Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council Conservative Group (LAG 06)

  I refer to your press notice of 30 November 2000 on Local Authority Governance to express the views of the Conservative Group of the East Riding Council about the new political structures resulting from the new arrangements. These are in the context of the political situation that prevails in the East Riding, which is a balanced authority consisting of 27 Conservatives, 22 Liberal Democrats, 11 Labour, 6 Independent and 1 Independent Labour and in which there is no agreement between any groups to form a ruling alliance.

  1.  So far the changes do not appear to us to contribute to greater efficiency, transparency and accountability. An Executive has been established, that given that no one party is in control, makes it impossible for us to allocate portfolios simply because no individual holder would be certain to command majority support for his views and policy. (This is of particularly acute significance in relation to finance and the budget).

  The division between the operational role of the Executive and the supervisory role of the Scrutiny Committees has led to Members, particularly those not on the Executive, being less well informed than previously, because Officers claim that operational information must be supplied only to the Executive. This obviously means that there is less transparency and indeed brings seriously into question the right that all Members surely should have of access to all information no matter what its nature.

  2(a)  The impact of the new arrangements on the role of Councillors is to some degree evident in what I have said above. Perhaps even more important is the fact that many Members actually get less information than before with the psychological effect that they feel themselves excluded and therefore participating less than under the old arrangements.

    (b)  The impression that we have about the role of Officers is that they are to some degree now more remote than before; and perhaps even more important is the impression Members have that Officers now take more executive action without consulting Councillors than was the case before.

    (c)  The effect on the local electorate is probably not significant in the sense that they have little idea of what is going on, but in so far as Members have responsibility for their electorate, it is now more difficult for them to report to their parish councils than it was before.

  3.  We have set up Overview and Scrutiny Committees, but in varying degrees they are striving to find a role. In our own case this is also restricted by the fact that the ability to call in an Executive decision is very much hampered by the need for two parties to participate in that process, whereas two parties will have been required to achieve the Executive decision in question in the first place.

  The only area committees we have are those which we had before the change, namely Area Planning Committees, which work as before.

  4.  The difficulty that we have encountered in setting up the new arrangements results, as can be gathered from what is said above, from the political complexion of the Council, so much indeed that we questioned for some time the possibility of achieving these new arrangements. As it is, we operate with a representation of each of the three main parties carrying responsibility for each function within the Executive, with three Joint Leaders of the Council and with three Joint Chairmen of each of the Scrutiny Committees, a very cumbersome arrangement but the only one by which in our situation we can work.

  5.  Although we went out for consultation with all the options available, there was little support for the option of an elected Mayor; and perhaps this was to be expected in an area like our own which is largely rural with a widely dispersed population and with a number of smallish urban centres and consequently with no central focus for a Mayor to represent.

  6.  The overall impression which members of the Conservative Group possess is that the Executive works in a less than direct fashion, that the Review and Scrutiny function is being too vaguely carried out, that too much streamlining of decisions is being carried out at Officer level, and that, in summary, Members as a whole are now both less well informed and less active participants than before, so that overall our feeling is that there has been no improvement and probably less efficiency, transparency and accountability.

  Over and above the points set out in the paragraphs listed there is a far more important argument possibly affecting the new arrangements, namely, that the confinement of operational decisions to the Executive and thus the concentration of real power into fewer hands, opens up the danger of undue influence being more easily applied than in the more dispersed situation that prevailed before the latest Act. I know that there were significant examples of corruption before, simply because no system can be perfect, but I am concerned about the easier opportunities that the new system could allow.

Councillor Professor Arthur Pollard

Group Secretary

January 2001


 
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