Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Lichfield District Council (LGA 01)

  Our small Liberal Democrat Group of two, like to think that we do have some influence in the Lichfield District Council, as the Conservatives only have an overall majority of two. We support the ruling administration, when we feel that their policies are sensible and generally we have been treated with respect and well consulted during the process of introducing the new system, which is a leader with cabinet. Generally, the system seems to be working quite well, although we are still very much feeling our way.

  We have seven members of the cabinet, all of the ruling group, Chairman, vice Chairman and five portfolio holders, Leisure, Development, Community, Finance and Corporate services, the latter are shadowed by four Overview and Scrutiny committees, Finance and Corporate services being combined. Each O and S committee have a Chairman (ruling party) and two vice Chairmen (one from ruling party and one from the opposition parties). We have vice Chairs on Development and Leisure, Labour on Corporate services and Community. Labour may very well decide to take up our two places after April, as apparently they have the priority.

  All O and S Chairs and vice chairs meet together to discuss future programmes, at which cabinet members are present. Each O and S committee Chairs and vice Chairs then meet separately to "fine tune" the agenda for their next O and S meeting. We are experimenting in our Overview function in looking at policy matters referred to us by the Cabinet before the Cabinet meets and making recommendations to them. We have the right to refer back Cabinet policy decisions to them, but only once. The final decision, of course, is made by the full Council.

  We have had two O and S committee meetings up to now. The feeling is that party polarisation has been diminished and more freedom and informality has been introduced. The Cabinet portfolio holder usually attends, flanked by Officer advisors. The portfolio holder is questioned by O and S members, who also give their views and Officers also give short presentations of explanation on very technical matters. So far, the feeling is that the presence of the Cabinet member does not inhibit the performance of members of the O and S committees, although doubts have been expressed about this aspect.

  An interesting feature of our Council is that our Planning committee comprises all members of the Council. This seems to work quite well. There are no site visits, although this could change when we review the structure of the Planning department.

  The public are not allowed to speak at any meetings and we doubt whether our influence will change the status quo, as both the main parties are not in favour, as they say it would prolong meetings to an unmanageable extent.

  Panels have been formed to give recommendations to the cabinet on important matters, such as the Local Plan review. The Planning committee also gives advice.

Derek Love

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Prepared 22 April 2002