we have overcome
this problem by appointing substitutes from Members who chose
not to be members of Review and Scrutiny Committees. This works
well for all three Groups in the joint arrangements and I commend
it to you as a suggested amendment to the legislation.
The presumption that Political Group Leaders
and Deputies are on the Executive or Chair of Review and Scrutiny
or other Committees does not recognise the dynamics of a balanced
administration. For example, the Deputy Leader of our Group chose
not to be on the Executive or Chair of a Review and Scrutiny Committee.
Under the present legislation, an arrangement such as this would
not attract an allowance, although the responsibilities can be
There seems very little point in going through
a major change in order to end up with a system that is less democratic,
efficient, transparent and accountable than the previous system
we had in the East Riding. An improvement would be to allow not
only small councils, but also any council that had a system that
had been demonstrated to be working well to retain that structure.
The whole point is to improve local government, and retaining
what is working well can do this. Wholesale change is not only
unnecessary it can be positively damaging.
5. DIRECTLY ELECTED
For a large area such as the East Riding with
mix of rural and urban parts this model seems inappropriate. It
would reduce accountability and again would not fit with a balanced
1. The changes in political management have
not shown any evidence of an improvement in efficiency, transparency
and accountability, rather the reverse.
2. The new arrangements have been divisive
for councillors, and confusing for officers and the electorate.
3. The new arrangements take no account
of the working arrangements of a balanced council.
4. The requirement to have Portfolio holders
is not appropriate for a balanced Council.
5. The requirement to have one Leader in
a balanced Council is unrealistic; such a Leader would not have
the mandate of the Council as a whole.
6. The function of Scrutiny committees and
their relationship with officers is unclear.
7. The elected mayor model is inappropriate
for large, mixed local authority areas, and for balanced councils.