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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600 - 605)



Sir Paul Beresford

  600. How do you define a decision?

  (Cllr Slaughter) That is a very good question. Very much in the same way as we did under the committee system.

  601. The White Paper talks of what I would have thought was a much lower level to be reported, even decisions on a one-to-one basis. You do not do that.

  (Cllr Slaughter) What I hope the system is trying to do is to focus on where decisions actually come from and what decisions actually are. In the old days of the committee we all knew that no decisions were taken at committee but very often no decisions were taken at the call over meetings either, or very rarely. There were reports but very rarely were reports changed at call over. Where were those decisions formulated, where were those reports drawn up? Was it by the chair of the committee, was it by the chief officer or was it by somebody else? We are trying to spotlight what decisions come forward and how they are drawn up.

  602. Would you think it practical to follow the White Paper suggestion that it should be even on a one-to-one basis, you and your chief executive, Mr Peterson, who came to the decision?

  (Mr Peterson) If I could come in briefly here. No, I do not think that would be practical. What happens at the moment in Hammersmith and Fulham is that every decision that would have gone through a committee under the old system still comes through and it is published following the cabinet. Not all of those would have been discussed with the cabinet, some of those would have been simply reported by the relevant deputy or cabinet member in summary form. They are then all available with, if you like, standard local government reports and any of those can be called in. Apart from those things delegated to officers, and we do not in fact have a layer of decisions of any great substance delegated to officers, all decisions of substance going through the system are subject to access to information. It is at that stage that they become available to the public and opposition councillors and that is prior to implementation.


  603. Thank you very much. Can I just ask one question. Have you got a planning committee?

  (Cllr Slaughter) Yes, we have a planning application committee which deals with all planning applications. We still have the quasi-judicial committees for licensing and matters of that kind.

Mr Pike

  604. Can I just ask one final question. With your experience is there anything, having looked at the draft Bill, that you think could be improved in the draft Bill because that is the whole purpose?

  (Cllr Slaughter) I think the answer is there are a number of things but it is only our opinion. I think our opinion is valid in the sense that we are probably the authority that has tried it out most so far. We have given a whole year's go at it and we have had reviews. I think we put most of those in our written submission. We are trying to move on, if you like. We hope that the Bill comes forward soon and we hope that we will be able to slot in very easily to a mayor cabinet system under that Bill and move on to the next stage which is trying to get the public more involved and trying to get a higher degree of genuine accountability rather than just the opportunity for it. To go back a stage, I do think it is very confusing the way that the Bill is being set up in terms of when do you need a referendum, what systems are actually being promoted, why you have different titles for what is effectively the same post, the head of the local authority. I think a little bit more clarity and a little more direction from Central Government would actually be quite helpful. I do not think that is prescriptive in terms of telling local authorities what to do, I think the choice should be there. I think it has been said by others if we are going to have referenda, and I am not sure that will be necessary, then make it a straight choice between the four, the status quo and the three new approved models, and see what people do rather than this elaborate scheme that is there at the moment.

Earl of Carnarvon

  605. Chairman, on your question regarding the planning committee, is the planning committee open to the public or press?

  (Cllr Slaughter) Yes, we have to abide by the accepted legal practice.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank you for coming and for dealing with all of our questions.

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Prepared 11 August 1999