Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 140 - 155)



  140. Your evidence seems to suggest that the new arrangements should respect local diversity—that tends to suggest that it does not. Are you saying that in fact the new arrangements perfectly respect local diversity?
  (Ms Jeffrey) I think what we are saying is that local diversity has come through the new arrangements, and we welcome that; that we are pleased it has been possible for flexibility to be used on the ground.
  (Ms Kerry) Although it has to be said that some authorities would wish for more flexibility than currently exists in order to reflect the diversity of approach that they would like to adopt. There are examples quoted in our evidence (and you will hear later) from Barnsley Council and their view about deputy cabinet members and deputy portfolio holders; and evidence also supplied by East Riding and Yorkshire Council, which is a balanced council, which has a particular view about a single leader role.


  141. How many local authorities are there within your area?
  (Ms Kerry) 22.

  142. Supposing the scrutiny panels of all those 22 decided they wanted to look at the work of the regional assembly—would you be able to go and take part in 22 scrutiny hearings?
  (Ms Kerry) Yes.

  143. It is a lot of work?
  (Ms Kerry) Yes, it would be a lot of work, but if we were called to account in that particular way by our member authorities we would, of course, appear before them.

  144. Who would provide that scrutiny panel with the expertise to ask you the awkward questions?
  (Ms Jeffrey) I think at the end of the day the local authorities' expertise about what we do at regional level is very much about how they see us operate. Our relationship with leaders and chief executives is obviously an important and developing one. It is the knowledge that comes through that relationship that would allow them to have sufficient information to scrutinise us, were that what they wished to do.

  145. Do you think it should be their role to scrutinise you? Or should you yourselves have some scrutiny mechanism in place?
  (Ms Kerry) We do not have formal scrutiny arrangements in place within the Regional Assembly at present; but we do adopt a fairly informal and rigorous approach to what we do and how we do it.

  146. One of the roles is to represent the region, is it not? Supposing we went for either of the two models to go for elected mayors. Would there not be a conflict of interest between someone representing the region vigorously and someone perhaps representing Leeds or Sheffield as mayor?
  (Ms Kerry) Under the current arrangements?

  147. There are two models for setting up mayors within the area. How do you see this fitting into the framework?
  (Ms Kerry) We are very careful in our activities in the Regional Assembly only to undertake work which is regional in nature and is strategic and which does not cut across work which is more properly undertaken at a local authority level. Intrinsically I do not believe that there is any more scope for conflict with a mayoral model of the type you have identified than there is with the existing situation that exists—with leaders representing their individual local authorities and having their first allegiance to those individual local authorities, and those leaders acting corporately at the regional level.

  Chairman: You think that the model for elected mayors would not cause you problems at all?

Mr Blunt

  148. I do not know whether you have noticed but there is a slight dispute in this Place about the powers exercised by the European Union and those powers exercised by Parliament. You are saying you have found the magic solution. That by restraint from the regional government or the regional assembly you would be able to decide that this is a regional issue rather than an issue that affects a city or a borough and, magically, you would somehow be able to avoid this contest of responsibility?
  (Ms Jeffrey) I think the difference lies in the structure we have at the moment. What you have to remember is that the regional assembly is made up of leaders of the individual local authorities; they are not directly elected representatives.

  149. The point the Chairman was making was, when you get two competing mayors at different levels there is the potential outcome, of a system that has been foisted on local government under these Acts, of a problem.
  (Ms Jeffrey) That is no different from the situation we have currently, where leaders in the region meet together on a regular basis to decide on issues of regional importance. Obviously there will be times when the individual authority priority will take precedence. If that is the case then we deal with that situation as it arises.


  150. Would Wychavon like to move to an elected mayor?
  (Cllr Meikle) No.

  151. Why not?
  (Cllr Meikle) I think it is utterly and totally inappropriate for a rural district that has three small towns which already have their own mayors and 70 parishes. We have done the first stage of the public consultation and there is no question about it—from the results of those responses we have had, from organisations which include the parish councils, they would actually opt for the status quo. In face-to-face consultation they have actually put the question: "Isn't our elected member going to be a second class member?"

  152. Have you managed to steer them in that direction, or is it totally spontaneous?
  (Cllr Meikle) No, quite the reverse. We actually asked to be allowed to give our own preferred choice and the Minister refused specifically to allow us to do it. We could only consult on the three options.

  153. You think that was a really genuine consultation with no steer from yourselves?
  (Cllr Meikle) Hardly any. I have to say, if you are having, as we do have, public consultation with the public—we have them in the three towns in January and February—if you are in a face-to-face situation as we are this morning and one is asked a question, one has to give an honest answer. Certainly in the written publications, that have gone out prior to the consultation, we have not actually proposed our own preferred choice.

  154. Lastly, how many people actually participated in that consultation?
  (Cllr Meikle) Very small, and this is of some concern. Again, it is not the subject of today, but we think that the amount of consultation is reaching over-kill proportions. There is the county council; there is the police; there is the health authority; there is ourselves on the local structure plan; there is ourselves on the budget; and there is ourselves on local government governance. We do not find it very surprising we do not get much back in the post. If we have a topic at a public meeting then we do get some quite good attendances.

  155. What do you call "quite good attendances"?
  (Cllr Meikle) Between 70 and 90.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you both for your evidence. Thank you.

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