Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Cllr Raymond Theodoulou (LGA 37)

  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 administration.

  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.

Raymond Theodoulou

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