Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)
CLLR JACK RICHARDSON, DAVID CLAXTON, CLLR RICHARD KEMP AND GRAEME CREER
TUESDAY 23 APRIL 2002
80. This is a question to both of you really. How will the local people understand the new decision-making processes; have you asked them?
(Cllr Richardson) So far, no. We have been running now for somewhere in the region of 12 months, we have not had a chance to do a full appraisal, as yet; but, from listening to people talking, I do not think they understand the new system as much as they understood the old system. In the old system, they knew exactly, that a committee was dealing with a particular subject, and if they had to make an enquiry they knew where to make an enquiry; nowadays, they are not quite sure.
81. You think people understood the old system?
(Cllr Richardson) I think people understood the old system better than they understand the new system, as far as we can gather.
82. And Liverpool?
(Cllr Kemp) I think our experience is slightly different. Certainly, everyone knows, in our system, where the buck stops; they always thought it was the committee chair, now they are absolutely sure it is the cabinet member, with responsibility. And they certainly understand the local area system, because otherwise more than 6,000 people would not have gone to them in the last year. But the niceties of who makes what decision, and whether there is a four- or a five-day call-in notice, instead of the three we currently have, etc., I think, is largely unknown, and, frankly, uncared about, why should they be bothered too much about the nitty-gritty of a delivery process.
83. So you would agree with Cllr Paul Clein, who says the public are not really interested in the internal decision-making processes, more with the actual decisions made, at the end of the day?
(Cllr Kemp) And we showed that with our referendum on the mayoralty, where we used exactly the same system to talk about recycling waste refuse, and got a 23 per cent return, and on the mayoralty, with a lot more publicity, we got a 1 per cent return.
84. Cllr Richardson, do you agree with that, the public are not really very interested in how you make the decisions but in what decisions you make?
(Cllr Richardson) I think that is perfectly true. The previous question really was, do they understand it; the answer was `no' to that. But, on this particular issue, yes, I agree that they are simply concerned about what is the outcome.
85. And, specifically to Liverpool, Cllr Kemp, do you think that the lack of controversy that has gone along with the introduction of the new system in Liverpool has something to do with the fact that Liverpool, probably uniquely, has had very low rates of remuneration for cabinet members, I believe the Leader of Liverpool City Council gets something like £11,000, running a £4 million budget; and, therefore, the issue of allowances has not been a controversial issue locally, has it?
(Cllr Kemp) Well, it has been a controversial issue, to a lower extent, because recently we introduced some fairly low level of remuneration for assistant executive members in our local area chairs, and that was opposed politically, which I regret. As you rightly say, as a cabinet member, I am not ashamed of what I earn, I get £3,000 a year; my total remuneration for a 371/2-hour week is £11,000. People know, because our chief officers are on £100,000, they assume we must get more than that; and when you say. Actually, I get £11,000 and I do a 37 1/2-hour week," they change from, "You must be greedy," to "You must be a fool," basically.
86. Mr Creer, your eyebrows shot up, I just cannot get that on the record; could you explain, please?
(Mr Creer) It must have been a twitch.
(Cllr Kemp) I would like to point out that Graeme does not get £100,000; there are at least seven ranked ahead of him.
87. This is to Liverpool. Cllr Kemp, can you give the Committee an example of where a call-in of a decision by a select committee has actually made a difference to what the Council has ultimately decided to do?
(Cllr Kemp) Not in terms of call-in, no. Very few items have been called in, in fact; it may be something to do with the fact we have got elections on, but more items have been called in, in the last month, than in the whole of the rest of the municipal year. Because we publish items in advance, what I can tell you is that recommendations often get changed, because all members get copies of the cabinet minutes, and if someone rings us with a good idea, because we are not in the situation of being in a committee where we are actually moving something demanding a vote, we can actually change, at a fairly low level, our recommendations before they actually appear before the cabinet, because everyone does get a chance to influence them. But I think where scrutiny is working more effectively in Liverpool is with what I call proactive scrutiny, rather than reactive scrutiny, we actually ask the scrutiny committees to help us with some of the big issues that we are facing, to ask them to go out and research it, so they come up with recommendations and are working with us; so we are not opposing each other, we are like two pedals on a bicycle going round.
88. So you are saying, in Liverpool, your front-line councillors, as you call them, rather than your backbench councillors, are now spending a lot more time with their constituents in their communities than at meetings in the Town Hall? Have you got any statistics on it, have the number of meetings in the Town Hall reduced considerably for the front-line councillors?
