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

Memorandum by Cllr Tony Slack (LGA 34)

  Modernisation offers more scope and choice for involvement and real informed decision making to existing and potential councillors that did not exist to the same extent in the previous committee system. There are now three distinct strands: Political, Scrutiny and Representative.

  Cabinet System makes lead cabinet members more accountable. More decisions are made more quickly than under the former committee system. With the exception of commercially or financially sensitive items, all decisions are taken in the public domain. Local members have an opportunity to speak to relevant Cabinet and Lead Member Agenda items. Members with a particular interest often have the opportunity to speak to appropriate Agenda items. In addition to receiving agenda papers, members receive a monthly updated Forward Plan of Policy Decisions scheduled for the next four months.

  Members can submit written questions in advance for Lead Member/Officer written response tabled at County Council meetings. There is always an Agenda item to enable Members to ask questions of any Cabinet Member about their respective portfolios either with or without advance notice. Members can present a petition from their constituents direct to The Chairman of the Council which results in members being able to speak to any decision-making body (Cabinet, Lead Member).

  Overview and Scrutiny/Best Value results in members and officers working much more as a team within a non-political environment, members having an opportunity to become more actively involved in and better informed about a wide variety of County Council Services and more effective and efficient delivery of core services, provides a structure for holding the Executive to account, influencing and contributing to Policy Review and Development, enabling members to apply their past and current work experience, personal and professional skills as well as develop new skills. Thirty-three of the 44 Councillors are very involved in a wide range of Overview and Scrutiny/Best Value Project Boards. There is a greater involvement of members in effecting improvements.

  Representative role of members will become increasingly focused on their involvement in the development of community strategies and their links to Local Strategic Partnerships in their areas. All members are kept briefed on developments in the County Council. Service Department bulletins are issued to them regularly. Plans are in hand to keep members informed of corporate developments with an emphasis on electronic means. Local Area Fora have been disbanded and received a mixed reaction from members.

  Seminars and Workshops about Modernisation are organised on a fairly regular basis to inform and support members in helping them develop themselves and the modernisation process. This includes such topics as project management for scrutiny members as well as risk management. Surveys are undertaken amongst members to evaluate the impact of modernisation, identify training needs and assess process improvements. There is a Modernisation Evaluation Framework undertaken each year and a budget for Member Development and Training. ICT provision and continuous enhancement also supports members.

  East Sussex County Council adopted and encouraged a transparent and "hands on" approach by all members to Modernisation and with Scrutiny, in particular. The environment in which it evolved was one of not expecting to achieve total success first time but to review what was happening and change what was not working. A constitution should not be set in tablets of stone; authorities should be prepared to change and innovate as the needs change.

  Non-executive members of a Controlling Group (24 councillors) with a small working majority (four) can find themselves hard pressed to fulfil all the Scrutiny, Regulatory and Representative roles expected of them especially when seven are Executive and two have County Council Chairman and Vice-Chairman responsibilities.

  Public perception is difficult to assess but Citizens Panel results showed that more people feel they understand how decisions are made under the modernisation arrangements. Partners that work with the County Council are more actively involved through Overview and Scrutiny/Best Value processes. The public is gradually becoming more aware through consultation and publicity.

Cllr Tony Slack

 Conservative Group non-executive member

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