Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Liverpool City UNISON (LAG 25)

  Liverpool City Council started the process of changing Council Committee structures as a response to the Government's modernisation agenda for Local Government, with particular reference to developing new political management structures. In addition they introduced a greater delegation process to the Chief Executive and Senior Managers.

  The point put by the authority was that in developing a new model of decision-making, the authority has emphasized the principle that the working of the City Council need to be brought more in touch with Liverpool people and decisions must be local, open and accountable. This we at Liverpool City UNISON do not accept.

  The reasons being as follows:

  1.  Full City Council meets monthly, however less and less items actually go to full council for ratification. Most of the decisions are currently taken by the Ratification Committee which currently meets on a weekly basis. The full City Council has a cut off time of 9 pm and mainly deals with questions put in by Councillors for Executive members and Officers, it also deals with motions submitted by Political Groups. However few reports are sent to City Council and therefore there is little debate on the workings of the City Council other than through questions. The Scheme of Delegation to Executive Officers has also contributed to this. This does not go to support the above point made by the authority. Under the new Committee structures many Councillors now only need to attend the full City Council in any one month and therefore get their considerable allowance for this only, which means the new system has reduced Councillor involvement in the workings of the Council. The agenda's and minutes are shared with the trade unions.

  2.  Executive Meetings (sometimes called the Cabinet) take place every week with the odd exception, initially they were held on a Friday morning, this has now been moved to a Monday. The Executive is made up of 11 Executive Members all from the leading political group, which is currently the Liberal Democrats. The meeting considers recommendations from Executive Members, these recommendations as well as being signed off by the relevant Executive Member is signed off by the relevant Executive Officer. From here they go to either the relevant Select Committee or alternatively the Ratification Committee. However if we are looking at open and accountable Government this must be questioned, prior to the Executive Meeting taking place all the Executive Members meet in private and have their debates there. They then come to the public meeting and play out the meeting, I presume for the press and public, with the real debate taking place behind closed doors the hour previously. Therefore the meeting open to the public starts at 9 am and the Executive Members have met with Chief Officers at 8 am.

  3.  Ratification Committee meets weekly in the main on a Friday at 12.30 pm, this is were the majority of Council reports go, including proposals for restructures of sections/departments. This meeting rarely takes longer than 10-15 minutes, sometimes as little as five minutes. Very little debate goes on at this Committee and any member of the public attending the meeting may question why Councillors are paid extra allowance for being on the Ratification Committee, nor would a member of the public find out any information about the reasons behind decisions taken.

  4.  Select Committees follow the work of the Lead Executive Member. Their role was envisaged to be reviewing existing and proposed policies, plans and performance and develop new ideas for consideration by the appropriate Executive Member. In actual fact in the main they examine the recommendations made by the Executive Member. The make up of each Committee is in proportion to the political balance of the Council. These Committees are not decision-making meetings and can merely make recommendation to the Executive Member, these recommendation have been ignored in the past. One example of this was at the Best Value Select Committee of which the Leader of the Opposition was Chairing (this is no longer the case the Chair is held by a Liberal Democrat, since the beginning of this Council year) The Executive Member had put forward a recommendation in relation to the Councils Information, Communication and Technology Services. This report had three options, one to outsource, one to go to partnership and one to retain in-house services. Us as trade unions question the fact that this had been a Best Value Review, not only had a full review not taken place there had been no evaluation of the three options. The Best Value Select Committee had been given information from UNISON representatives, which outlined our points, we also requested from the Chair the opportunity for our representative to speak to the meeting, this was granted. The Committee found that a Best Value Review had not been fully undertaken, to which the Executive Member responded that was their opinion and he was at liberty to ignore this opinion. Which he did, however since this time the process for the Information, Communication and Technology Services has been changed to a procurement exercise and the Council have opted for a Joint Venture Company with British Telecom. As a point of interest this process was far from open as well. It is only with the use of the Call In/Call Up Process that opposition Councillors can get items to full Council.

  5.  Area Committees, meet approx every two months in a variety of locations around the area concerned. This does allow for members of the public to attend at least one in each six month as it will be local to them. The make up of the Committees are the locally elected Councillors, Advisory Members which have been appointed and obviously members of the public. Members of the public who usually attend are local activists, the advertising of these meetings is not adequate, even Council Employees would not automatically have this information on a regular basis. Even though the Council have introduced a magazine which is delivered to every house in Liverpool, they do not take this opportunity of advertising the Area Committee Schedule of Meetings. There is also no evidence I can see that allows for the Committees to change Council Policy. I have however seen Select Committees merely note the comments of the Area Committee. The agendas are drawn up by the Council and in the main seem to contain issues that are local to that area, Example Agenda Attached. There is not discussion on strategic issues and decisions such as the Privatisation of the Meals on Wheels Service and the fact that this service has been changed to a 100 per cent frozen meals service. There is also no debate about the Policy of full Housing Stock Transfer.

  Elected Mayor the Council had a Extra Ordinary City Council Meeting in January to discuss this and have decided to have a referendum of the people of Liverpool on this matter. However there has been no in-depth discussion of what the role and responsibility of such an elected representative would be. It is our worry that there would be even less democracy than there is currently but without real detail it would be difficult to comment on the Council's intentions. Whilst it is generally accepted that the previous Committee Structures were overly bureaucratic, it is of concern that more and more decisions about the workings of the Council are being taken behind closed doors and we as staff only find out when the new structures are put in place and the people of Liverpool only find out when something goes wrong. As more and more Council Services are going out to contract, it may only be necessary for Councils to meet on a very irregular basis when contracts are due for renewal. As the current trend is for contracts to be given for seven to ten years, the meetings of Councils could be very infrequent and there needs to be mechanisms in place to ensure there is not corruption if the elected mayor is introduced.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AND THE NEW POLITICAL STRUCTURES

  While industrial relations in Liverpool have not been good for a considerable time and consultation has always been sparse, since the new structures have been put in place it is even more difficult to see and/or find out what the Councils intentions are for our members. Previously all decisions came through Committees for the relevant work area. In the current process it has become even harder to track what decisions are being taken relating to our membership. The Councillors have very little to do with trade union representatives and do not seem to see any value in having good industrial relations. Having said this, it may be specifically in Liverpool that this is the case. However as Council Employees and as Council Tax payers of Liverpool this current system has seriously set back Democracy and should be reviewed. If the Councillor for your particular ward is not on the Executive or the Ratification Committee there is little point in turning out to elect them.

January 2001


 
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