Examination of witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
CONNOLLY and MR
180. Are they similar figures for Middlesbrough?
(Ms Connolly) Yes, it is £11,000 for a cabinet
member special responsibility allowance. It is about £6,500
for a scrutiny panel chair. The basic allowance for all members
181. And the leader?
(Ms Connolly) The leader is, I think, £17,000.
(Mr Coppard) The levels we set are below those recommended
by the independent body.
182. This goes directly now to the issue of
how cabinet members are appointed and how the chairman of the
scrutiny committee is appointed.
(Mr Houghton) Cabinet members are appointed and the
leader makes a recommendation of a slate to the council and the
council either accepts or rejects the slate the leader puts forward.
In terms of scrutiny, they are elected directly by members of
183. If your slate was rejected by the council,
you would regard that as a matter of confidence.
(Mr Houghton) Not necessarily. Certainly I would take
some soundings as to why the slate had been refused, obviously.
Sir Paul Beresford
184. Is that called a group meeting?
(Mr Houghton) The group does have a role to play in
185. How often do the political parties have
(Mr Houghton) I cannot speak for the opposition groups.
The Labour group meets once a month.
(Mr Coppard) Before each full council.
(Mr Houghton) Can I just make a point here because
we have substantially changed the way the group process works
in Barnsley. Historically, nothing moved in the council before
it went through the group. So, in effect, the committee system
became a bit of a shambles; we could get through 40 items in 10
minutes because there was nothing there in terms of open session.
Now, cabinet, obviously, has its deliberations, scrutiny has its
deliberations and with an area forum network as well they have
their deliberations without the whip and in open session. It is
normally at the end of those processes that the group proceeds.
186. If you had a really major decision that
was coming up for consideration by the cabinet, are you saying
under no circumstances would the party group not be called for
a special meeting? You said you meet currently at the end of the
(Mr Houghton) What I am saying is if there is a really
big key issue, which is obviously going to be recommended, that
will be recommended to council not decided by cabinet. The cabinet
would do its work, that would then go into open scrutiny, the
scrutiny body or bodies (depending on how many are affected) would
do their work and they would either then accept or reject the
proposal. If they reject it that goes back to cabinet and it has
to re-think or re-look. It may disagree with scrutiny, at the
end of the day, about what has taken place. If it has been rejected
it would be put back into scrutiny again for another look, scrutiny
then would be happy with any changes or not that the cabinet had
made, and it would then proceed to full council. We do not want
a table-tennis match going on. Only when it is getting to the
full council stage would the group meet to actually take a view,
and by that time the recommendation of the cabinet has been in
open session and up for discussion, as with the scrutiny as well.
So people are fully aware of what is happening; the public is
fully aware of what is happening before any decisions are made.
187. Does anybody report your meetings?
(Mr Houghton) Yes, the press.
188. Do they genuinely report your meetings?
It is all very well saying the public would know, how does anybody
locally know? How much reporting do you get?
(Mr Houghton) The local newspaper reports every week.
(Mr Coppard) The local reporter attends every cabinet
189. Can I get back to the issue of how it works
in Middlesbrough? How do you appoint your executive members and
the chairmen of committees, etc?
(Ms Connolly) The leader, the executive members and
chairs of scrutiny are appointed by the council.
190. Formally, but how does it actually work?
(Ms Connolly) It works through the group process.
The majority group takes a decision about the leading members
and their portfolios.
191. Do you run an election within the group
for each portfolio?
(Ms Connolly) Yes.
192. Do you run an election for the eight positions,
so it is like the shadow cabinet elections for the Labour Party?
(Ms Connolly) Yes, we do.
193. Who appoints them to which portfolio?
(Ms Connolly) The members stand for a portfolio and
they are elected on that basis.
194. How does that work?
(Ms Connolly) Members, through the group AGM, are
nominated for a particular portfolio and then there is an election.
195. What happens if you have got your two most
talented members of the group other than the leader who go for
one particular position, and one of them loses? What happens then?
(Ms Connolly) The person who gets the simple majority
196. Fine, but if you have got elections happening
at precisely the same time for all the other executive holders,
that second person does not become a member of the executive.
(Ms Connolly) That is right, yes.
197. How in practice then does the divvy-up
happen to ensure that the senior, most powerful members of the
group actually end up on your executive?
(Ms Connolly) Because as with most other groups we
have members who will tend to support one person as opposed to
198. Let me ask a different question on the
same point. How many elections did you have last time when you
were appointing all these people? How many were returned unopposed?
(Ms Connolly) I think probably, of the executive members,
half of them were returned unopposed. That is my recollection.
It is about a year ago or so.
199. We have concentrated, rather, on the elected
members, and I just wanted to ask both of you, really, about the
relationships amongst the officers. Officers are very powerful
people who can influence decisions taken. Is there any evidence
of disagreements between the officers responsible for particular
portfolios and subjects and those who are advising scrutiny committees?
Supplementary to that, how do you ensure that the people getting
advice on scrutiny panels get sufficiently independent advice
that will enable them to assess the decisions fairly accurately?
(Mr Coppard) One of the key features of the scrutiny
process in Barnsley, and one which we think has made it a success,
is that when we created the six scrutiny commissions we allocated
a specific dedicated senior officer to each one to be their resource.