UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 432-iii

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Communities and Local Government Committee

Councillors and the Community

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Councillor Robert Gordon CBE, Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst, Councillor Lucinda Yeadon and Councillor Stewart Golton

Evidence heard in Public Questions 185 - 268

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee

on Wednesday 17 October 2012

Members present:

Mr Clive Betts (Chair)

Heidi Alexander

Bob Blackman

Simon Danczuk

Bill Esterson

Stephen Gilbert

David Heyes

George Hollingbery

James Morris

Mark Pawsey

Heather Wheeler

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Councillor Robert Gordon CBE, Leader, Hertfordshire County Council, Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst, Leader of the Opposition, Hertfordshire County Council, Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Executive Member for Adult Social Care, Leeds City Council, and Councillor Stewart Golton, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Leeds City Council, gave evidence.

Q185 Chair: Welcome to all this afternoon to this evidence session on councillors and the community. It is our third evidence session. You are all welcome. Can I begin by apologising for the delay in starting? Occasionally, inconvenient things like votes do get in the way of other business, but that is the reason this afternoon. I cannot promise you we will not have another vote during the proceedings. I hope we will not, but I cannot promise that we will not. If we do and the bell goes, we will just have to disappear and come back and rejoin you. For the sake of our records, could you introduce yourselves? Just say who you are and the organisation you are representing.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I am Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst. I am leader of the opposition for the Liberal Democratic Group on Hertfordshire County Council.

Cllr Gordon: Robert Gordon, Leader of Hertfordshire County Council.

Cllr Golton: Stewart Golton; I lead the Liberal Democrat Group on Leeds City Council.

Cllr Yeadon: I am Councillor Lucinda Yeadon. I am the executive board member for adult social care in Leeds City Council.

Q186 Chair: You are all very welcome. You have both put submissions in as councils-interesting submissions-and you were talking particularly about the changing way in which local government operates and the work of councillors within local government. Why do you think the change is necessary in terms of how councils operate? Do you think that the councillors that you have-many of whom probably came on in past times, when things were slightly different-are now really up to doing the job that is required of them? Who would like to start?

Cllr Gordon: The way you posed that question, Chairman, in terms of why change is necessary, I perhaps would not address it that way. To my mind, if we are talking about the role of individual members in their communities rather than the council corporately, it is about re-establishing the relationship with their communities; recognising that people are more informed these days and wish to participate more and to take greater control over their own lives and their communities; and creating a means by which that element of power could be returned to people. In doing so, the role of the councillor changes-maybe it returns to what it once was, I do not know. It changes from a delegate that goes off to the town hall to vote things through remotely and then to explain, to someone who should be an activist within the community, a facility to the community, someone who has access to some of the levers of power-in Hertfordshire terms, a chunk of money-and can help communities to respond to their problems as they perceive them to be. This is why, personally, I do not like the term "community leadership" and things like this; it is far more a brokerage and activist role. That is the role that I think all elected representatives, if I dare say so, but certainly councillors ought to be fulfilling in their communities and we are looking to develop that. We can go into the detail of that if you wish. In terms of the readiness and the skills of current members to do it, some of them are very much up for it, but some of them it passes by entirely.

Q187 Chair: You are not going to name names on this occasion?

Cllr Gordon: Not with my opposition leader sitting next to me. That will inevitably be the case, but there are some who have been members for a long time who find this-. We are only partway down this route. You cannot turn on a light switch and change all those behaviours and expectations overnight, so this is very much a work in progress. Some find this a much more fulfilling and interesting front-line role, particularly for those who cannot hold major office within the cabinet system.

Cllr Golton: I will speak as an opposition member. I think there is a general understanding that there is a need to change because councils need to change, so of course the councillors within them need to respond differently. We know that there is not going to be the same level of funding as there always has been in local authorities, and also that the way that we are able to deliver services to our communities will be less about being responsible for services we directly deliver and more about being able to facilitate partnerships to create solutions that, in many cases, will be bespoke to individual communities. I would suggest it is a far more finessed role, but it is one where it is not just the individual councillors that will have to adapt to that; it is also incumbent upon those in Westminster to change the way they view local government to enable that innovation to occur and be a little bit less restrictive in terms of their perspective on what should be happening.

Q188 Chair: I look to Councillor Yeadon, following on from your perspective of Leeds, to explain to us what the term "civic enterprise" means, taken from the Commission on the Future of Local Government, which was very much a Leeds initiative.

Cllr Yeadon: Yes, it was very much led by Leeds. I think the Commission certainly wanted to look at the role of local government for the future. Local government has always been changing. This is not new. The environment that we are in now is so different from the previous years, particularly because of the cuts that have impacted on local government and local councils. The change is merely quicker than it has been in the past and more dramatic.

Civic enterprise is about looking at re-establishing the relationship between the public sector, the private sector and the third sector and trying to re-establish what our role in the future will be. As Stewart says, the way that local councils are funded and our role will probably no longer be as a major deliverer of services because we are not able to do that, but I still think we have a very important role in shaping what those services are and being a catalyst to help ensure that the services we need are reaching the people who need them most. We cannot do that on our own, so civic enterprise is about how local authorities can become more enterprising, how business and private organisations can become more civic minded, and how communities can become more engaged. I see the role of local government as being just as important or probably more important in the future, but very different. We need to be able to have locally elected members who can adapt and be able to adapt to that change. I think very much we have members who have been on the council for, in some cases, 50 years who are able to do that, but we also need to have local members who are representative of the people that they represent. As you probably know, the average age of a local councillor is 60-I have about 30 years to go before I meet that average-and 31% of local councillors are women, so we still have a long way to go before we are representative of the people we represent. We just need to ensure that we encourage new, well placed people to come forward into those roles.

Q189 Chair: Councillor Giles-Medhurst, is Hertfordshire County Council’s vision of localism subscribed to by opposition members as well?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: It is to some extent, in terms of some of the routes that have been adapted in the locality budget and more recently the highways locality budget; but on some other aspects, Robert and I disagree, and indeed all opposition members disagree. There has been recently an abolition of what have been effectively local area committees on highways issues. That is an area we have disagreed on. The administration has a different view and a different fundamental view of how localism moves forward.

Turning to your earlier question, having been a councillor for 32 years-I was elected at 21 so I came in very young, and I have aged with the rest of the population in that sense. I believe councillors have been and should be the advocates of the community they represent. What has clearly changed in that time-and Bob Blackman is indicating this in respect of Brent; I used to be on Harrow Council while he was on Brent Council-is the councils themselves. Local government has changed and councils have to adapt to those changes. There has been outsourcing. There has been the sale of council houses, so it is no longer dealing with the Housing Department but dealing with the community housing trust. That has become more difficult for some members.

Now, in terms of the localism we have in Hertfordshire, it is clearly different to what you have elsewhere. I think localism for each community will vary and that is where I may agree with Robert. We need to vary that element of community localism. I even think in an area like Hertfordshire, with a population of 1 million, that you necessarily cannot have one fit for the whole of the area. We have urban areas and we have rural areas. You have localism with just one member involved in an urban area, but their decisions in one urban area will affect their neighbouring members. I represent Central Watford, for instance: when I make a decision in my division, it will affect other parts of Watford, and vice versa. I think you have to have cohesive units where localism works, not just say it is all delegated to one individual member to make that decision.

Q190 Bill Esterson: Stephen, you have just used the word "advocates". To what extent is your role as a community leader?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: It is very much about involving oneself with the community residents’ associations, community groups. In smaller numbers, I go to an elderly residents’ home on a quarterly basis: they would not come to surgeries even if I held surgeries-I no longer believe surgeries are of value. I go to them and seek their views, talk about what is going on within the town and within Hertfordshire, and take their issues back. Whether it be issues in terms of policing-I have a quarterly meeting with the local police along with my borough council colleagues-or something else, it is about advocating what needs to be done, and this is where things have moved on. It is getting those leg-ins, so to speak, with the various groups that exist. No longer is it that the councils make a decision on everything and the councillor is your representative. Yes, the councillor is your representative but no longer do we have the control over the housing association-it has been delegated. There has been outsourcing. The same will occur with the police and the police authority elections. We will have a police commissioner in Hertfordshire by the middle of November, so it will be engaging direct, whereas before there were appointed representatives from the county council on the police commission that we could question at county hall meetings. That will no longer be the case; there will be a new mechanism, so we will have to move with those times. That to some extent makes it more difficult and can potentially make it far more time consuming.

Q191 Bill Esterson: Robert, do you have a different view of community leadership?

Cllr Gordon: I must say I do not like the term "community leadership" in the front-line role of councillors, because I think the role there is far greater-Stephen described it well. I do not know even whether you would use the term "leadership". It is brokerage; it is engagement; it is facilitation; it is entrepreneurial-it is all that sort of stuff. I think there are at least two different sets of decisions that we are involved in. There is a stack of stuff that has to be dealt with through normal representative democratic processes-major budget decisions, children’s safeguarding, the fire service. All sorts of things need to be taken at a fairly high level and need to be taken by us in our representative roles. What interests me more is far more the relationship of front-line councillors with their communities. As I say, I certainly do not see that as a leadership role.

