Examination of witnesses (Questions 280
TUESDAY 20 MARCH 2001
CLLR A PHILIP
HENDRY CBE, MR
SHORTLAND and MR
280. Have you looked at the details of the proposed
Bill? I think you will see in there that the powers proposed for
local authorities are quite limited. You would not have the power
to call for all of the information requested, you would not have
(Cllr Hendry) It depends on the background. We are
fortunate that in Bedfordshire we have a very good relationship,
going back many years, between health and social services. For
example, last week we had a meeting with all of the members of
the executive, with the chief executive and all of the executives
of the health authority and the chairman of the health authority
to discuss common problems. We have a very good relationship.
I do not envisage that we will be sticking strictly to the letter
of the law. I think there will be good will on both sides to do
the job that we are required to do. Yes, I agree with you that
it does in some areas seem limiting. I do not think it will provide
an impediment in Bedfordshire because of the culture we created
over the last seven or eight years.
281. Is goodwill enough? If there were issues
of concern do you think you would have sufficient power to be
influential in exercising the scrutiny role?
(Cllr Hendry) We hope so. Nothing is set in stone,
not even Westminster gets everything right first time.
282. How could you suggest such a thing?
(Cllr Hendry) I would like to think that if is not
quite right we can fine tune it as we go. Experience is the best
teacher, I think.
Mrs Dunwoody: These are very revolutionary ideas
that I hope will not catch on.
283. In Bedfordshire you almost set the structure
on the basis that it is going to be hung after the next set of
elections; is that a fair comment?
(Cllr Hendry) No, no, no there is going to be a very
large Conservative majority. We are going to at least double the
Conservative majority from one to two. From 1981 to 1997 Bedfordshire
had been hung for 16 years we were a hung authority. Therefore,
it was absolutely essential that the three political parties worked
together for the benefit of Bedfordshire. Surprise, surprise we
found that 95 per cent of the time we were all agreed on everything
and it was only for 5 per cent that we were politicians and we
fought about things. When we, in fact, brought in the modernisation
agenda on 1st January 1999 I felt it would be a tragedy if we
lost all that we created over that period of time and went for
a single party executive. That is why we did have an all-party
executive. I believe the all-party executive has worked very well
in the two years that we have been in existence. Who knows what
the election result will be, if it is close either way, Labour
or Conservative, I would like to think that we would have an all-party
executive. If there is a large majority for one party then I am
sure the pressure will be on to have a single party executive.
Our executive is totally flexible, we have eight members of the
executive with eight portfolios and they can go to one party,
or in our case they can go to three parties.
284. Does that framework fit well with the party
(Cllr Hendry) I am not sure how party caucus is affected.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats is the only Liberal Democrat
on the executive; the leader and the deputy leader
from the Labour Group are the only two Labour members on the executive.
Myself and my deputy leader and three other members are the Conservatives.
Clearly we have, if you like to so describe it, the most influential
caucus on the executive.
285. In terms of the party groups do they discuss
policy before it gets to the cabinet or afterwards?
(Cllr Hendry) Both before and afterwards. It is naive
to suggest that it is not discussed before it gets to the cabinet.
Whatever the law says people will meet in smoked filled rooms
and discuss things if they are of sufficient importance, I believe.
Yes, of course we discuss amongst ourselves different things.
286. As far as the legislation is concerned
is government guidance helpful?
(Mr Bell) In many cases it has been helpful. Draft
constitutions have prevented everyone having to write for themselves.
At times it has been a bit frustrating and we are trying to get
moving on the agenda and are finding that consultation documents
or guidance does not quite arrive when you expect it, and that
287. Sometimes it is helpful, do not knock it.
(Mr Bell) I think there is an issue, perhaps after
the county council elections, about whether we are going to be
able to move quickly enough, given what Councillor Hendry said,
and if the majority shapes up differently we may want to move
to a different arrangement quickly. We need to be clear that we
can move to that. On balance I think it has been quite helpful,
you have to be sensible and not wait for every bit of guidance,
and take some initiatives and make some decisions yourself.
288. How long did it take you to read?
(Mr Bell) We divided it all up, no single person has
read it all.
289. How many hours of officer's time?
(Mr Bell) It has taken a considerable amount of time.
I am not complaining too much about that, it is a major change
and it demands some attention. Again, to be fair to the DETR they
have provided a model constitution which helps us to slot in,
as it were, where we want to put the local emphasis without having
to go back to the beginning and write all of the text out for
290. Did you say a moral constitution?
(Mr Bell) Model.
Mrs Dunwoody: I am so glad.
291. As you get the new councillors to sign
on on 4th May, somewhere round then, do you hand them this pack?
(Cllr Hendry) The one plea I would make is that the
Government is not to be over-prescriptive. Somebody said in evidence
earlier on that there should be the flexibility to fashion things
that are right for your community. I think that that is very important.
Inevitably there might be some who want to use an over-prescriptive
direction to their political advantage, and so on, which I think
would be highly detrimental. I do hope there is still enough flexibility
for the individual.
292. You hope, but do you think there is really
(Cllr Hendry) I question that.
(Ms Shortland) At the moment it looks as though there
ought to be enough flexibility. The more guidance that comes out
of it, it looks like that flexibility is reducing. Also, there
are other parts of government working that impact upon what local
authorities do. Can I give you a very brief example, building
control, which we have area based, it works extremely well. It
fits within all of the regulations for modernisation of local
government, but there is another part of government which says
that building control has to be self-financing, has to compete
with the private sector and it has completely wrecked everything
that we have built up in terms of building control. That is one
service, we can live with that. If that happens with planning,
with environmental health and government bring all of these other
things in the guidance notes that allow us the flexibility to
keep area committees it will be wasted because it will go out
of the window because the other things will impact upon it and
cross it all out.
Chairman: On that note can I thank all of you
for your evidence. Thank you very much.
4 Witness correction: Another councillor from the Labour