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
a lack of transparency in decision
to ensure adequate scrutiny of decisions
In some areas under the new Executive Model
there have been some improvements, but also some reversals.
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 oneagenda on Monday
decision on Friday, decision automatically ratified by end of
week twoFriday). 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.
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.
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"!
all Scrutiny Chairs should be from
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
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).