Q192 Bill Esterson: What is the difference between that and what you describe in your written submission as a role of facilitating, mediating and advocacy?

Cllr Gordon: Yes, all of that. We are doing two things. Where the decision is local enough and specific enough that it can be substantially taken by and influenced by people in their communities, we operate in that brokerage sense. Where it has to be taken at a higher level because of its scale and significance, then yes, you are the eyes and ears and voice of the communities. There you are advocating for your community in the councils beyond the community itself. As I say, my interest-obviously when you call for evidence you can only touch on some of it within the 4,000 words-is in that non-institutional role. I am not arguing with colleagues here, but certainly what we heard from Leeds is very much institutional relationships. I am interested in the power shift back to people from whom that power comes. We have done it through social care with personalisation; through localism we can do the same thing for community-based things.

Q193 Bill Esterson: I am sure we will come back to that. Lucinda, as democratically elected representatives, how is that different from the role of other community activists?

Cllr Yeadon: First of all, it depends what your definition of leadership is. I think there are very different ways you can lead people or be part of a community. If you are talking about community leadership, there will be some times that elected members will be in a position that is very different from local activists. For example, if you look at the riots last year, in Leeds we did not have any riots but we did have local elected members going out on the streets with the police and with community leaders, i.e. representatives from the mosque and other well known community groups, talking to people to defuse tension on the streets. I think that their taking that role played a huge part in the fact that we did not have any riots in Leeds. Now, I would say that was community leadership and it was a very certain type of leadership. But you also have to be able to have the skills to facilitate discussion and to support local people to find solutions to some of the issues in their areas. Gone are the days when local elected members are the pillars of society, that you come to a meeting and your word is it. We have very different hats that we need to be wearing and lots of different roles to fill. It would be short-sighted of us just to say we only have one role within the communities that we represent. We have various different roles and they have changed a lot from the traditional local authority community relationship. I am not sure if I answered your question, though.

Q194 Bill Esterson: That is fine. Do you think that GPs, schools, businesses and other organisations welcome the involvement of councillors?

Cllr Yeadon: I would hope so, because if they do not welcome our input, then we have a bit of trouble ahead. I am a local governor, Stewart and I sit on the health and wellbeing board with local GPs. We have to work with those organisations and it is right: we have a mandate and we are there to represent the people who elected us and to work to support those other organisations in our city and in our wards and our communities. The local primary school, where I am a governor, absolutely welcomes my relationship with them, as does the local GP, particularly when we are trying to find solutions to some of the major ingrained problems that we have in our local communities that we cannot solve on our own. If we are not working with them, how are we going to solve those problems?

Q195 Bill Esterson: Stewart, you are nodding a lot.

Cllr Golton: Yes. Whether you are in administration or whether you are in opposition, I think the main role of your role as a leader as a local council is in challenging. Whether that be challenges in relation to decisions that are taken by the ruling administration that affect your community, or challenge in terms of the responses you are getting from officers that you do not feel are appropriate to enable your community to achieve its potential-that is where you come in. Between us, we have had an example of that and because of the budgetary issues we recently closed a whole lot of residential homes in the city-[Interruption.]

Cllr Yeadon: Saved by the bell.

Chair: We are going to have to suspend, I am afraid, for the vote.

Committee suspended for a Division in the House.

Q196 James Morris: Talking about the role of local councillors, I think one of the issues is that a lot of local councillors who are not in cabinet positions often feel quite disempowered. We can talk about community leadership as much as we want, but when it comes to effectively being able to determine what happens in their wards in terms of money or engagement, there is little scope. I know that each of you have taken initiatives to try to devolve power to individual councillors. I am quite interested to hear more about the area committees that you set up, Councillor Yeadon. How effective have they been in terms of devolving responsibilities to councillors?

Cllr Yeadon: I think they have been effective. It is a work in progress still. We have come a long way; there is further we can go. I think you are right; backbench councillors probably do feel disenfranchised if you compare their role now to what it was under a committee system.

Q197 James Morris: Do you get a lot of people participating in the area committees?

Cllr Yeadon: Absolutely.

Q198 James Morris: Residents?

Cllr Yeadon: I think it depends. We have 10 area committees in the city. They are all very different in how they engage.

Q199 James Morris: Are they based on configurations of particular wards?

Cllr Yeadon: Yes. We have some area committees that are larger than others. It depends on how the ward boundaries fall. The area committee that I sit on, which is the Inner North West, has quite a significant public attendance. We have an open forum at the beginning: the public come; they bring us deputations, as they would to full council, and they are very engaged with it.

Q200 James Morris: Does it tend to be groups of residents who have particular issues that they want to be vocal about, whether it is a school closure or an issue in the community?

Cllr Yeadon: We have people who regularly attend them. Then, you will have people who are motivated by a particular issue to come for a particular reason. The problem we are always going to have is that it is always going to be those people who know how the system works and will come to the meetings and represent their views, which is fine, but I think we also need to remember there is a group of people in society who do not know how the council works and who actually are trying to work three jobs to keep food on the table and are going to struggle to attend area committees to make their views known.

Q201 James Morris: Do you feel that sometimes creates an issue? In terms of public perception of area committees, one of the things that I have noticed in my patch with area committees is that there is a bit of a gap between what residents are expecting is going to happen at an area committee meeting and what actually does happen. Is that part of your experience? Because it is kind of the council doing its business in public and the public actually feel as though it is a slightly different forum. Is that a mismatch that you-

Cllr Yeadon: I think the difference with the area committee that I sit on-I cannot speak for all the area committees of Leeds-is that the public do contribute to the discussion, which I think is quite unusual. We do have powers as an area committee and we have budgets and, therefore, there are real decisions rather than just tokenistic "having a meeting in the local community". While that is very important, we must recognise that there are people who live in deprived areas who probably do not know how to access some of this. We cannot forget that. Just because their issues are not being vocalised at a particular public meeting does not mean that their issues are not important, and sometimes they may be even more crucial.

Q202 James Morris: Councillor Golton, what is your experience of the area committees? You were shaking your head and nodding.

Cllr Golton: I am lucky because originally I was a councillor in the area of Leeds Inner North West, which is a very articulate area. It is the place where all the college lecturers live and it is an area of high studentification, which meant that there were a lot of people getting agitated about people urinating in their garden and the rubbish that happened in the area. It was a very effective local body but it was also in a very tight urban area, so you could actually get to meetings whether they were in one ward or another. The wards in Leeds are very large and area committees necessarily have to join some wards together. The area committee that I now cover is a very large swathe of the southern edge of the city, which takes in independent towns and villages that have all been lumped together into an area committee. At the last area committee there was not one member of the public there. The only audience were council officers. The majority of the agenda is dominated by council business, whereby the executive wishes to have its business rubberstamped by local representatives to say it has gone through the area committee system. It becomes, at its worst, a glorified grants-making body for the area budget that you have. There has been some very progressive employment of individuals to help a particular issue come along. In areas like Leeds North West, in my own area, it is primarily about making sure that each area gets its bit of the capital pot for certain community groups to use.

Q203 James Morris: Is there a limited time for the public to speak in this meeting?

Cllr Golton: There is no formal time for the public in this meeting.

Q204 James Morris: There is no time; right. Is that a deliberate decision?

Cllr Golton: If I remember rightly the original discussion was to do with what was allowed within the constitution. If it is a formal council meeting-because councillors say, "Up with this we will not put"-you have a specific section before the formal start of the meeting for community concerns, where the public can get involved, or you just basically ignore the rule book and let them come on board. That is where you show discretion as a local representative. Unfortunately, I have not had the luxury of having members of the public wanting to speak at my local area committee, which makes it quite a sad place to go to, I have to say, as a local politician. In circumstances like that you wish to make sure that in your own ward those people who need supporting are aware of how an area committee works. It would help, of course, if they did meet at a time when the public can get to them. The Inner North West meets at 7.00 in the evening, which is not convenient for council officers but they have to put up with it, whereas my own meets at 4.00 in the afternoon.

Q205 James Morris: Councillors Gordon and Giles-Medhurst, you have made play of your devolved budgets. Tell me a little bit more about how successful they have been and some of the constraints.

Cllr Gordon: Gladly. Can I just pick up on what we have just heard, because Stephen and I take a different view, as he has already alluded to, about local committees or a particular type of local committee?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Depends on type, yes.

Cllr Gordon: Yes, that is right. My view is quite clear that I do not want to devolve to intermediate tiers of the same self-important people sitting around the table. We know that very few people turn up to them. We know it is difficult to engage for all the reasons that we have just heard. I do not know what your population base is for those committees in Leeds, but it must be quite large. Our view-my view and my administration’s view-has been far more that the individual councillors are already there representing manageable sizes of groups of communities, about 12,000 electors on average. They should be, and must be, encouraged to engage with residents’ associations, with community and voluntary groups, to walk the streets with their residents, and that is how that engagement takes place. We do not want residents to feel that they have to go to a committee to be a supplicant saying, "We have a problem. Will you sort this out for us?" We want them to say, "We have a problem. What can we do about it? Hey, you are the local councillor. You are part of this mix; you have some contacts".

Q206 James Morris: Don’t area committees have a role in shaping a local community identity? Isn’t that one of the functions?

