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

Examination of witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  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 is £2,500.

  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 the council.

  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 this, yes.

  185. How often do the political parties have group meetings?
  (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.

Mr Benn

  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 process.
  (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.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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 meeting.

Mr Blunt

  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 wins.

  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 another.


  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.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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.

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