Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 400 - 419)



  400. Where is the transparency?
  (Mr Raynsford) Their decisions will be reported.

Mrs Dunwoody

  401. As the old group decisions were reported.
  (Mr Raynsford) The cabinet makes clear the relatively small number of members of the council who are responsible for the decision, and they are known to be responsible.

  402. The difference between the old system and new system is not in transparency but in numbers. Before the group might have been a large group that took the decision in secret but now it is a small one, and that is better.
  (Mr Raynsford) I believe it is a much better way to take decisions which clarifies responsibility.

  403. How?
  (Mr Raynsford) Because it makes clear who is responsible and it limits that to a defined number of people.

  Mrs Dunwoody: We have been round that circle, it is clear.

Mrs Ellman

  404. When are you going to reassess the effectiveness of this?
  (Mr Raynsford) As I said, this is a newly emerging framework. We will obviously look closely at how it develops, we do not take a totally fixed view about how constitutional arrangements might develop in the future. I have already indicated in our White Paper we expect to indicate some areas where there will be greater freedom for local government to define arrangements.

  405. Are you disappointed that so few areas want elected mayors?
  (Mr Raynsford) No, I think it is entirely a matter for the areas themselves to decide. It is right they should have that opportunity and the electors should decide this in those areas where there is an interest.

Mr Betts

  406. It worries me, we used to get advice in local government that you could not take decisions in principle until you had been through the proper process and you could not whip people on the planning committee, there had to be an opportunity for everyone to give their views. Given that many cabinets operate a completely closed system are you not decreasing the democratic deficit and there is no opportunity to make representations?
  (Mr Raynsford) I was seeking to define the difference between an important in principle decision as to whether or not an authority should seek to establish a major new transport scheme and the detailed mitigation necessary to ensure that the impact of that does not have an adverse effect.

  407. Out of town shopping centres and all of those decisions could be taken without the public being there?
  (Mr Raynsford) I would regard it as appropriate.

  408. They could be under legislation.
  (Mr Raynsford) I think it is right that the executive should be focussing on strategic decisions and should ensure that it is able to shape the future development of its area in a way that meets it objectives.

  409. If you lived next door to a site with a major new shopping centre on it or an open cast it is going to affect you and you should have an opportunity to make objections?
  (Mr Raynsford) Of course. People will have opportunities. The important distinction is that the cabinet should be acting on behalf of the authority as a whole and pursuing its strategic objective in conformity with its community plan, which will have been the subject of detailed discussion and consultation with the public. The public will have an opportunity to express a view on key decisions like that before they are taken and then the detailed mitigation can be considered.

  410. That would not be now considered necessary in the new arrangements for planning. If do you not have pre-zoning you cannot take part and make representations before the strategic decision is made, where is the input?
  (Mr Raynsford) I hesitate to go on too much on planning because I am not the minister now responsible for that, but I was trying to illustrate there is a distinction to be drawn between the executive role of the cabinet in pursuing the strategic objectives of the authority and doing so within a framework which allowed proper consultation with the public as against the more detailed scrutiny of the implementation which can best be carried out by a planning committee.

Mrs Ellman

  411. You are not saying consultation and an in principle decision has been taken?
  (Mr Raynsford) No, I am not. I am saying that best practice will always involve consultation before decisions are taken.

  412. That is not what you said before.
  (Mr Raynsford) I said that the executive should be taking decisions in conformity with a community plan which would have been developed in consultation with the community.

Mrs Dunwoody

  413. You are very well aware that community plans can be very general, the point that is being made to you over and over again is that you are actually depriving a local population of the right to have an input into a major decision because the planning committee of the future will be told these are the decisions in principle and you may decide within these parameters?
  (Mr Raynsford) Not at all. What we are seeking to do is to create a more effective framework for decision making in which the responsibility of decisions is clear and those decisions are taken by people who have a clear responsibility to pursue the strategic objective defined for that authority.

  414. Can I ask you how councillors allowances pensions had been the subject of a Jo Moore e-mail?
  (Mr Raynsford) I do not know.

  415. You do not know.
  (Mr Raynsford) No.

  416. You have no idea at all why this should have been discussed as being a good day to get anything that we want to bury out?
  (Mr Raynsford) All I know is that on the day before, 10 September, I had seen papers relating to the consultation on councillors expenses and allowances and I cleared those for publication.

  417. You have no particular reason to want to hide that?
  (Mr Raynsford) I had no particular reason to want to hide it.

  418. What is the lowest turnout in a local election in the last three years?
  (Mr Raynsford) I think probably 10 per cent or 11 per cent in the Sunderland referendum on a mayor, if you treat that as a local election. If you define that as part of a local election that would probably be the lowest turnout. I cannot off the top of my head give you absolute chapter and verse.

  419. Why do you think that the turnout for the election for New Deals has been higher than local elections?
  (Mr Raynsford) I think there are some very interesting lessons to be learned from the New Deal for Community elections and indeed some of the mayoral referendums, which have also produced higher turnouts than local government elections. The conclusion, the first one, is that where the local population feels it is more likely to affect their lives and have an impact on them they are more likely to be involved

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