Cllr Gordon: I think not. Stephen is agitating to get in. I think partly it is also to do with the two-tier arrangements that we have in Hertfordshire, where there is everywhere a more local district council, but more particularly in half of the area there is also a first-tier council and a town hall parish council. If I can come back to answer the question that you asked me rather than the one that I gave-

Q207 James Morris: I apologise; I gave a supplementary to a question that I have not asked.

Cllr Gordon: No, my apology; I was answering the question you did not ask me. Now let me move on to the question you did ask. Having made that point about the significance of the local front-line councillor in his brokerage facilitating sense, the fact that he has access to money helps. It helps in terms of visibility and it certainly helps in being able to deliver. Of the £100,000 each of my front-line councillors has, £10,000 is for anything-subject to the law-and £90,000 is for local highways issues. When there is a local issue and the community in touch with the councillor is saying, "This is something that is getting up our nose. This is the solution we would like to have. If we had £500 or £2,000, or whatever it is, it could be dealt with," now the local member is able to say, "Yes, I am persuaded by that. I can deliver on that. Let’s go ahead and do it." It does not have to come back to me. As chairman of cabinet and leader of the council with £7.7 million, I have said, "I do not care how that is spent now. Someone else can spend that." That I think is a very marked difference. We tried to change the mindset from people saying, "What are they going to do about it?" when there was a problem to them saying instead, "What are we going to do about it?" and "What role can my councillor play in helping deliver that?"

Q208 James Morris: In terms of determining how this money is going to be spent, do you have an established process by which the individual councillor needs to consult within the ward?

Cllr Gordon: No.

Q209 James Morris: Or can the councillor just say, "I am going to repair this pothole in my road that has most of my voters on it."?

Cllr Gordon: We are developing the processes around it. The expectation is that colleagues will consult. Certainly, so far as highway stuff is concerned, the protocol expects them to consult with councillors and other tiers, with residents’ associations and other groups, but essentially to take the pulse. Ultimately, as for all of us who stand and fall by the ballot box, the decision is made and if we make the wrong one-if it potentially is an unlawful decision-we have mechanisms that would prevent that, so we do not have councillors who are gold-plating the pavement outside their house and ignoring everybody else. Because at law the decision is actually taken by an officer, not by the member, but thus far a member’s recommendation has never been overturned. It is very much for their local judgment, providing it is lawful. So far as the highway stuff is concerned, there are limits. It has to be rational within our asset management system and things of that nature, but there is never enough money. If it is local work and I could afford to do that or that but I cannot do both, to be guided by the community seems to be the way forward. I do not think the committee-based system is the way to do it, Stephen and I disagree about this, certainly as part of what we are trying to do at the moment, which is to change fundamentally that relationship between people and their local councillor. They have an intermediate committee and we have all seen them where you say very few people turn up, they find it difficult to access them, difficult to influence them, and they are forced to become a supplicant.

Q210 James Morris: I am interested to hear about this fundamental disagreement.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I think Robert has perhaps misrepresented me in terms of having a disagreement here. In terms of having a delegated committee of all the council decisions to an area committee, I have to say I would agree with Robert. I do not think that is workable or practical. In terms of having real delegation in terms of where residents come along, present petitions on highways issues, have them discussed by the local members both at the borough level or district level and the county councillors, that is what has been abolished and that is where I disagree with Robert. Having a sub-committee of the county council with all the decisions that would go to county council or the cabinet discussed in front of maybe one resident is pointless. I would agree with Robert on that one.

Cllr Gordon: They now submit to their elected representative, not a panel of elected representatives, sometimes not involving their local one at all, and where potentially the local view can be overruled by people from outside the area.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: You sat on one of the panels with me that I chaired and that was never the case, as you know, Robert. In terms of neighbourhood engagement, which is what you were talking about, James, perhaps oddly I am also a parish councillor and a district councillor and I chair an area forum in the district area that I do not represent on the county council. I represent a completely different area.

We also have within the area county council neighbourhood forums, which are organised by the borough council and the borough councillors who I have a relationship with. There are six in my division, so we have regular neighbourhood forums. These are issues that the residents themselves raise. For instance, we have a contentious issue, not necessarily politically but an issue for residents, about a proxy rail link in the area. We had a neighbourhood forum to discuss that and how residents may wish to put their point of view to an inquiry.

Coming back to the questions you were asking, that I see as very much helping the residents to put their case and lead them in terms of advocacy: "These are the sort of things you perhaps should be saying to the inspector if you are going to present this sort of evidence." That, I think, is a role for councillors and that is the way you engage with those residents. I think that mechanism works where we have it. Ironically, these are not organised by the county council; they are organised by the district councils. It is very important that the county member, or whatever level tier of government you are, is engaged with the other representatives along the line to see what mechanisms exist there. The neighbourhood forum at Watford does have a small budget. Again, local councils can give out little stipends to community groups. The area forum I chair encompasses a whole parish area, and although items are regularly on there like the police report where police come along and give a report about local crime issues, they are set on the agenda. The residents welcome that. You talk about attendance at these meetings. At the meetings that I have gone to, and the meetings that I represent on the county council or for that particular district, the attendance has varied between 20 and 200 depending upon the issue. To make these things relevant to people to come along, you have to have things that they themselves want to discuss. It is no good putting on the county council’s library service change of opening hours if there is no library in that area that residents are going to be interested in. Now, if there were, I think clearly you would have residents come up and turn up about those particular potential changes.

Q211 Bob Blackman: You have all described the fact that councils and councillors are changing and that you have very different levels of experience and expertise. If new people are coming forward, what are the ideal characteristics that they will have in order to become a councillor? Who wants to go first?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Being able to manage their emails and the expectation of residents. As soon as they have sent you an email, they expect a reply back with an answer and the date that X pothole will be fixed because you have the money to fix it. It does not happen like that. It is actually managing expectations. When I first became a councillor, you would maybe get one or two letters a week, if that-maybe one or two letters a month. Now you get 10 or 20 emails a day if you are publishing your email address, and most councillors should be because they should be accessible. There is huge expectation from members of the public that you know how to solve things. Now, some of that may well be going back to residents and saying, "Well, actually, you need to use the highways fault reporting system," which we have in Hertfordshire electronically-pointing out that there are mechanisms to do this yourself and you do not have to come to the elected member.

Q212 Bob Blackman: Okay, so ability to manage emails, that is the most important thing as far as you are concerned?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: It is ability to manage and also the ability to manage time and, depending on what type of authority you are on, it is also managing expectation. The county council meets during the day. I was lucky enough to have a particular career path and job that allowed me to go to daytime meetings. I have since taken early retirement freeing me up effectively full-time, but actually 61% of Hertfordshire county councillors are over 60. That replicates itself elsewhere. Evening meetings obviously allow members to have full-time jobs, or at least part-time jobs. It does vary with the type of authority. You have to be able to manage your time and expectations.

Q213 Bob Blackman: Robert, do you have a view on that?

Cllr Gordon: Time certainly is the case, and I think some papers we saw suggested that someone thought that the average councillor did 35 hours a week. It seems a bit over the top to me, but it is still a full couple of days in bits all round the place; so, a significant amount of time, inconsistent with normal full-time employment unless you are in one of those protected jobs that gives you all of that time off. Time is important.

Really being anchored in the community is essential, because it is a community role first and foremost. We all have leadership positions of various types, but we are all first and foremost a front-line councillor, and at the whim of the electorate we could end up back there, so being anchored in the community is hugely important; also, the ability to deal with modern technology, absolutely.

I come back to my hobbyhorse, which is about those softer skills: the brokerage skills, the facilitation, and the ability to talk to people and bring people together. Even though sometimes in percentage terms our mandate might be a little bit ropey, we have the mandate through the ballot box. We have a particular status to go to a whole range of public and private and voluntary agencies and say, "My community is fussed about this. If you could come and help with this, you can come and help with that, and you can bring this and I can put a few bob in out of my locality budget," and collectively we can deliver what the community wants. That is very different from the old-style, "I will go to the town hall, the county hall, every now and then and put my hand up when the whip tells me to."

Q214 Bob Blackman: Stewart?

Cllr Golton: Once you have bottomed all those qualities, one of the things you should have is an enquiring mind. The Liberal Democrats used to say that a councillor should be a cabinet member for their ward, but I think more importantly a councillor should be a scrutineer for their ward. They need to be questioning why things are delivered in the way that they are delivered. They need to enquire why this thing has not happened in their community. They need to be able to ask questions of their own constituents to say, "Why do you think this is an important issue?"

Q215 Bob Blackman: So, an enquiring mind?

Cllr Golton: Information-gathering is key because if you do not, then you cannot change anything, can you? As we have said, communities are feeling under increasing pressure in terms of the budgets being cut centrally and, therefore, having a run-on effect in your own area. That is why we need to find out why things cost the way they do so that you can then say, "Well, actually, we are proposing a different alternative locally."

Q216 Bob Blackman: Okay. Lucinda?

