Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-385)
MR JOHN O'BRIEN, MR PAUL WHEELER AND MS JUDI BILLING
TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002
380. Could it not have had the reverse effect? Mr Betts pursued a line of question about disenfranchisement, if you take a back bench councillor who is not on the executive, who now does not have an opportunity to sit on the committee, how is he or she meant to raise constituency cases, and if they are not visibly being seen to raise constituency cases is that not then going to be a disengagement?
(Mr O'Brien) It could be if that route is blocked off. You may have some examples where that route is not.
(Mr Wheeler) It is early days and to some extent most councils are still putting their structures together and submitting them. One of the things we have found they have taken the opportunity to do in many cases is look at their area governing arrangements. Most councils are slightly artificial creations in terms of how people view their interests, and several of them have taken the opportunity to create genuine area governance which can deal with most of the issues which concern the people, and that is more of an ability to engage than perhaps a formal full council meeting or traditional event where questions were agreed in advance. There are some opportunities in the new structure but the real question is will local councils and political parties take them.
381. Are you really saying you have no evidence it is effective because you think it is too early? In other words, you do not think it is necessarily bad but you do not think it is necessarily good because you actually do not know?
(Mr Wheeler) It is early days for that. Some authorities have taken the opportunity to look at their structures again.
382. Some of them have been doing it for three years, but are you just saying you do not know?
(Mr Wheeler) Yes.
383. So in five years' time, if we ask you back, you will know?
(Mr Wheeler) I think so. On your question about voting, one of the tests will be if we do a census in four years' time, have we got more and varied councillors in place.
384. Will there be any councillors left to ask?
(Mr Wheeler) There is no evidence to suggest that seats are being uncontested. Certainly people are coming forward to stand, it may be they are coming forward from
385. Forgive me, do you have anything to do with local government?
(Mr Wheeler) Yes.
(Mr Wheeler) There is no evidence to suggest seats have been uncontested, it is just that they may be coming from smaller sections of society than we would want to see.
Chairman: On that note, thank you very much for your evidence.