Memorandum by Dorset County Council
The Government's affirmation of the vital role
of locally elected councils, in improving the quality of people's
lives, is greatly welcomed.
This County Council has already put in place
an Executive Committee of eight members, chaired by the Leader
of the County Council, meeting initially fortnightly, to give
leadership and direction, at member level, over the whole range
of the County Council's affairs. We are actively implementing
many of the things urged in the White Paper, and are well advanced
on many of the items in your "What you should do" postscript.
However, there are a number of matters we would
wish to raise.
The County Council would urge that
the Government should avoid being over-prescriptive in the detail
of procedural requirements in the Bill. This County Council has
42 members, and according to the detailed formula laid down, the
Executive Committee may not exceed six members. The County Council
are not convinced why this level of detail should be prescribed.
The Government also urged to remember
that local government for nearly half the population of England,
and the great majority of its land area, is provided through two
tiers of principal councils. The strong traditions of county government,
and the circumstances of the two tier system, should be borne
More specifically, the government
are urged to recognise that many authorities, including Dorset,
will wish to maintain present practices of openness, public accountability
for decision making, and political proportionality in the workings
of their executive bodies, as well as other committees. The traditions
of probity, openness of reports and decision making, and public
access to decision making meetings, should not lightly be cast
Elected members are surprised to
see that it is contemplated that the Chairman of the Council may
not be a member of a scrutiny committee. In shire counties, in
particular, the Chairman of the Council has played an important
and influential role in the affairs of the authority as a whole.
We do not believe that the case is made out that the Chairman
of the Council may not be a member of a scrutiny committee.
The use of the word "mayor"
may lead to misunderstanding. The Government's concept of it is
of a strong political leader. In many authorities, however, the
title is used for the civic and ceremonial chairman. For the avoidance
of misunderstanding, the Lead of the Executive (whether directly
elected or not) might more appropriately be called the "Leader".
At least, there should be local discretion allowed as to nomenclature.
So far as the executive/scrutiny
distinction is concerned, care should be taken to ensure that
the new approach and/or legislation do not have the effect of
fragmenting and causing duplication in the officer structures.
This could be an expensive distraction from service delivery.
So far as the probity provisions
are concerned, great care should be taken not to create new costly
bureaucratic machinery, disproportionate to the extent of any
probity problem. This County Council maintains the view expressed
in response to last year's consultation paper "a new ethical
"The general thrust of the consultation
paperto achieve greater clarity on the various rules governing
conduct in local government, and in their enforcementis
welcomed. There are in this authority firm conventions and expectations
of absolute probity throughout the County Council's affairs and
conventions and mechanisms for safeguarding them. However, there
is never room for complacency, and the Government's concern that
probity should be achieved and safeguarded throughout local government,
However, great care should be taken not to create
new costly bureaucratic machinery, disproportionate to the extent
of any problem that now exists. There is scope for developing
the present regulatory arrangements, through the Head of Paid
Service, the Monitoring Officer, and the Chief Financial Officer,
reporting to the local authority itself, overseen by the local
ombudsman and district audit systems, rather than introducing
an entirely new regulatory system, additional to and running alongside
the existing ones."
This authority is not convinced that the case
is made out for the new panoply of standards boards, ethical standards
officers, adjudication panels and hearings.
We have responded separately to the DFEE's consultation
on the proposals for parent governor representatives on Education
Committees. The issue also arises in your White Paper. The principle
of having some form of consultative arrangements with parents
is welcomed. However, strong objection is made to the proposal
to give parents voting rights on committees because:
(a) They are not accountable for their actions
to the electorate, as elected members are.
(b) Voting parent governor representatives
on committees which are closely balanced politically could result
in the mandate of the leading political group being frustrated.
(c) How could a limited number of parent
governor representatives be representative of all parent governor
representatives, especially in a rural county where parent governors
would not be known outside their own town or village?
We would therefore ask that this proposal should
19 May 1999