Cllr Yeadon: There is not much left after all of that, is there? I think communication skills are really important, particularly with the way that communication is changing and being able to access-as I think was already mentioned-modern technology to reach some of the harder-to-reach groups. You need to be somebody who is able to try to find solutions to problems and someone who is willing to co-operate, whether that is with differing parties or different organisations, and to be approachable. Gone are the days where we are sitting in ivory towers and not able to meet people that we represent. We have to be approachable.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: It is also being able to think outside the box sometimes and to challenge what you are being told. Some councillors have moved with the times, but certain council officers have not. They will send out an answer, "No, this cannot be done". Some councillors would historically accept that. I am not one of those, as Robert well knows, and I will keep challenging those decisions if I think they are wrong. You do not want someone who is going to get elected and accept everything that is going to be told to them by officers or, for that matter, other parties in terms of the wider thing. They have to challenge.

Q217 Bob Blackman: We will come back to that in a minute, I suspect. The average councillor is white, 60 and male. Is that a problem, Lucinda? Does it matter if people who are from the black or minority ethnic community or women are not represented on councils?

Cllr Yeadon: I think it does matter. We have to question, first of all, why people from those groups are not represented, and that throws up further questions about whether it is the political system and how parties operate or whether it is because the world that we operate in is not accessible to those people. I was elected when I was 27. I was the youngest woman on the council. I have just been re-elected, so I have been there four years. I am still the youngest woman on the council, although there are young men on the council. I am also disabled, so, other than the fact that I am white, I do not tick any of the stereotypes. I go to meetings and people assume that I am the secretary or that I am my own PA. I regularly have people say to me, "You are too young to be a councillor". Now, whether they would say that to a man who was the same age as me I am not actually sure. If we do not represent the communities that we serve, how do we ensure that we are making decisions that are right for those people in those communities? I do think it is important. We want to get to a stage where we have 50% women in the Labour group in Leeds. I do not think that is a negative aspiration. That is something positive that we should reach for, but we also need to make sure that other groups are represented also. It does not mean that if you are a man you cannot represent women’s issues, but we need to be able to say that we are a diverse group because we represent diverse people, and that is positive.

Q218 Bob Blackman: Do not feel obliged to say anything, but anything to add?

Cllr Gordon: I would not dissent from that, but I think we have to acknowledge the practicalities of it. First of all, we as councillors do not select our candidates; it is the party machine. I do not know whether you will be speaking to them. No one is able to take that overview prior to election. Individual candidates are selected and elected. It is only once they have been elected that you can gather them together and say, "Oh dear, that does not look very good, does it?" At best, in Hertfordshire, we have 11 constituencies, so some of those might be able to look at half-a-dozen candidates, but no one can look at the whole. Certainly, having been elected, we, as you, are single elected representatives in a patch, so be we male, female, black, white, whatever, we still have to do our damnedest to represent everybody that is in that patch. It does not alter the fact that I would prefer if people came and looked at our chamber and thought, "Yes, that looks a bit more like Hertfordshire than it currently does," but it is more someone else’s business.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I think the difficulty-and all the parties face this-is trying to persuade people to stand for office now.

Q219 Bob Blackman: That is exactly what I am coming to next. What is being done by the council-not necessarily the political group-to encourage people from different communities to come forward?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I will leave Rob to answer what the council is doing, because I do not think council is doing much. It is difficult, I think it would be fair to say, for the council to do much because it is for the political parties to encourage people to stand. This is where you do have the difficulties because if someone who has perhaps just started their career has council commitments, their employer may think rather dimly of that. That certainly has been said to me and it has undoubtedly been said to my colleagues here as well. I have to say some of the political backbiting that goes on between the parties in robust election campaigns actually puts people off standing because they think, "I don’t really like to do all that. I don’t really want to get into all those things. I only really want to serve the community and sort out having this play area refurbished. I don’t really care about what is going on nationally." Therefore, they will not stand for election. Part of the problem the parties themselves have is that they do put people off as a part of that. Now, those of us who are a bit longer in the tooth put up with that and we take it on the shoulder, but encouraging new people to come along where that sort of campaigning goes on makes it much more difficult for all the parties, I would suggest.

We should be representative-irrespective of who is elected-of our whole community. Sometimes that is difficult, but then perhaps you engage with the lower tier of elected representatives who might be slightly more representative. I engage with a mixture of male and female borough councillors of different ages and different experiences. You use their experiences as you would use the experiences of some of the community groups you work with and some of the youth volunteers that work with some of those organisations.

Q220 Bob Blackman: Does it matter to you, and does it matter to your group on the council, that you have significantly fewer women and significantly fewer people from black and minority ethnic communities?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: It matters to the political parties, yes. The group cannot decide that because it is the electorate who decide who is elected. Yes, we may put up X number of women or X number of people from an ethnic background. In order to avoid the political argument, you need to put them up in seats that they are likely to win. That will vary across the political spectrum, but you cannot force the electorate to vote for those individuals. It is about choosing the best person for the job out of the political parties. Often, nowadays, candidate selection in most places is rarely contested, I would suggest.

Cllr Golton: I can give you an example. It depends on which communities you represent. I represent a community that is ex-mining. It is 99% white but it is only 5% gay, but they have a gay councillor. So we have ticked a box anyway. When my party was larger in numbers pre-coalition, we had a wider geographical spread and that meant that within our group we had we had quite a few women, we had a lesbian, we had four gay men, we had two Asian councillors and we had two Jewish members; but as we were not so successful in elections, it meant that a lot of those people fell off because they represented the communities that they served because there were a larger number of them in those particular wards. They tend to sometimes get replaced by people of the same community, but not always. The party can encourage, but it does not necessarily mean that the electorate will embrace.

Q221 Bob Blackman: Leeds has multi-member wards?

Cllr Golton: Yes, three.

Cllr Yeadon: Yes, correct.

Q222 Bob Blackman: As opposed to Hertfordshire, which has single member wards?

Cllr Gordon: Yes.

Q223 Bob Blackman: Which gives you more scope then to actually ensure that the candidates selected are representative of the area?

Cllr Yeadon: I just feel that there has been a lot of, "It is not really our responsibility." It is our responsibility, because we are the politicians and we are the ones who make the decisions. It is our parties who make rules around selections. It is our parties who nurture and encourage our members to put themselves forward. We cannot blame the political machine because we are the political machine. Perhaps if we are not getting the right people put forward, we need to have a look at the way that we operate within the parties to do that. Women generally do better in elections. When we had the all-outs in Leeds, it was women who were coming the top of the list because people thought, "Oh, it is a woman, she is a bit different and perhaps she is not just the same as the rest of them." I think we cannot say it is the political machine because we are the politicians; we are the ones who actually make the decisions about these things.

Cllr Gordon: We are here as council leaders in the broadest sense. Selection decisions are matters for our political parties or, indeed, for independents who so wish. I appreciate we wear both hats, but I think we have been summoned here in our council roles. Yes, the council does have a responsibility in terms of promoting democracy, but that is far more about making sure the information is available. If someone says, "I am interested in becoming a councillor. How do I go about it?" that information is there. Encouraging people to vote, taking part in local democracy week and trying to get councillors in and out of schools, and so on, but actually going out and identifying potential candidates-the vast majority of whom will have to stand on a political label if they are likely to get elected-is not business for a council, in my view.

Cllr Golton: That is one of the areas where the council can encourage, though. You have school councils and, of course, you make sure that every single school runs competitions and that individuals can be encouraged to stand within those. Then, of course, when you have looked-after children, you also ensure that they have their own voice body that encourages that.

Cllr Gordon: I think the other issue, though, that may be slightly different from the position that you gentlemen are in is that there is a far greater expectation with a council candidate that they have a strong connection with the patch before they are adopted. I know a number of you have had, but a number of you do not have. Stephen used the point of making sure that the underrepresented groups are offered seats that they are likely to win, but if they come forward and their connection is with a seat that they are not likely to win, it is not easy to pick them up and put them somewhere else where they do not have that legitimacy. I think parliamentary candidates can earn their local credentials; council candidates tend to have to get in very quickly.

Q224 Bob Blackman: Can I just come back on one issue because, Robert, you being the leader of the council here, surely you want an appropriate number of compliant individuals who are voted in and who do what you tell them to, rather than having Stephen’s multitudinous, independently minded people who are going to go off and do their own thing and maybe they will vote for you collectively or maybe they will not?

Cllr Gordon: I will not trespass into the trouble of herding Lib Dem councillors. No, obviously Bob you understand it. Having had a rigorous debate within the group, if that is appropriate, we want people who will then put their hand up at the right time in the right places, as you have all trooped off loyally to do a few moments ago. That does not mean that I want a stack of yes men and women who will just do what I say, although that is occasionally an attractive prospect. Again, that is part of the wider decision-making of the council, corporate decision-making, which is important. I am very happy to talk about that. The emphasis I think we are talking about is the front-line role, and I want people there who are really energetic, really engaged, really thoughtful, will do that brokerage role and, yes, will be an advocate for their patch so if things cannot be decided very locally-and that is the vast majority, of course-who will then come back to me, to the appropriate cabinet member, and say, "This needs sorting out in my patch. It has to be sorted out at that level, so please get on with it." We all say this, but I mean it: rigorous debates privately, grand; obviously, loyalty publically once you get to that point.

Q225 Bill Esterson: Two points that just came out of what Lucinda said. You said women tend to do better in elections. Do young councillors or any other of the groups that we have mentioned do better in elections?

