Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - First Report


Memorandum by Councillor Charlotte Cane, Leader of East Cambridge District Council

  I am writing with a few short comments on the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill, which I hope the Committee will take into consideration. I am the Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council which covers a large geographical area but a small population with about half of the electors concentrated in and around the Market Town of Ely and the rest in scattered small villages. I am writing in a personal capacity.

  1.  I agree that local government needs to modernise and in too many cases also needs to restore links with its communities.

  2.  I am not convinced that Beacon Councils will be useful. There will have to be a bureaucracy to select and monitor these councils. And history and circumstances will vary widely between Councils.

  3.  I agree that the current committee structure needs to be streamlined. However, it is important to give all Councils a full choice of revised structures. In a spread out area like East Cambridgeshire the only option of the three which could be made to work is the option of Leader and Cabinet. If there were a directly elected Mayor he or she would be elected by the main urban centre (Ely) and focus all his/her energies there. There is already a perception within the District that Ely has the lion's share of funding etc which could be further exacerbated if the Mayor was always from Ely. Furthermore, there is already a Mayor of the City of Ely Council, so people would find it very confusing to have two Mayors based in one Cathedral City.

  4.  It is important to recognise that there is only so much power around and it is inevitable that if more is given to the central structure—Mayor or cabinet—there will be less for other Councillors. It therefore appears to be misleading, to say the least, to claim the new structures give "an enhanced role for all Councillors". What is proposed under that head is no more than a restatement of some of the current roles.

  5.  It is not clear how much work the Cabinet will need to do, but it is likely to be significantly more than the current role of most Councillors. This could increase current difficulties for people in full-time employment or with caring responsibilities. Although increased allowances would help to some extent, the Cabinet role could be very insecure especially on Councils that elect annually by thirds. It is expecting a lot for someone to risk losing their job or missing out on promotion for what could be just one year of Cabinet responsibility and remuneration.

  6.  If we were compelled to hold a referendum it could be very divisive within the District, between rural and urban areas. I would also be very concerned that the questions were not set, by the legislation, in such a way as to elicit central Government's desired outcome. The limited consultation that I have carried out to date on local government structures has met with no response at all.

  7.  I am not convinced that more frequent voting would improve turnout. A rolling Electoral Register, easier access to postal/proxy voting arrangements and ability to vote at any polling station would all help. Rural areas tend to have higher turnouts than urban. Part of this is presumably to do with socio-economic factors but has anyone carried out a study to see if there are any lessons that can be learned from areas of higher turnout.

30 June 1999


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