Memorandum by Bill Acraman, West Sussex
County Council Councillor, Mid Sussex North (LAG 49)
You will have received a response from West
Sussex Governance committee on the working so far of the Local
Government Act. However, some additional comment from individual
councillors of the authority might be welcome.
A large number of councillors (almost certainly
a majority) feel that we are now obliged to operate a less satisfactory
system than before. The committee system had its weaknesses and
needed reform, rather than abandonment.
The system we now have, as the WSCC note makes
clear, is a situation where a small number of councillorsthe
cabinet or executivenow have an unmanageable workload,
whilst the bulk of councillors have less to do and have minimal
influence on the course of events. They were elected to play a
part in the government of the county, which they are quite unable
A result of this imbalance is that three of
the seven cabinet members do not wish to serve any longer in the
cabinet; there are a large number of councillors choosing not
to stand again this May, because they are unhappy with the system
and all parties are having difficulty in recruiting candidates
for the May elections.
It will be increasingly difficult to recruit
people to cabinet positions. Those in full time employment would
find it impossible to combine a full time job with another job
requiring more than three days of work at County Hall per week.
Those no longer working are also reluctant. There are more things
in their lives than taking on an underpaid, but virtually full
time job and few will wish to make that commitment.
Overview or scrutiny committees (christened
Select committees in West Sussex) are not proving successful.
As feared, they are little more than talking shops. They take
no decisions; can be dismissed as irrelevant by both executive
members and officers. So far, they have mostly been presented
with broad brush feel good papers on aspects of county policy
with which few could disagree. The sorts of decisions on specific
matters that were previously voted on by the old committees are
no longer even debated. A fait accompli decision by cabinet member
is announced and that normally is that. I would expect from that
comment the more successful call in procedure that has been used
for four high profile matters in the last year.
Area committees and community planning are still
only in the trial stage, so their success or not is for the future.