Memorandum by Cllr Raymond Theodoulou
I am a new member of Gloucestershire County
Council [GCC] elected in June 2001. The whole process of local
government at this level was foreign to me. I arrived at a time
of upheaval, the new Cabinet system being under preparation to
take over from the previous committee-based constitution. There
was great uncertainty throughout the GCC as to how the new arrangements
would work. There were one or two meetings held on the old basis
before the new one was fully operational.
The new arrangements were made slightly more
complex than might otherwise have been the case because we have
at GCC a hung parliament with the Conservative Party holding the
greater number of seats, but this is four short of a majority.
The other two parties have, however, combined to form a joint
We had a number of members' induction meetings
on the constitution and the role of scrutiny. During this we were
informed that as a result of public consultation the new Cabinet
system had been favoured by 60 per cent of respondents. However,
only 6,000 replies had been received in the consultation out of
a potential voting capacity of about 350,000 people. Thus we have
a system in Gloucester that 4,000 people have voted for. This
seemed to me, then as now, an unsatisfactory if not failed consultation
in such an important matter. Because the two runner-up parties
have combined they have decided to form an administration without
any members of the largest party. Thus the Cabinet of 10 members
has been formed in equal proportion between the Labour and Liberal
Democrats. This means, for example, that the LibDems, with 20
per cent of the elected seats, has 50 per cent of the Cabinet
portfolios as compared with the Conservatives who have 42 per
cent of the seats and no Cabinet posts. This seems to me undemocratic
and not representational of the way the public voted. In scrutiny
committees we have the concept of proportionality with the Conservative
Group having just under 50 per cent of each separate committee.
This at least more nearly represents the wishes of the voters.
Probably because scrutiny is a new concept here
we were slow in getting going but that is improving. There is
however a growing debate as to what scrutiny can and cannot investigate.
By airing the subject we have discovered that we can do more than
we thought. In one instance, call-ins, we have found that scrutiny's
duties have been too narrowly defined in the Constitution.
The new arrangements have not been universally
welcomed by members. A member who is not in the Cabinet, who has
no scrutiny duties or who is not a shadow of a Cabinet member
may feel excluded from the Council business and unable properly
to represent his voters; with few opportunities to be heard except
at full Council meetings some members are frustrated. We started
by having only four full Council meetings per annum, since extended
to six. This has done something to appease members who have no
party or formal roles.