Memorandum by Cambridgeshire County Council
1. BRIEF BACKGROUND
The County Council serves a population of some
550,000 people. Apart from the residents of Cambridge City, the
population lives mainly in market towns and villages. It is the
fastest growing County in England and faces very strong development
pressures in the Cambridge sub-region. The north of the County
however is an area very dependent upon agriculture and faces problems
of rural deprivation. There are five district councils in Cambridgeshire.
The County Council of 59 Members is currently
Liberal Democrat16 members
The political groups are not spread evenly across
the five district council areas. For example, Labour membership
is concentrated in the City area and Conservative representation
dominates in the north and west of the County. Thus a single party
executive would leave major geographical areas of the county feeling
they had no direct representation on the main decision taking
The Council has a history of being a hung Council.
During the last two Administrations, a number of protocols (formal
and informal) were developed to cope with "power-sharing"
and access to information in a balanced Council. Many of these
still remain and the Members across all three political groups
pride themselves on being able to distinguish items that are party
political and those that are not and act appropriately. Councillors
across all parties are concerned that the strict distinction between
the executive and scrutiny roles will politicise all decisions.
The Committee system was overhauled some two
years ago with the intention of making it slim and efficient (see
section 4 below). There is consensus across all Members that the
system works well. The Council conducts an annual survey of Members
with regard to their training and development needs, member support
systems and satisfaction with their role within and on behalf
of the Council. This obviously includes the operation of the internal
political management system. However, the Council is also conscious
of the need to listen to the views of the community when evaluating
alternative internal political management arrangements.
The County Council has embraced the "modernisation
agenda". For example:
Use of Citizens' Panel and other
extensive consultative mechanisms.
Extensive development of Best Value
programme. A full 5-year programme is now in operation. In addition
the Council is participating as a pilot site with the Audit Commission
on Best Value Inspection of Trading Standards and Libraries.
First Local Performance Plan shortly
to be published. Audit Commission using CCC as trial site for
inspection regime for LPPs.
Extensive investment in partnership
activities and community planning and sponsorship of EAZ, Sure
Start bids etc.
Use of an independent panel to review
Members Allowances arrangements.
Introduction of new whistleblowing
procedures for staff.
The Council has agreed to establish a Standards
Panel (which will become a Committee upon enactment of the Bill).
The Panel will have two independent members (holding the balance
of power) and all the functions in the draft Bill.
It can be seen that all the actions described
in the "PostScript" to the White Paper have already
been actioned in Cambridgeshire.
However, the Council is not convinced about
the internal political management arrangements. This is a view
shared by all three political groups (and indeed all individual
members). The Government's three models have been extensively
debated alreadyafter publication of last year's Consultation
Document and again since the White Paper. However further discussion
is planned including:
Special seminar for the Council in
Further evaluation of the three models
in the Cambridgeshire context.
Full development of one of the models
(probably Leader and Cabinet) to test against present system (which
will also be scrutinised and updated as necessary).
Consultation with relevant stakeholders
outside the Council.
County Councillors have very strong reservations
about all three models described in the White Paper for the following
A Cabinet or Mayor system, by definition,
will concentrate power in a few hands which runs contrary to the
principles of involvement, accountability and transparency.
The present Committee system if appropriately
organised and serviced can be very effective, efficient and open.
The systems of Cabinet and Scrutiny Committees, on the other hand,
can lead to convoluted decision processes and delays.
The proposed division of functions
between the executive and representational roles is unnecessary
and to an extent artificial. It does not sit well with community
planning and local decision making. Nor has the relationship with
the political group system been explored in the White Paper/Draft
The Government's executive models
would do nothing to encourage high quality candidates to stand
for local election.
There are some apparent inconsistencies
with the Department of Health's exortations to ALL Councillors
to accept their direct public parenting responsibilities. Similarly
the executive models run counter to the enhanced involvement of
Councillors in partnership activities eg Education and Care Partnerships.
The models would be ineffective in
a hung council situation. The Bill as currently drafted gives
no way back from the executive models even when the circumstances
within the Council change significantly.
Some preliminary thought has been given to how
an Executive Cabinet system might operate in Cambridgeshire. (NB
an Advisory Cabinet system is already in place). An executive
Cabinet could be either:
A singe party Cabinetin which
case is likely to be less open and more confrontational than the
present inclusive arrangements.
A multi-party Cabinet (non-coalition)in
which case it is difficult to envisage how decision making will
The Cabinet (or Mayor) model may be appropriate
for some councils, but should not be prescribed for all authorities.
Cambridgeshire County Council believes its present system is appropriate
to our local circumstances.
4. BRIEF DESCRIPTION
The present internal political management arrangements
can be summarised as:
(a) Small Committees with minimal sub-committee
structure. One stop decision making.
(b) Effective advisory structure which encourages
cross-party and joint officer/member working.
(c ) Scrutiny (performance management) intrinsic
part of system.
(d) Devolved arrangements for some local
(e) Delegation of operational decisions to
Council meets 4 times a yearextensive
delegations to Committees.
Only three Programmes Committeesmeeting
six times a year; 14 members on each. No sub-committees.
Policy Committee with 15 membersmeeting
six times a year. Just one sub-committee.
Four Performance (scrutiny) Panels.
Strong supporting advisory structureincluding:
(i) Cross party briefings
(ii) Service Advisory Groupsofficer
chaired working groups with members to discuss emerging policy
(iii) Provision for Select Panels on a task
and finish basis.
Area Joint Committees with District Councils
to deal with local environmental and transport matters.
Single Party Cabinet acting in an advisory capacity
but giving clear and accountable leadership on major budgetary
and policy issues.
The present arrangements are not claimed as
perfect and need frequent fine-tuning. For example the Council
has commissioned consultants to develop an Action Learning programme
with members on the performance management/scrutiny role. It will
soon be considering refinements to enhance cross-service and partnership
The most important attributes, which Members
across all groups wish to preserve, are those of inclusiveness
and transparency; ie the involvement and participation of all
members of the Council in the key decisions affecting their constituents
through an open and transparent decision making process. They
fear these will be lost.
The Bill as currently drafted appears to make
it extremely difficult for the local electorate to opt for retention
of the present arrangements if this is their preference.