Memorandum by Redcar & Cleveland Council
and the University of Teesside (LAG 11)
Thank you for the opportunity to submit evidence
to the inquiry into local authority governance. After a brief
introduction, this memorandum sets out evidence in the order advised
in Press Notice 69/1999-2000 dated 30 November 2000. This evidence
is supplemented by information from the University of Teesside
who are engaged in a project to evaluate the appropriateness of
the authority's existing political management arrangements and
to facilitate the process of deciding on a specific political
management structure within the context of the Local Government
Redcar & Cleveland Council has been operating
a Leader and Executive model since May 2000 on an interim basis.
The Executive is comprised of the Leader, Deputy Leader and eight
other portfolio holders, each responsible for one of the Council's
major themes, derived from the thematic areas of the Community
Plan. The model also includes a 13-member Scrutiny Committee,
two quasi judicial committees, Policy and Resources Committee,
Standards Committee, Social Services Committee and nine Advisory
Panels, one per portfolio area. It was envisaged that the Advisory
Panels would support the Executive in policy development by feeding
community views into the process.
*Preliminary views on whether the changes in political
management structures are likely to contribute to greater efficiency,
transparency and accountability in local government
Fortnightly meetings of the Executive and Scrutiny
Committee together with significant delegation to officers ensures
that the business of the Council is progressed at some speed.
The "tyranny of the diary", however, with the requirement
that a policy proposal may have to be debated up to five times
in differing political formats, detracts from this efficiency.
In this regard the new system is no more efficient than the committee
system. To a limited extent, the number of times that matters
come before the council will diminish when the Council Executive
becomes a lawful decision making body.
For those Members involved in the Executive
or Scrutiny functions, the process is transparent. For other Members,
however, this is not always the case and here there is some feeling
Whilst meetings of the Executive and Scrutiny
Committee are open, there has been little attendance by the public.
The Executive may become more accessible as it adopts the discipline
of declaring the policy implementation issues it will consider.
If the Overview and Scrutiny function of the Council is to achieve
its aspiration of becoming "the community champion"
it will have to meet in accessible community locations throughout
the borough and be pro-active in addressing issues of importance
to the general populace as well as specific geographic communities
or communities of interest.
There is also a concern that significant delegation
to officers, without the introduction of and adherence to good
political management practice in the monitoring of the exercising
of these delegated powers, may adversely impact on the transparency
of the new structures.
As the accountability of the new process is
somewhat the product of greater efficiency and transparency, given
the comments above, it may yet be too early to form an opinion
on this. Certainly, the intention is to involve the electorate
in the debate, to be clear about the decisions made and to test
the success and acceptability of those decisions through the ballot
box. Greater attention, however, will have to be focussed on democratic
processes within the elected term of a Council administration.
*Impact of new arrangements on the role of Councillors
The new arrangements have had a marked impact
on the role of Councillors. Lead Councillors (the Executive) have
become very busy, with a high profile and carry considerable workloads.
The new arrangements have also encouraged more communication and
joint working between service areas. This has had a positive effect
on dismantling the departmentalism that is so deeply ingrained
in local government culture.
The new arrangements have had a different but
equally significant impact on the role of non-Executive members.
Elected members on the Overview and Scrutiny committee seem to
really enjoy their new role and have undertaken it with great
enthusiasm and commitment. Members on the quasi-judicial committees
are also happy because they have an active role in the decision-making
processes of the Council.
There is however, a problem with Advisory Panels.
The Advisory Panels were established to offer advice and scrutiny
support (in fact, to act as a "critical friend") to
the Lead Councillor in each of the given portfolio areas. The
problem is that, as they do not make decisions; many of the members
feel the Panels to be little more than "talking shops".
They feel marginalised and disenfranchised from the real business
of decision making. The new arrangements are currently under review
and the Political Structures Working Party has been reconvened
to oversee this. Some of the Advisory Panels have worked as a
result of a firm commitment to structured and informed debate
and delegation by the Lead Councillor.
The Overview and Scrutiny function is seen currently
as being secondary and less important by a large proportion of
the members. The concept of Executive and Overview and Scrutiny
functions working equitably for the benefit of the Council and
its electorate has not yet been fully recognised or realised.
The problem, however, is being addressed alongside the need to
bring a tighter focus to the functioning of Advisory Panels.
There is growing concern from Members about
some aspects of the present arrangements. The issues identified
in discussion so far may be summarised as follows:
The arrangements do not sufficiently
meet the needs to link representational duties with the activities
of the Council.
Some of the Advisory Panels work
better than others, and are more valued by their members.
A number of the Advisory Panels have
hardly met, and when they do, they are not sure what it is they
can do or are meant to do.
Advisory Panels are seen as toothless,
with no real power by some Members.
Members want a real and active role
in decision making and making recommendations.
Members value the discussion generated
by Committee meetings as is evidenced by P&R and Social Services
Some of the Advisory Panels work
better than others as they seem to have clearer Terms of Reference.
The structure and content of Advisory
Panel agendas varies and continues to be officer led.
