Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-346)
COUNCILLOR TONY SLACK, COUNCILLOR PAUL BRANT AND COUNCILLOR RAYMOND THEODOULOU
TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002
340. Whether they can do anything when they talk to them
(Cllr Theodoulou) Is another issue, too. I get the impression that there are many more meetings, discussions, talks going on and many more pieces of paper being produced, but whether that is more effective is dubious.
341. You are not spending more time with constituents?
(Cllr Theodoulou) I was not there under the previous system, so I cannot tell you. I can only say what other people tell me about their own practices.
342. Finally, have any of your councils got what you might describe as meaningful area committees, and would they be of much benefit if they did?
(Cllr Brant) I think they have not, for the reasons I have already said about our area committees. There is also a concern that because of the political composition of the council, the Labour Party tends to have a set of wards that tend to form one area committee, the Liberal Democrats tend to have blocks of area committees themselves, and there is a real concern that if budgets are delegated to area committees, in effect, what the administration will be doing is delegating the implementation of cuts to the area committees, so the ward councillors are going to be implementing cuts in areas where they, frankly, have no desire to implement them at all.
343. They will not be ward councillors for long.
(Cllr Brant) That, of course, is quite right. It is an effective way of the administration side-stepping the implications of the primary decision to reduce the overall budget. I think there is also a problem that very often the needs of local areas are very different, and it is not right, for example, to say that the traffic calming budget should be spread evenly throughout the city; the reality is that the need for traffic calming, due to the number of deaths and injuries, is very different, and very highly localised. We have to take a city-wide view as to where the best places are for that money to be spent. If that involves putting it all in a narrow geographical area, for the benefit of the city as a whole, that is the right thing to do. So there is a real tension there in devolving budgets to area committees. That is a problem we have not faced yet but one that we will encounter.
344. So, to sum-up what you are saying, the overall quality of local government has not been improved by the Local Government Act 2000. If that is so, could you go on recommending other people to become councillors?
(Cllr Slack) I would not see it quite as black and white as that. I actually think there are things with modernisation that should mean some of the services that are delivered down to the public are done in a more cost-effective and efficient way.
345. So yours is a qualified yes, it is all right?
(Cllr Slack) Yes. I am much more enthusiastic than a lot of other people are because I can see that it can help on the ground.
346. I am really pleased to see that we have a Conservative councillor saying it is a good thing and a Labour councillor saying it is not, because it shows that maybe it is not just purely party politics. I have a suspicion that in areas that are more consensual it is perhaps easier for it to work. Would you think that might be the reason?
(Cllr Brant) I think that almost certainly is true. We are a highly politicised council and always have been. That leads to a tension between the administration and the opposition.
Chairman: I will have to cut you off at that point, because we have run over. Thank you very much for your evidence.