Memorandum by Leader and Deputy Leader
of Somerset County Council (LGA 08)
With regard to the local authority's duty to
promote economic, social and environmental well-being, there is
a feeling that this Act has produced a more "joined-up"
approach to items on the agenda. Where there were items that were
high on the public's agenda which appeared to be low on the Council's
priorities, this gap has been bridged in respect of issues such
as purchasing locally produced food and energy production and
usage. This is very positive in that the Council is being seen
to deliver its objectives.
The new arrangements with respect to Executives,
including elected Mayors and the Cabinet model have been less
well received. Far from making the process more transparent, this
has proved less flexible. Having to state what will be discussed
at the Executive three months in advance has proved a hindrance.
For example, it eliminates the flexibility to debate something
urgent at little notice, if the public need three months advanced
The view of this Council is that people are
more concerned with things that touch their everyday lives, such
as their children's schooling or their elderly relative's care
and are not at all interested in the structure of local government.
This structure seems to have led to a worse understanding of the
process, rather than a better one.
Looking at provisions relating to the conduct
of councillors and officers; these are quite simply "using
a sledgehammer to crack a nut". This Council has always been
run very professionally and the integrity of its members has been
of the highest standard. The Code of Conduct and Ethical Framework
are deemed excessive to handle the very isolated instances of
misconduct that may occur. Similarly, a National Code is not welcomed
as it would lack flexibility.
The use of the rolling register and postal voting
during Local Authority elections has been a good thing. This Council
didn't pilot E-voting but suspects that it's not inconvenience
that stops people voting but rather a lack of engagement with
the political process. Local government would flourish if left
to find its own ways of working; and increased local awareness
and interest would surely follow.
With regard to the frequency of elections, if
elections are held too often the electorate will become even more
disinterested and confused. Also, it restricts the time that members
have to implement policies and see them through unencumbered by
the pressures of worrying about campaigning for votes. The present
four-yearly cycle enables them to put in place long term strategic
plans, rather than having to concentrate on immediate, short-term
Using the independent panel was considered a
useful mechanism with regard to Members' allowances.
The Liberal Democrats are pleased that the bill
encourages authorities to work in partnership with others for
the benefit of the community, which was previously limited.
Also, following intervention and pressure by
the Liberal Democrats, it is reassuring to note that the Executive
must meet in public and publish papers at least three days in
advance of its meetings, very much in line with Liberal Democrat
beliefs about accountability and open government, resulting in
public decision making.