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
(iii) lack of accountability
Every point of view, other than that of the
ruling party, is excluded from policy development and debate.
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 introducedin particular the
executive/scrutiny splithas 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.