Cllr Gordon: I think the evidence remains not so much in terms of colour per se but if you have a peculiar name that hits you. Looking at the analysis of multi-member seats-

Q226 Bill Esterson: What about youth; is that an advantage?

Cllr Gordon: Youth is not so well known, but I think if I just make a small point while Stephen catches his breath, as is the advantage I have back home. We had a candidate last time round who was very youthful. I think he was just 18; he did not quite get in. There is a question mark whether in any sense it is a typical 18-year-old who seeks to be elected at that stage of their life. Most are still completing their career, their job, establishing family, all of that sort of thing. Merely to be young: question mark. Yes, it would be nice to see. I only have one in my group-only one under 40.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I suppose I can speak from experience on this because I was elected at the age of 21, having been 21 on nomination day, when it was still 21 rather than 18. I was the only one elected from my group in that year; I am afraid I defeated the Conservative chairman of social services. I think it was not necessarily the youth that elected me because, in fact, I did not have any of my photographs on the leaflet because I looked too young, but actually it was the fact that I door-knocked lots of residents prior to the election. It is how you are known in the community and what you do that is normally far more important to individuals getting elected.

Q227 Bill Esterson: A very quick final question from me: all-women shortlists, black and minority ethnic shortlists, yes or no?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I think not, because there you are imposing a party will or a party decision. I speak personally on this.

Cllr Gordon: There would be a number of seats where there would not be a single candidate.

Cllr Golton: No.

Cllr Yeadon: I was selected on an all-woman shortlist and so in that case I think they are a necessary evil, if you like. I would like to be able to say that I was the right person for the job and that is why I got selected in that seat. I still think I was the right person for the job, I still got selected in the seat, but I cannot say it was because it was an open shortlist. However, for the past 100 years we have had more or less male-only shortlists and nobody seemed to object to those.

Q228 Bill Esterson: What about black and minority ethnic shortlists, any difference there? You have all said no.

Cllr Yeadon: I think our representation from black minority ethnic groups relative to numbers of population is more or less actually pretty good.

Bill Esterson: Not an issue as such.

Q229 David Heyes: Councillor Gordon, I think I just heard you say that councils do have a role in promoting democracy. Does that mean that you disagree with the Government’s abolition of the legal duty to promote democracy?

Cllr Gordon: No, I am very happy not to be under a duty and to exercise our own discretion locally. Clearly, that is something in which we are all interested. There has been no change in what Hertfordshire has done. I am not suggesting necessarily we do as much as we should. There has been no change from that duty having gone away; it is still something that we are concerned to do.

Q230 David Heyes: Do any of the other panel members think that was a retrograde step to abolish that duty?

Cllr Golton: I think there is less that you should be imposing on councils as a duty and they should be choosing to do what they choose to do. I can remember some of our actual campaigns in the past that were awful in terms of promoting democracy. It was something like, "Vote before you croak", with a skeleton on the side of a bus. Sometimes they are not very good examples of a use of public money. There are different ways of doing things and perhaps you can incorporate it within your own council’s policy to ensure that people like schools are encouraging it from very early ages, saying, "This is why this is important. This is why you personally should get involved." With advertising campaigns, it is often very difficult to understand how effective they are. Therefore, if you have a really good idea then you should put your money behind it and stick by it, as opposed to being told you have to do it.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I have no problems with the abolition issue per se providing councils are still promoting it, but what is more relevant when you have turnouts normally under 40%, with some exceptions, is actually what is relevant. You will get on the doorstep, "You are all the same, I am not bothering voting" or, "Decisions are all made at county hall. What is the point? What can you do?" I think it is getting that message across; actually, it is relevant in the community by having someone who is working with the community advocating.

The thing that I have a particular bugbear about, which probably you will not be able to control, is we know when the elections are in terms of annual elections for most councils or every four years with the county, but the media, in fact, does very little to publicise the fact that "Today is polling day; go and vote". You hear about the results maybe afterwards because X party has been hammered in the local elections, but how much was in the media saying today was polling day, encouraging people to go and vote on that day? I think that begs some of the question. Often politicians will go and knock at the door at 9.00 at night; "Oh, I didn’t know today was polling day," said a voter because they had not heard anything about it because it has not been in the media.

Cllr Gordon: But one of the reasons why I am as fixed on promoting the role of the local council in the patch is I think linked in with this. If the local council is more visible and more accountable, if they are seen as being someone who can help do something in the patch, then it is far more likely-it is not going to happen overnight-that over time people will say, "Well, it matters who our councillor is, and this guy is doing a good job, whereas this woman is"-sorry, I am getting into dangerous territory-"This other person is not doing a good job". At the margins, hopefully more and more that will make a difference on the day. If people think it matters they are far more likely to vote than if they think, "It doesn’t matter who I vote for; you get the same outcome."

Q231 David Heyes: Falling short of action using the council to invite people to become councillors and to encourage people to be in council, to do it one step removed, to make the job attractive in other words-that is your recipe?

Cllr Gordon: That is right, yes. There are two things: to demonstrate to people who might at some stage think about becoming a councillor but have been rather put off that this is a jolly interesting and useful thing to do, but also to demonstrate to the electorate, to residents, that it matters to them who is helping them resolve their problems and advocating for them. If you can manage both of those things, it can only help pull in the right direction.

Q232 David Heyes: Perhaps I could ask Councillor Yeadon’s views on this. Has the negative image around local government been a disincentive to getting people to come forward?

Cllr Yeadon: I think if you spoke to somebody in their community and said, "Who would you trust more, a councillor or an MP?" I am not sure whether they would necessarily have a negative view of local government. I think if somebody went to the council chamber when there was a debate taking place and whether they would have a negative view of local government, then perhaps. I think the way we conduct ourselves could be better. Whether it is a statutory duty or whether it is a moral duty to encourage people to take part in democracy is one thing or another, but I think local authorities should encourage it. That starts young, like you were saying, at the school councils. We should be encouraging young people through to older people. It goes back to whether we are a diverse representation of the communities. If people come to a room that is full of 60-plus-year-old white men and think, "Do they represent me? Do I feel they will listen to me?" maybe they would have a negative view of local government.

Q233 David Heyes: Just one last quick question for all of you to comment on if you wish. Is the voluntary community sector, voluntary community groups, a good hunting ground for potential candidates? If so, what do you do about it?

Cllr Golton: It is a very good hunting ground for potential candidates, but I think it needs encouraging and valuing. We still have a lot to do in terms of investing in our communities, in terms of building social capacity so that a lot more social enterprises get made and grow up. Through that very process of facilitating that understanding, you get far more confident people who will then think, "Do you know what, I am going to go that step further because I have got so far and I have this project sorted, but I think I could be of use elsewhere". The voluntary sector tends to be a lot more flexible in its working arrangements, so they have a lot more people who are on shared jobs or they are on part-time working, which makes it far easier to fit in with the council. Because the big thing that puts people off council work is not the bit that they see you doing, which is turning up to community meetings and making things happen; they are aware that behind it there are a whole load of mind-numbing committee meetings that will sap the will out of you. If they are young and they have families, then they do not find that an attractive option. That is one of the reasons again why you will find that councillors tend to be a little bit older, because if they have children, they do not have the time.

Q234 David Heyes: Anyone else?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I would agree with you to some extent, but part of that problem sometimes can be people will be very much single interest in terms of that particular voluntary sector. They want to be on the council to influence that single interest. It is encouraging people not just from that sort of group but from community associations to stand. What they have done already in their community association they could apply to their whole ward or, in the case of a county division, the whole county division because they are already an advocate. They know how to get things done. They know how to influence people. It is persuading those people to do that. Rightly so, it is actually ensuring then that they have the influence over those decision-makers. Robert and I disagree. Certain things have been delegated to local members; others have kept very much in the control of the administration or the centre. Now, having that influence there would also encourage more people, I believe, to stand. The reason you do not get some of those people to stand is, firstly, they do not want to be associated with one political party or another, or secondly, they believe they can get better things or more for their community or their community group by being outside of the political arena.

Cllr Gordon: I think it is fair to say that it is unlikely that someone is going to be ready to be an effective councillor if they are not already involved in some sort of community voluntary-type activity.

Cllr Yeadon: My background is in the third sector and I am the third-sector champion on the council. I think they are absolutely vital for us reaching not only the people who are active within those organisations, but also reaching members of our communities who are harder to reach. The third sector do it better than a lot of statutory organisations. For a hunting ground, I do think that they are an excellent place to find people who are community-minded, community-spirited, and probably have a lot of the same values and ethos in the third sector as in the public sector that we should be encouraging.

Q235 Bob Blackman: Looking at the barriers that prevent people from either becoming council candidates or councillors in the first place, or people becoming councillors but only serving for a single term and then giving up, because they have lost the will to live or there are particular barriers in their way, can I ask you each what the issues are that prevent people from standing or encourage them to step down after serving a short term? Robert in particular; your council has come out with a view of saying that remuneration and the attitude of employers needs to change. What are you doing about it?

