Memorandum by Cllr Tony Slack (LGA 34)
Modernisation offers more scope and choice for
involvement and real informed decision making to existing and
potential councillors that did not exist to the same extent in
the previous committee system. There are now three distinct strands:
Political, Scrutiny and Representative.
Cabinet System makes lead cabinet members more
accountable. More decisions are made more quickly than under the
former committee system. With the exception of commercially or
financially sensitive items, all decisions are taken in the public
domain. Local members have an opportunity to speak to relevant
Cabinet and Lead Member Agenda items. Members with a particular
interest often have the opportunity to speak to appropriate Agenda
items. In addition to receiving agenda papers, members receive
a monthly updated Forward Plan of Policy Decisions scheduled for
the next four months.
Members can submit written questions in advance
for Lead Member/Officer written response tabled at County Council
meetings. There is always an Agenda item to enable Members to
ask questions of any Cabinet Member about their respective portfolios
either with or without advance notice. Members can present a petition
from their constituents direct to The Chairman of the Council
which results in members being able to speak to any decision-making
body (Cabinet, Lead Member).
Overview and Scrutiny/Best Value results in
members and officers working much more as a team within a non-political
environment, members having an opportunity to become more actively
involved in and better informed about a wide variety of County
Council Services and more effective and efficient delivery of
core services, provides a structure for holding the Executive
to account, influencing and contributing to Policy Review and
Development, enabling members to apply their past and current
work experience, personal and professional skills as well as develop
new skills. Thirty-three of the 44 Councillors are very involved
in a wide range of Overview and Scrutiny/Best Value Project Boards.
There is a greater involvement of members in effecting improvements.
Representative role of members will become increasingly
focused on their involvement in the development of community strategies
and their links to Local Strategic Partnerships in their areas.
All members are kept briefed on developments in the County Council.
Service Department bulletins are issued to them regularly. Plans
are in hand to keep members informed of corporate developments
with an emphasis on electronic means. Local Area Fora have been
disbanded and received a mixed reaction from members.
Seminars and Workshops about Modernisation are
organised on a fairly regular basis to inform and support members
in helping them develop themselves and the modernisation process.
This includes such topics as project management for scrutiny members
as well as risk management. Surveys are undertaken amongst members
to evaluate the impact of modernisation, identify training needs
and assess process improvements. There is a Modernisation Evaluation
Framework undertaken each year and a budget for Member Development
and Training. ICT provision and continuous enhancement also supports
East Sussex County Council adopted and encouraged
a transparent and "hands on" approach by all members
to Modernisation and with Scrutiny, in particular. The environment
in which it evolved was one of not expecting to achieve total
success first time but to review what was happening and change
what was not working. A constitution should not be set in tablets
of stone; authorities should be prepared to change and innovate
as the needs change.
Non-executive members of a Controlling Group
(24 councillors) with a small working majority (four) can find
themselves hard pressed to fulfil all the Scrutiny, Regulatory
and Representative roles expected of them especially when seven
are Executive and two have County Council Chairman and Vice-Chairman
Public perception is difficult to assess but
Citizens Panel results showed that more people feel they understand
how decisions are made under the modernisation arrangements. Partners
that work with the County Council are more actively involved through
Overview and Scrutiny/Best Value processes. The public is gradually
becoming more aware through consultation and publicity.
Cllr Tony Slack