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


Memorandum by Cllr Paul Brant, Liverpool City Council (LGA 38)

  In my view the Act was intended to address perceived shortcomings in the operation of local government including:

    —  the length of time decisions took to make;

    —  a lack of transparency in decision making; and

    —  to ensure adequate scrutiny of decisions occurred.

  In some areas under the new Executive Model there have been some improvements, but also some reversals.

TIME FOR DECISIONS TO BE TAKEN

  The vast majority of decisions taken by Councils are uncontroversial and "go through" with the consent of all elected members. The executive structure allows this to occur quickly and without fuss (most decisions taken in Liverpool City Council are published in week one—agenda on Monday decision on Friday, decision automatically ratified by end of week two—Friday). This is an improvement on the "old" committee structure where everything went from sub-Committee to Main Committee to Full Council before becoming a decision of the Council (a leisurely six weeks or so).

  However, in Liverpool the LibDems introduced a decision where all decisions went to a delegated powers select committee unless "called in". Ninety-five per cent of decisions were made within two weeks and the system retained the right of opposition and back bench councillors to require full council to debate and decide on an issue.

  In my view the benefits of the new system can be obtained by "tweaking" the old system.

TRANSPARENCY OF DECISION MAKING

  Very few matters are the sole responsibility of "Full Council", principally setting the Budget, appointing the Executive and setting Policy (in practice the Policy is motherhood and apple pie and goes through without debate).

  In my view there is little transparency of decision making under the new system. Full delegation of powers to officers can and have been made to officers to implement policy. Introduction of Pilot Kerbside Recycling Collection in two locations in Liverpool was done under delegation, as was closure of nursery schools in my Ward. In reality officers check important decisions with Exec Members before exercising their powers.

  As far as the public are concerned, very few people know who the Exec Members are and blame the Party in control in any event for any bad news.

SCRUTINY OF DECISIONS

  This in my view is the area of greatest weakness under the new regime. The administration holds all the Scrutiny Committee Chairs, has a majority of Members on the Committee and decides the agenda of meetings. The only way in which the opposition can ensure a Full Council Debate is using the power to requisition a special Council Meeting under the Local Government Act 1972 (five names required)!

  Back benchers do not find out about issues unless the Exec Member wishes the matter to be considered or the Chair or Committee call for the matter to be discussed. Difficulties arise with rapidly raised issues (eg decision to implement two pilot recycling kerbside projects under officer delegated powers) which are not on the agenda, and the meetings occur some six weeks after events arise. The select committees have no dedicated officers or budgets (both under the control of the exec member). The party loyalty (elections every year in Liverpool) means the inquisitiveness of administration members is very limited.

  Urgent decisions can be abused by the Leader (awarded the contract for decriminalised parking to one bidder because he delayed making the decision under the normal process!). Also the amount of information revealed on important decisions (which cannot be scrutinised by the Full Council to whom they are reported) is derisory, one decision to end a repairs contract was reported to Liverpool City Council as "a course of action was agreed" in relation to "a contract"!

  Suggested recommendations:

    —  all Scrutiny Chairs should be from Opposition Parties;

    —  Scrutiny Committees should have dedicated budgets and staff;

    —  the concept of "Ward" only decisions being capable of being called in by those Ward Members should be deleted and a trigger number of Councillors from any Ward should be able to call it in;

    —  the ability of five Councillors to call a special Council Meeting to discuss a meeting should be retained; and

    —  there should be a financial limit to delegated decisions to officers (say £100,000) or matters effecting service delivery in more than one Ward (even if referral to councillors after the decision has occurred).


 
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Prepared 12 September 2002