Cllr Gordon: What are we doing about trying to change those attitudes? I suppose not a great deal apart from letting it be known that this is an issue. I will come back to your single termers in a minute, because I was focusing my mind around that. The whole question of the impact on your earning capacity, your career, your pension, of becoming a councillor is a very serious one. We still, though, live in a world where I think a lot of the public would say they think we ought to be doing this as pure voluntary service, which is how it was when I first started. There was a rather peculiar allowance scheme but no one bothered to claim it. Allowances now for front-line councillors, certainly for leading councillors, are high enough to offend the public but not high enough to encourage any sane person to give up their career and earning capacity to take it on. I think it was one of your colleagues who said that nomination papers ought to have a health warning on the bottom saying, "Becoming a councillor seriously damages your wealth." There is a whole host of circumstances that you know in your lives as well that can deprive you of office, either in terms of senior office and the pay that goes with it, or of being in administration, or being in opposition rather than being in administration, or losing your seat entirely and having nothing. Those are not in the normal employment sense at all under your own control, so there are huge risks with doing it. That, probably more than the hours and the other challenges of the job, prevents a lot of people coming forward.

There is a case-I do not specifically argue it because I think in today’s climate it would not run particularly well-relating to issues around better pension arrangements, parachute payments in the event of defeat or loss of significant office, or some sort of cushion. I am of an age now where if the electorate was unkind enough to dump me, I could go off and do something else; I have been doing this for a long time, and if it had happened to me 10 years ago it would have been seriously financially embarrassing. There is a problem in terms of who can afford to take that risk. I think that is significant. I do not offer you any submissions specifically, but if it is an issue that you are interested in, looking at the skills that councillors need to have and particularly-I do not say this in any arrogant sense-for leading councillors if they are going to do the job well, they are all people that could hold down pretty well paid jobs in the real world. You are not going to find many of us who are mad enough to come and do it on the present terms if money matters. We all have families to feed and mortgages to pay.

In terms of the short-term councillors I think it is interesting. A lot of them are people who, candidly, win marginal seats when the pendulum swings in your direction and then they go again. They then find something more interesting to do and you never see them again. Because we have all-out elections next May, I have looked at those colleagues who are standing down at a younger age than you might expect. There is a whole host of reasons. Some of them are clearly connected with family, businesses and things like that, where they say, "Sorry, I have to put more time in there." Some of them found it just is not for them. We have touched very briefly on the supply of potential candidates, there are still patches where one oppressed person becomes the councillor and they find it is not for them. They have the courage then to say after four years, "I do not want to do this any more." There are others where you have six, 10, 12 candidates fighting for a safe seat. So for a number of them it is just not right for them. I have not been able to identify anybody among those who are standing down from my group-other than on age grounds-that it is to do with the job. It is to do with other pressures in their life. Obviously if they have decided it is not for them, then that is to do with the job, but I do not think I can see any that says if there was more support, if the pay was better, and so on.

Q236 Bob Blackman: Lucinda, any barriers in Leeds that you are overcoming?

Cllr Yeadon: The hours that council works are very difficult and not necessarily family-friendly. If you are looking at starting a family, they can be very difficult. We have just had two fairly recently elected Labour members who have just had babies. To get the maternity leave from council it has to go to a vote at full council, which is bizarre. You would not expect that in any other workplace. I do think that is difficult. When I was elected I had an understanding employer who allowed me the time, but in the end I just had to give up my old job because there was no way that I could do my responsibilities as a councillor effectively and properly and hold down the job that I had with a national charity at the same time. I had to make the decision and so I chose this, and hopefully that is not going to go wrong. They are some major barriers, and probably the idea is that to be a councillor you have to be, like I said, a 60-plus-year-old white man-there is a certain stereotype-so people probably do not think that it is something that they can do and that probably is a massive barrier.

Q237 Bob Blackman: Stewart or Stephen, any barriers?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Definitely in terms of hours and, indeed, being accessible. I got a phone call last night at 10.30 from a resident expecting something to be dealt with. Some councillors will be put off by that. They have a home life, perhaps they have young children, the children have gone to bed, the phone rings at that time, and they will not like it. It does put people off. There are potentially boring meetings: after four years of full council meetings where actually nothing is decided because the administration has decided everything, as they would do, in advance, people ask what really is the point of being there? It does potentially put them off. I have to say some people are put off by the level of political campaigning they have to do to get elected, to be fair. "I have done all that; I do not really want to go through all that all over again," is a potential thing. Robert has already alluded to the impact on pensions and career. I have to say I think some of the reasons nowadays some people are put off is the cabinet system whereby the cabinet, which is the administration, has made those decisions, although we are able in some areas now to move back, or will be able to move back, to committee systems.

Q238 Bob Blackman: Would you go back if you had the chance?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: We have a semi-committee system on the district council I am on, and I definitely would. I was on a committee system when I was in Harrow, and I would definitely go back to the committee system. It is far more embracing in terms of having discussion across the spectrum in probably a far more non-political way than the cabinet system is.

Q239 Bob Blackman: Stewart, anything to add on barriers?

Cllr Golton: It is down to time. I know that allowances help, but it is certainly not the main reason why people choose to go into it in the first place. It will be their experience of how they can actually juggle things. Even if you do have a boss who at the beginning says, "Yes, it is fine", eventually you might get the message that actually it is not. Therefore, I have no problem with people falling out after a year. If nothing else, they will have experienced enough that they might want to come back in a few years’ time when they do have more time. The more people that do it the better, because that way you get better understanding in the community.

Q240 Mark Pawsey: Do you think the job of councillor, the amount of time it takes, should be reduced such that it can become a wholly part-time interest with meetings only held in the evenings? Or do we need to take the pendulum the other way and say, "No, this is not working; we need to have entirely full-time councillors who do not do something else"? Just briefly.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Meetings are a very small fraction of what I do as a councillor. Inevitably, council officers work during the day. You need to be able to contact them and speak to them during the day by and large, particularly when you are talking about metropolitan and county levels. It is not a part-time job. You need to be able to access them when the need arises. You just cannot say, "I will do the emails between 7.00 and 9.00 at night and I will go to the council meeting on the Tuesday evening." It does not work like that.

Cllr Gordon: I think Stephen is absolutely spot-on there about the concentration on meetings, particularly in the cabinet system. Although, as Stephen knows, in Hertfordshire we have a pretty wide-ranging panel system that goes a fair way of replicating the inclusiveness before, but yes, it is going on persistently. There was something else I was going to say that has slipped my mind, but if it comes back, I will chip in again.

Cllr Golton: The independent remuneration boards that all councils have these days will evaluate the role and decide what it is. Even in a very large authority like Leeds where we have very large wards, it is still considered a part-time occupation, but the remuneration does reflect the amount of people you are probably going to have to work with. If you make it full-time, then you get extra issues in terms of redundancy and things like that. I do not think that is really something that the electorate would like to contemplate.

Cllr Yeadon: I do not think it is. I think being a councillor is a way of life, really. When I go do my shop in Morrisons and I meet my constituents, I am not going to turn round to them and say, "I am off-duty at the moment." I take my notebook so I can pick up the casework while I am in the bread aisle. It is probably a bit of an academic argument about whether it should be full-time or part-time. We should be able to be in a position that meetings are more flexible so they are more family-friendly and more friendly for people who have jobs. I also think having members who have other jobs outside of the council ensures that you get a different perspective on some of the issues that you are dealing with. It means you have a different skills base and it also means that those people are not always in a council bubble, which can sometimes make you lose your view on things.

Cllr Gordon: The one point that I was going to make was in terms of the timing of meetings. I appreciate there are probably more people that find evening meetings convenient rather than daytime meetings, but I think Stephen’s point is well made, though, about the scale of them. Certainly, I have two female colleagues with young children who can do daytime meetings but could not possibly do evening meetings. It is not entirely a one-way issue.

Q241 David Heyes: Councillor Golton, you referred with some feeling a while ago to meeting times being arranged to suit the convenience of officers rather than members. I think it was you that said that. I guess that the inflexibility of officers is an issue you have all had to deal with. In what ways will the support provided by officers have to adapt to the changing needs of councillors? Refer to each of your local authorities; what is the situation like in each of your authorities?

Cllr Golton: Do you know, I am going to refer to that example I was going to give earlier-the issue about the closed residential homes. The local community were not for it at all. You got a bad time, didn’t you?

Cllr Yeadon: Yes.

Cllr Golton: The solution that was put forward was, "Can’t we have a social enterprise that is based in the community?" and, "Let’s look at progressive transfer." The officers were extremely resistant. When we said, "Can we please do this?" they said, "No, that does not work". Then I did a bit of research and I found a group that did do it in Sandwell. They said, "No, it is nothing like what we have here." We had to really battle to get them to take it on board. In terms of that community leadership element, you think, "Right, we know that there is an example of this. We are going to make sure that the officers take advantage of this and learn up on it." I think that is one of the big issues. It is the fact that people who work within an authority and have grown up in an authority and have been promoted through the ranks in an authority are used to working a certain way, and they are used to getting their own way sometimes. Sometimes, we need to inject that challenge for it to happen. Of course, I was able to do it on a local level to say, "Here we are, here is an example." I took some local people down to Sandwell to meet the people that did it in their own community. Then we introduced those people to Lucinda, who, in her leadership role as an executive board member, was able to challenge her officers from the other end, so we had a bit of a pincer movement.

