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