(Cllr Kemp) I was talking there about the theory rather than the practice, at the present stage, as we move towards the Neighbourhood Championship, which is proposed by the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. What I can tell you is that we have reduced our number of committees so much we have sold our committee room for £2 million, which was quite useful. In actual fact, the nature of the meetings has changed; having a cabinet in place means that cabinet members have to go to more meetings, sometimes because some people do not think they are legitimate unless we are there, and other people are going to fewer meetings. I can give you an example of this. I chair the Community Legal Service Partnership for Liverpool, which got a Beacon status earlier this month, I thought I would mention that while I was here, and it is not something that normally I would have chaired, but the fact is that, because you split Council into decision-makers and non-decision-makers, you have to put your decision-makers on just about everything where a decision might be made, because, otherwise, you would have a scrutiny person scrutinising their own decision, at some stage. So it has created more meetings for some, but certainly a lot fewer committees and formal meetings.
89. You just thought that it was worth drawing attention to the Beacon status; what real significance does that have to people other than yourself?
(Cllr Kemp) First of all, I think, in the context of Liverpool, it was very good for us to be seen, we got two Beacon statuses, for us to be recognised as being the best of the best for two of our services. This is a different topic; but I believe that it is important that councillors learn from each other. And if I were not here today, for example, I am involved in one of the Pathfinder Corporate Performance Assessments, and, I think, going out to listen to
90. Pathfinder Corporate Performance Assessments?
(Cllr Kemp) Yes; yes, they are the ones introduced by your Government.
91. Do not misunderstand me. I know someone must act sensibly, somewhere. I have not discovered where.
(Cllr Kemp) But I will do Crewe, if you would like me to.
92. Mr Creer, can I ask you whether, or not, one reason why you have been able to sell the building that your committee rooms were in is because you, as officers, have had more routine decisions delegated down to you?
(Mr Creer) There has been a process, within Liverpool, over the last couple of years, to review roles of officers relative to members and work out what that means; but I have worked for large local authorities, mainly in London, for the last 25 years, and I do not think the balance of delegation between members and officers in Liverpool at the moment is radically different from what I have seen elsewhere. I think it is a working model.
93. So there is no accusation that can be made that some of the more tricky decisions, perhaps routine planning applications, have been delegated to the officers, in order to absolve the members from any responsibility?
(Mr Creer) No.
94. If, as, Cllr Kemp, you have said, fewer members are going to more meetings, does not that mean that there is a growing gap on access to information and that most elected members simply do not have access to enough information to know what is happening, in terms of decisions?
(Cllr Kemp) I think that is a very real problem. We are actually meeting next Tuesday to look at our constitution for next year, as we revise it at the annual meeting, and that is one of the things that I am most concerned about. One of the good things that was part of the Local Government Act, in my opinion, was the concept of the forward plan, which enables all members to look three months ahead, to see what is coming up, so they can say, "Ah, I'd like to look at that, I'd like to know more," so they can be proactively involved. That, in a number of councils that I have looked at, as well as my own, is not working effectively, and what we are trying to do is to help that master plan be more effective. But in any week, the last cabinet agenda, it just so happened there were three very substantial reports on it, 600 pages; that goes out to every member. But, you are quite right, members are not involved on a day-to-day basis, so they get out of the swim of things, therefore they do not know what questions to ask, and it is a major problem which we face.
95. Do the overview and scrutiny committees, in both your authorities, get officer support which is independent of the support given to the executive, whose decisions those committees are supposed to be challenging?
(Cllr Richardson) In a word, yes.
96. How does that work; separate people?
(Cllr Richardson) They are supported separately from the cabinet, actually. The chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee, the overarching committee, can, in fact, call on any support she needs, in order to acquire information.
97. Could that be from outside the Council?
(Cllr Richardson) It could be, yes.
98. Could they recruit experts on subjects; has this ever happened?
(Cllr Richardson) Not to date, actually, no; but it would be available.
99. So, if we are looking at the Fire Service, which you have special responsibility for, if the scrutiny panel wants to get expertise in challenging the decisions that you have made, do they go outside the Council, do they have separate officers, or do they actually have to use your chief officers to ask the awkward questions?
(Cllr Richardson) They could ask for advice on who they could get information from externally, if it was appropriate, actually.