Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Councillor Peter Arnold, Leader of the Opposition, Newcastle City Council (LGA 27)

  1.  The Act, although not ideal from a Liberal Democrat perspective, has the potential to effect meaningful change.

  2.  In practice, this potential is not realised, as old attitudes are permitted to continue.

  3.  These old attitudes can be identified as:-

    (i)  exclusion

    (ii)  marginalisation

    (iii)  lack of accountability

    (iv)  abuse of power

    (v)  failure to consult.

i.  Exclusion

  Every point of view, other than that of the ruling party, is excluded from policy development and debate.

ii.  Marginalisation

  All viewpoints which oppose that of the ruling group are ignored, whatever the subject area; even non-executive Members of the Labour group are sidelined if they are suspected of being "off message".

  Councillors are further marginalised in their own wards by increased officer delegation; officers are allowed to take action within a ward without relevant members being consulted.

iii.  Lack of accountability

  The scrutiny process has failed as it is completely dominated by the ruling Labour party; those who run it are there as a reward for loyalty to the party leadership and so refuse to challenge Labour's decisions.

  Most scrutiny committees are run along the lines of the old style service committees, failing to challenge the executive or hold the decision-makers to account.

  In Cabinet, there is little debate; any attempt to ask questions is perceived as a challenge and dealt with old style, along party political lines.

  In addition, there is a greater degree of officer delegation, with no system of challenge or recall to dispute this.

iv.  Abuse of power

  The changes introduced—in particular the executive/scrutiny split—has resulted in a situation where Cabinet members have become increasingly detached from the ordinary councillors of both parties, and they operate without the former system of checks and balances to restrain them.

  Consequently, new ideas are rarely thought through, researched or measured against available evidence from other authorities; because of this, they frequently fail, and considerable sums of public money are subsequently wasted.

v.  Failure to consult

  The executive/scrutiny split has also resulted in the executive acting precipitately and without the consultation of those whose lives suffer the impact, leading to the rejection of the executive's decisions by the community and a lowering of the council's credibility. Moreover, time and resources are squandered dealing with objections which could have been avoided if proper consultation had been carried out at the beginning of the process. To succeed, the new structures require local government to adopt new attitudes; where old attitudes prevail, the new structures will fail to deliver reform.

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Prepared 22 April 2002