Discussion at Advisory Panels where
reports are produced is more informed and fruitful.
Some Members feel disenfranchised
and disconnected by the new arrangements.
Some Lead Councillors are concerned
that the speed of the decision-making process that is governed
by the current arrangement of the civic diary leaves insufficient
time for reflection and full advice to be obtained on issues within
Paradoxically, other Lead Councillors
express concern that they are dealing with the same document up
to five times.
Some Lead Councillors feel a sense
of isolation and (as deputies outside the Executive are not permitted
under the legislation) are looking to the identification of appropriate
support to their decision-making responsibilities.
There is also concern about how well
the political structures fit with the Council's planning and decision-taking
Overview & Scrutiny
There appear to be concerns about
the role, functions and resources of overview and scrutiny.
All Members were sent a questionnaire to obtain
their views on the interim constitution. A total of 22 questionnaires
were returned (37 per cent), split as follows:
2 Liberal Democrat
1 East Cleveland Independent
Eight were completed by Councillors with less
than five years' experience, four had more than five but less
than 10 years and 10 had more than 10 years' experience.
To summarise the main findings of the questionnaire:
Eight respondents considered the number of meetings
they were attending to be about right however, a further eight
considered there were not quite enough or too few. Meeting information
was timely and accurate and meetings were generally useful.
There was an even split between those who felt
they had had to learn some new skills in order to carry out the
new roles and those that had not. The majority felt that they
had now got on top of these new roles.
The responses suggest that training and development
needs to be looked at more closely particularly in relation to
Members' roles within Advisory Panels and as front line Councillors.
The respondents' overall opinion of the new
arrangements suggests they much preferred the old system.
Use of Constitution
Most respondents considered they knew the different
parts of the new constitution and it accurately described the
process for the role.
Most respondents considered they received adequate
Officer support within their role.
Support to do the Job
Most respondents considered they received sufficient
information to take part in meetings, they did not receive too
much detailed information to make those decisions and they received
the papers in good time to read them.
Most respondents had an understanding of the
methods of representation applicable to their roles and the majority
had used a number of methods of consultation within the decision
making process with debate at Committee being the most favoured.
New Ways of Working
The respondents favoured more information workshop
events being held to develop policy but were concerned that they
did not have sufficient opportunity effectively to scrutinise
the recommendations and actions of the Executive. They considered
processes were open to the public and were accountable. A number,
however, could neither agree nor disagree that processes were
practical, effective, creative or understandable.
*Impact of new arrangements on the role of officers
The greatest impact has been on chief officers,
democratic services and those officers identified to provide specific
support to the Executive and Overview and Scrutiny.
Are learning how to support the Executive and
individual portfolio holders, exercise their delegated powers
with discretion and provide information to Overview and Scrutiny
without being partisan.
Are learning how to manage events within the
Council Diary, ensure that the right information reaches the right
people at the right time and ensure that decisions are made lawfully
and communicated clearly.
Specific Executive and Overview and Scrutiny Support
Is being organised to protect confidentiality
but within the context of both functions working equitably for
the benefit of the Council and its electorate.
*Impact of new arrangements on the local electorate
This, despite consultation, has been minimal.
*Experience of setting up overview and scrutiny committees
and the role of area committees or other devolved arrangements
As yet there are no Area Committees but Members
are looking at this alternative and how best it could be implemented
across the Borough.
*Difficulties experienced in implementing provisions
of LGA 2000 (part II) and views on the adequacy of the guidance
and how it may be improved
This is a huge task requiring much detailed
work. The guidance is very helpful but it is too early to say
anything significant about its practical utility.
*Extent to which opting for directly elected mayor
model and advantages/disadvantages of such a model
Neither of the directly elected mayor models
have been warmly embraced by the Members of Redcar and Cleveland
Borough Council despite the burgeoning enthusiasm elsewhere. The
Guidelines on consultation set out in the Local Government Act
state quite clearly that all three options have to be put to the
people equitably. It may be that following this process there
is substantial support for one of the mayoral models and this
would then need to be responded to by the Council.
The opportunities for political debate have
diminished under the interim arrangements to the detriment of
developing ideas at member level and to the political vocation
and appetite of councillors. It is not so much fun anymore and
there is a real danger of loss of interest and political talent.
*Information from the University of Teesside
A team of four academics from the University
of Teesside has been engaged to: evaluate the appropriateness
of the Authority's existing political management arrangements;
and facilitate the process of deciding on a specific political
management structure most appropriate for the Authority. The latter
will be undertaken within the context of existing comparative
evidence, drawn from a variety of sources including the Local
Government Association, New Local Government Network and the Improvement
and Development Agency.
The intention is to seek and analyse the views
of all Members by means of a series of focus group discussions
to explore their views on interim and possible structures. This
will include inviting their views on whether the interim political
management structures, established in May 2000, have led to enhanced
accountability, transparency and efficiency in policy-making,
policy implementation and policy review. This will build upon
the research already undertaken in-house as to Members' views,
as reported above. In addition, the views of certain key Chief
Officers will also be established against the same criteria.