Cllr Yeadon: Cross-party consulting.

Cllr Golton: Through that, the officers now have a better understanding of the world in which they are working in which is different-as we said at the very beginning-and they are taking on this issue of social enterprise and are running with it and we will actually get a better outcome for people out of it, so instead of things being closed you just find a different governance model. [Interruption.]

Chair: Right, I am sorry we are going to have to go away. We will come back and we will try to then just keep you for another quarter of an hour but no more.

Committee suspended for a Division in the House.

Q242 David Heyes: Well, the question basically was: will officers need to adapt to meet the changing role of councillors? A quick view from each of you on that would be fine.

Cllr Golton: We have held a leadership event as well in Leeds City Council recently and, given that all the council employees are affected by the cuts that have come down on to local government, there has been a real point about investing in them and saying, "We are going to provide you with these leadership opportunities." Part of it-I actually have a flier-is where they have opportunities to talk about partnership-building, and it is encouraging innovation within council officers who might join a team where they get told, "Oh, no, we work this way, we don’t do that," but they are being told from the very top in the leadership that, "Your ideas count, and your innovation could make the difference between the service being kept or not being around in a few years’ time." That kind of encouragement is really important to change those attitudes that you are talking about.

Cllr Gordon: I think for most of us, I hope, the political grip at the top of the organisation isn’t too much of a problem. As you move down through the operational levels it can get more difficult to make sure that gets through. But that is where I think the inter-relation with the front-line councillor matters. Where you have an officer who is delivering front-line service and a front-line council, they have to be harnessed together. Officers have to understand-this is a campaign that I am conducting at the moment-that a good relationship with their front-line councillors is an asset to them, not a chore; but equally, the challenge that I am putting to officers at that level is to help identify more decisions that can be made susceptible to local variation and local influence in the way we have with the highways stuff.

Q243 David Heyes: Isn’t that made a lot more difficult as a result of outsourcing?

Cllr Gordon: Not if the contracts are appropriately written. We have all sorts of history about our highway contracts, which are the largest ones, but the front-line interrelation with officers, whether they are county council staff or outsource staff doesn’t matter, provided the contract is written right and the expectation is right. Let’s not suggest everything has always gone perfectly. Yes, there is a challenge to officers, and the challenge to officers is if the political will of the organisation is to make more decisions more locally with more variation and more directly engage with front-line councillors and communities, identify which bit of it is susceptible for that. A lot of it is not; this is all a subsidiarity-type thing. Lots of decisions have to be taken at that level or, say, by traditional representative top democracy processes. More can be made by effective democratic participation through local members, but officers have to help identify what it is that can be switched to that real local variation and local choice.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Certainly officers do have to be in tune with the elected members who make decisions at the end of the day. Yes, they are there to implement what may be the administration’s policy that has been agreed by council unanimously, but there are elected councillors behind that, and on a whole raft of decisions members will not be involved. Equally, members sometimes will want to challenge and question why officers have done X. We have the scrutiny functions, in terms of overview and scrutiny, and we have officers having to give evidence of that and some of them that have not liked being challenged as to why they have made decisions. Gone are the days when they were able to present a report to a council committee and have it just be a question of, "All agreed? Yes, thank you. Chairman, move to the next item," and so on. Those days have gone and there are, I have to say, fewer and fewer officers who are tuned to that, but there are still some people in that mindset that have spent hours and hours bringing this report and they don’t like their report being torn to shreds at the cabinet panel, such as in the case of Hertfordshire County Council.

Q244 David Heyes: Or even before it gets that far.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Or even before it gets that far perhaps, yes. But they have to realise that is what they are in because we are in that role of challenging what they had brought forward.

Cllr Yeadon: Stewart is right in the work that we’ve done in Leeds to try to support and motivate our officers, and there has also been a political-awareness training that I have been involved in where council officers have come and met a councillor. Some of them would not have had that opportunity before, and that is quite bizarre. But I think you are right; I think outsourcing does affect the relationship between councillors and officers, because you start to ask, "What is the role of a local councillor and how do we influence the governance of the contracts that we hold?" Then I think officers struggle to see, in commissioning, what the role of the local councillor is, and how you ensure that you stick to those procurement rules and the rest of it. It is a difficult relationship and we need to ensure local members still have some accountability to those services that are being commissioned on behalf of the council, and it is really important that our local members feel some ownership of that as well. It is vital to have a good relationship with the officers if you are going to be effective and I think sometimes there are tensions in officer and member relations. Officers also need to recognise if they are organising meetings in an inappropriate timeslot for members, members should tell the officers and say, "I can’t do that; I’ll do it at this time," and assert a bit of authority. Perhaps that is easy when you are in an exec position, and maybe it is harder for backbenchers, but I think we need to just sometimes remind officers who the council is.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: One thing I would say about bad officers-and my experience of good and bad officers throughout the years is irrespective of which party you represent or non-you are there to try to represent and do the best for your community and your residents. Most officers, by and large, understand that and if, say, there is a red-tape problem with it, they are the sort to say, "Well, actually there is a problem, and we can’t do it this way, but how about doing it this way?" because as an individual you will not know all the ways around the system and the various nuances, perhaps of social services or housing regulations, so you are reliant on officers making their own suggestions. But if they know you are there to try to do the best for the residents then they are working with you and that is the best sort of officer/member relationship you can have.

Q245 Simon Danczuk: I wanted to ask briefly about the training that your authorities provide to elected councillors. I was reading in Hertfordshire that you, "Provide training around communications, consultations, skills and techniques" trying to create these social activists in terms of the submission that Leeds have said: "We are trying to get councillors to utilise less formal social networks, participatory democracy". It is all a bit soft, isn’t it? It is all a bit wishy-washy, is it not, all this? Do we not need councillors that can read a spreadsheet; is that not what we are after?

Cllr Gordon: We do. There are two not distinct functions, but let’s simplify it and have two distinct functions. There are those sorts of responsibilities-the spreadsheet, the budgeting, the eye-level stuff-that falls on the whole council in one sense, but in reality on the leadership of the cabinet, the leadership of the opposition. Those are significant roles, but all of us are front-line councillors and my submission that I made to you-because you can only cover part of this territory-was in that front-line role. In that front-line role we need these much softer skills and so, yes, that is what we are talking about there, and I could not put it better than I have already put it in what you have read back to me, so that is what we are trying to do. Some people have some of those skills. Some are willing to try to learn them. Some of them just will not engage with it at all; that is the nature of the beast. But if we are trying to move to a situation where councillors help communities run themselves, it is those sorts of skills that are important for those of us-and in one sense it is all of us-on whom the burden of running the council sits, this whole range of other training, provided in-house and through the LGA and others, as well as the leadership course at Leeds Castle and all that sort of stuff that I and colleagues have been on. I say that the submission from which you have quoted is very much about that front-line role that we all have first and foremost.

Q246 Simon Danczuk: Okay, Lucinda, what is training like for councillors in Leeds? Is it enough? Is there enough going on?

Cllr Yeadon: We have got a good member development department in Leeds. It does depend on how well members engage with that. I quite enjoy going to training and I do as much as I can.

Q247 Simon Danczuk: But those that need it don’t have it, is that not the case?

Cllr Yeadon: Yes. I think that is probably fair to say, if you are wanting to develop and you are wanting to kind of gain those skills, you will go out and find the training for it and you have to have a certain self-awareness as well to know what you need development on.

Simon Danczuk: Yes.

Cllr Golton: And an open mind, because at the end of the day your development is useful because you have officers that will have experience in terms of how to give training and also they will keep you up to date with legislative changes. So, when the Localism Act comes in they will make sure that there are briefings and make sure that you are aware of the implications for that neighbourhood planning. I think it is also incumbent upon councillors to go out and talk to other parts of the productive end of society that is working within your city or your area. You do need to engage with the third sector when they have their events, you do need to talk to the private sector when they have their events, you do need to understand their circumstances, so then you can go back to your own officers and say, "Well, yes, the council is meant to be the lead partner for the rest of the city, but it also needs to be responsible and responsive to the needs of others so that they can play their part".

Q248 Simon Danczuk: Okay, and just briefly, are the budgets in terms of staff support for councillors and training holding up in your local authority, Robert, or have they been cut?

Cllr Gordon: They are pretty lean but they have not been reduced in terms of the outcome. I hope that some of them are being run more efficiently than might have been the case before. But, no, we very deliberately have not put in place-as some councils did perhaps when money was more readily available-neighbourhood support officers to support front-line councillors. I think that just loses the whole thing because the lazy ones say, "Well, speak to the officer," and the community gets confused in terms of who is the person that does the job. Support for front-line councillors, in the way that officers talk to them and keep them informed, is important. Training we have kept up, and whether it is training for councillors or training for staff, anybody that cuts their training is creating a problem for the future. We have kept up our graduate training course and things like that, despite very difficult financial times.

Chair: Just very briefly, Stephen.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: It is very lean. Basically all the opposition members share one member of staff for secretarial support and, yes, we get a PC if we want to use it, and that is it.

Q249 Simon Danczuk: Each?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Yes.

Q250 Simon Danczuk: Lucinda, are the budgets holding up in Leeds, then?

