Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-114)
CLLR JACK RICHARDSON, DAVID CLAXTON, CLLR RICHARD KEMP AND GRAEME CREER
TUESDAY 23 APRIL 2002
100. But who would be giving that advice; would it be the executive?
(Cllr Richardson) That is the problem. I suppose it is a question of whether it is independent or reasonably independent advice. We have not been tested on that, as yet, this is the whole point, but what we are saying is that, yes, they would have access to information if they needed it.
101. And, Liverpool, do the overview and scrutiny committees have access to independent advice, outside the Council?
(Cllr Kemp) Yes, they can do; but, regrettably, this is again one of, I believe, the deficiencies of the system, they have not been making sufficient use of that. So, for example, I would be encouraging them, the next time we put a HIP strategy forward, for them to bring in people like Shelter to help scrutinise the decisions I come up with, partly because there are very few members with much experience of housing, frankly, in Liverpool, because of our rapid turnover of members. We are also creating, or have created, although we have not filled it yet, a post of Assistance Executive Director, which is a third-tier officer level, who will be responsible for scrutiny, and therefore will be independent of the other officer structures.
102. You say you are creating still?
(Cllr Kemp) We have created it, but when we advertised we could not fill the vacancy; so we are attempting to fill that vacancy.
103. So at the moment the scrutiny process will depend on internal officers, who may also be advising the cabinet, whose decisions are being challenged?
(Cllr Kemp) Unfortunately, yes. The facility is there for members to use external support, and one of the things I am trying to do is encourage them to do it. I know that sounds ridiculous, to try to get more scrutiny of my own activity, and my colleagues', but, in actual fact, we believe that would help us, so we are trying to encourage the scrutiny to do just that.
104. Can I ask perhaps Cumbria first, do you have any Local Strategic Partnerships in Cumbria?
(Cllr Richardson) Yes, there are four in Cumbria, actually, and, in fact, they are meeting today with the Leader of the County Council, which is why he was unable to attend, actually.
105. And what are your working arrangements, with your district councils, in those LSPs?
(Cllr Richardson) It is still in the formative stage, actually.
106. Are they being co-operative?
(Cllr Richardson) Reasonably so, yes; most of them, yes. There are frictions, obviously; there always will be suspicions between the district and borough and county council, of course, in a county as large as Cumbria. But, overall, yes, there is a degree of co-operation building up.
107. And what do you think they have achieved so far?
(Cllr Richardson) Early stages yet, so we have not monitored it.
108. And do you think there is sufficient guidance from central government as to how you should be operating those Strategic Partnerships, in areas that are outside special needs?
(Cllr Richardson) I am rather doubtful about that. I think, in fact, we could have clearer guidance on how they should operate, actually.
109. What about Liverpool?
(Cllr Kemp) We believe that the Local Strategic Partnership is working well. And we were fortunate to be one of the Pathfinders for the new commitment for regeneration; in fact, our former Liverpool Partnership Group was held up as an exemplar, as we moved into the LSP process. I think I could give you numerous examples of where partnership working has effected strategic delivery; for example, within housing, we have a Strategic Housing Partnership, which means that when I meet with the big housing associations we jointly come up with proposals for joint working, for joint investment, for joint disinvestment, and that has made a major change to the way we spend our own money, and to the type of resources that we can attract in.
110. Can I ask you about engaging the private sector, because Chester, who gave evidence earlier, expressed disappointment that, to date, they have encountered difficulties in engaging the private sector in Strategic Partnerships?
(Cllr Kemp) Yes; in fact, almost inevitably, you end up using proxies for the private sector, which are the Chambers of Commerce, which are not always representative of the industry that you need to work with. In Speke/Garston, we have a very good relationship with the private sector, which has been worked up for six or seven years; but my general experience, not only in Liverpool but elsewhere, is that the private sector relationship is tenuous, and it is short-term, around specific projects and programmes, rather than what is the vision, what is the future.
111. Just briefly, two points, to both authorities. Have you used your powers to promote the social, economic and environmental well-being, and, if so, how have you used them?
(Mr Creer) Yes, we have made quite extensive use of them; we have major partnership arrangements both with the private sector and with other public sector bodies, and there are features of those that we would not have felt comfortable about had it not been for Section 2. I would like to see the full hand of cards dealt, as promised in the White Paper, so we got the Section 16 regulations and charging sorted out; but I do not think legal vires should be what drives what local government does.
(Cllr Kemp) As a further example, if I can just give it, I am a chair of a company in north Liverpool, Norris Green, which is actually going to run the telephones, electricity and gas services to an estate of 2,000 people in a socially-inclusive and cost-effective way. We are claiming ground that the Council has not been in since, I think, 1923.
(Cllr Richardson) We have urban and rural regeneration companies actually established in Cumbria, which are working with the County Council, at the present time.
112. And they would not have been possible with the old regulations, without the change?
(Cllr Richardson) Probably not.
113. And, finally, the new ethical framework, have you any comments, any misgivings about it and how it operates?
(Cllr Kemp) Overcomplicated, overexpensive and largely unnecessary. I have been a councillor a long time and I think standards of probity in councils are very high, and I think a sledgehammer is being used to crack a nut.
(Cllr Richardson) I could not have put it better.
114. Finally, can I ask you, do you think local government really still exists in this country, or has it become just local administration?
(Cllr Kemp) I believe that local government makes a massive difference. I am not sure that the people of any of our areas understand what local government is responsible for; so when you say to them, "What about the schools?" they say, "Yes, we want to know this, that and the other," and then we say," Do you know we run them?" and the answer, often, really is, "No." I think local government can make a tremendous difference, but there needs to be a much more comprehensive attempt by the Governments to talk up the successes of local government. I know mayors were an attempt to do that, which I always thought was doomed to failure, but the local governments are a very strong, effective tier of local government, and the only thing that will bring back more people to the local government table is the realisation that when they come to me, as a councillor, be it as a front-line councillor or as a cabinet member, and I say, "I want to do this, I can get on with it," whereas, often, I turn round and say, "I agree with everything you say; yes, I know I'm responsible for housing, but I can't do it;" and they go away and say, "Why did I bother coming."
(Cllr Richardson) I think, in many respects, local government is nothing more than an agent for central government, actually, in large areas of policy, education, social services, etc. And I think it will always continue in that position until, in fact, there is a loosening of the financial restraints, which local government are working under at the present time, actually.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence. Thank you.