Cllr Yeadon: We have well-resourced group officers, but we have major budget cuts to our local government grants. If we are looking at where to make savings, I am sure the public would much rather we look at how councillors are supported, rather than within the adult social care or children’s budgets. We have to make sure that we are being as effective as possible with the funding, but the funding situation within most local authorities is pretty difficult and we are trying to do more with a lot less.

Simon Danczuk: Okay; thank you.

Q251 Mark Pawsey: May I just ask a follow-up question on training? Is training mandatory in any of your authorities, and are there any committees or functions of a council that members should not be able to participate in without having had training?

Cllr Gordon: Yes, development control is a key one; we don’t have licensing. Perhaps even something in standards. There are certain functions which members cannot be appointed to unless they are trained, but in terms of the wider personal training-

Q252 Mark Pawsey: Is that right?

Cllr Gordon: That is right, yes, particularly in development control and licensing. There is such a legal framework to it but in terms of personal skills training, there is no sanction that can be brought to bear. As has been hinted at, often those who need it most are those that participate least.

Q253 Mark Pawsey: And the same in Leeds?

Cllr Golton: Yes.

Cllr Golton: Anything that is quasi-traditional.

Cllr Yeadon: Yes.

Q254 Mark Pawsey: Okay. I want to ask questions to Councillors Gordon and Giles-Medhurst, if I may, particularly with regard to the issue of two-tier authorities. What particular challenges are there in working in a two-tier system? I say that as somebody who has sat as a district councillor and represents a two-tier authority area.

Cllr Gordon: Yes. It adds a complication. That is not to say that necessarily it is a bad thing. I think the shire areas do represent themselves in various different community levels and certainly town and parishes, even more locally than districts, but it does mean there is not that simple clarity. I talk about the visibility, the accountability, the brokerage of the local councillor; in reality that is one county councillor, but there will probably be six borough councillors and there may be a dozen or so and more town and parish councillors, so that sort of visibility and accountability becomes more complicated. Generally, I think colleagues work together pretty well across the tiers, even where there are party-political differences. But there will be some, even where there are not party political differences, where, for some reason, interpersonally they do not get on. It is more complicated, but I think even if that were not the case-as in Leeds unitary authority but with multi-member constituents-you still have a certain complication in terms of, "Who is my local representative?" You gentlemen have the advantage of there is one of you in the patch of your communities, and you make the best of it.

Q255 Mark Pawsey: Do the public know who is responsible for what?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: No.

Cllr Gordon: Not sufficiently, no. I think there is a real confusion in my mind here. Part of me says that in terms of democratic accountability of course the public should know and should cast their ballots accordingly. Of course, we know a lot of them cast their ballots according to what is going on up here rather than what is going on in their community anyway. The other part of me says that it is our problem, not their problem and we shouldn’t trouble the public to work out which council or which public agency is responsible for something. They just want an answer, and we ought to deliver it. I am slightly torn on that. I lean more towards the line that says, "We just need to get on with the job," and if someone gets in touch with me because their waste bins aren’t being collected, I do not say, "That is nothing to do with me; have a word with your borough councillor."

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: I do exactly the same in respect of which area I am representing. But where it does get complicated is when residents do not understand the differences between the different tiers of authorities and, of course, one of its complications-it is a very simple thing-is the billing authority for your council tax comes from the district or the borough council. Yes, it is split down how much the precept is for the county council, how much it is for the police and if you are in the parish or town how much that is, but very few residents will ever read that sort of detail. They assume all the money goes to the billing authority, and when you explain 77% goes to the county, which is responsible for a vast range of services more than the billing authority, they may not understand but it is very rare you get the opportunity.

Q256 Mark Pawsey: All right. In a two-tier authority, is it appropriate for a member to sit on both authorities? Is there a conflict of interest if he does so?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: No, definitely not. I sit on two different authorities, although not for the same area. I was asked this question at selection, because I am up for election next year: is it a conflict? No; when I am a county councillor I am representing my issues as a county councillor and the county council’s view and politically, and the same on the district council.

Q257 Mark Pawsey: You are on both the district and the county?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Yes.

Q258 Mark Pawsey: What about if there is a conflict between the two bodies and the interests of one council are in one direction and the interests of the other council are in another direction, how can you possibly reconcile this?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: It has not come up, I have to say. If there is a motion to the district council about a county issue, I am there as a district councillor and I am representing the district council and my district council residents. If it is an issue on the county then it is the same. I have to say there has not been that conflict.

Q259 Mark Pawsey: Councillor Gordon, are you on both?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: The vast majority of county councillors in Hertfordshire are on either two authorities or on another authority.

Q260 Mark Pawsey: Most councillors represent more than one council?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: Most county councillors are twin-trackers, another reason for having county council meetings during the day is because there were district council meetings in the evening.

Q261 Mark Pawsey: Is that a decision of your party; what is the Conservative view?

Cllr Giles-Medhurst: No, it is the lack of finding candidates, I suspect.

Cllr Gordon: I think there are a number of strands to this. I’ve been a twin-tracker but the pressures mean that it is inappropriate. Stephen is in a slightly odd situation in that your county seat and your district seat are in different district areas, so even less likely to be a conflict. To be fair, the conflicts are very few. Sometimes the conflict of time, if you are left with a small majority-which isn’t a problem we’ve had for a while-in terms of who is going to be at which meeting if there is a conflict. There are things of that nature. But broadly, I think it is helpful to have a number of twin-trackers because it means there is that understanding across the join of the two councils. For a while, one of the districts in Hertfordshire did not have any twin-trackers at all, although it was not quite a rule.

Q262 Mark Pawsey: But a twin-tracker-

Cllr Gordon: The relationship was more difficult, because there was not that voice on each that understood what the other was doing.

Q263 Mark Pawsey: Sure, but given the pressure on time we have heard about in relation to twin-trackers, he is pretty much a professional councillor then, isn’t he, so we are in an era of professional councillors.

Cllr Gordon: I think broadly district councillors can just about cope with a full-time job, certainly a backbencher, whereas upper-tier councillors probably cannot. I think that there are potential conflicts, and certainly I have a personal position-I know a number of my district colleague leaders have as well-that you would not appoint someone to the cabinet of two authorities.

Mark Pawsey: No, that is fine.

Cllr Gordon: Partly that is a conflict of time, but also it is more likely that you might get into a situation where you are making a building proposal wearing one hat and the development control is being considered by the other councils. We do not have any cabinet members in more than one council but, yes, 50% plus are twin-trackers. That is fairly common nationwide. It is not just a shortage of candidates. I think some of it is-the words you put-that there is more of a sort of full-time professional councillor, even though the total remuneration might only add up to £15,000 or £20,000 a year. It is nothing like a proper job if you were a backbencher or a smaller position on two councils.

Q264 Mark Pawsey: Thank you, and, to bring Leeds in, what are the particular challenges caused by being in a large city?

Cllr Golton: I think that is more of a challenge for the executive members, in that it is a very diverse community and you will have some very affluent wards on the outskirts of the city and some of the very greatest deprivation in the centre. Of course, when you are facing Government funding, which is based upon formulae that are supposed to suit everybody, it means that sometimes your poorer districts do not get the attention they deserve because your richer environs on the outside average them out.

Q265 Mark Pawsey: But as a councillor you represent the community as a whole?

Cllr Golton: You represent your own community, primarily. When you are a councillor and you are in full council and you are deciding council policy, then you also need to take into account the interest of the city as a whole, and, of course, as an executive member you need to make sure that you have equity in ensuring that the quality of services delivered is commensurate with each community. The challenge in the future will be bespoke services, which will mean that some communities will get some things and some communities will not.

Q266 Mark Pawsey: Nobody said being a councillor was easy, Councillor.

Cllr Golton: No.

Cllr Yeadon: The size of the city wards are pretty big, with 16,000, I think, in one ward.

Cllr Golton: It is about 10,000 households.

Cllr Yeadon: But then it is interesting when you talk about conflicts of interest, because if you think about conflicts of interest that we may have as an executive member and as a ward member, we had to close some libraries because of budget cuts last year, one of the libraries we decided to close was in my ward. I have to sometimes put aside-

Q267 Mark Pawsey: But those are the conflicts that all councillors face.

Cllr Yeadon: Exactly, and it is just ensuring that you have the judgment to be able to reconcile the two. Sometimes that can be difficult, particularly if you have a very active community who have a very strong view. The discussion about if you have conflicts between two types of council was interesting; often you have those conflicts within one council.

Q268 Chair: Just one very briefly; just a yes or no. Do both councils have independent panels to advise on remuneration, and do you always accept their advice?

Cllr Gordon: For as long as I have been leader-five years now-yes. Indeed, once they recommended a rise that I felt was inappropriate, and we referred it back asking them for a freeze.

Chair: Right.

Cllr Golton: No, we do not always take their advice, because it is necessarily a voting council and you will always be portrayed as voting for a pay rise.

Cllr Yeadon: We took a pay cut.

Cllr Golton: In fact, indeed, recently the executive members took a 3% pay cut.

Chair: Right, okay. Thank you all very much, and thank you for staying for so long with us; it is outside of our control, and we very much appreciate the time you have given and the contribution you have made. Thank you very much.

Prepared 23rd October 2012