Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)

TUESDAY 22 JUNE 1999

COUNCILLOR LORD HANNINGFIELD, COUNCILLOR SIR JEREMY BEECHAM, COUNCILLOR HARRY JONES, COUNCILLOR SIR DAVID WILLIAMS, COUNCILLOR RON GEE AND MR BRIAN BRISCOE

  100. I am not speaking against scrutiny committees. I have argued very strongly for those and one would expect that that would develop, hopefully, in any of the models. Can we take it from what Sir Jeremy said that we might expect to see more forthcoming from the Local Government Association other models of a devolved and decentralised nature?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) I think from members of the Local Government Association, yes, we would welcome it. We would not seek to impose or advocate necessarily particular solutions. The whole point is that there needs to be diversity here and any models that come forward must be owned by both the local authority and their community, so by definition there will be variety.

Chairman

  101. Before I ask Mr Burstow, I think Mr Jones wishes to come in?

  (Councillor Jones) May I suggest that, as with the description that was put in the Bill of executive and scrutiny and the way we have tortured ourselves over what scrutiny is, authorities really have, I think, been done a disservice in terms of the interpretation which has been placed upon it, whereas if they had been allowed to deliver the other side of the equation of an executive, we would have had a totally different scenario, I think, and more eagerness to embrace it. I feel equally we are starting to get hung up in precisely the same way on the fourth model. Really we are not talking about a fourth model. It is the ability, even under the three existing models, to have the discretion to bring forward variants that are based upon those three models. I sat in very recently in a discussion with 22 authorities who have now addressed this question and I can say quite candidly there was not one amongst the 22 that was the same as the other. What is really being sought is not the fourth model, it is the opportunity to be able to develop amongst those three the type of local variant which is going to suit that particular community.

Ms Moran

  102. I wanted to pick up on the point you made about devolved models. I am querying whether the two issues are mutually exclusive. It seems to me that you can get very fixated about numbers of models but actually some of the more important issues are to do with the role of the back-bencher, the way in which there is a connection with the local community, and it seems to me that that has been given far, far too little emphasis in the discussions that have been had so far. Maybe I am doing you a disservice but I felt there was far too little in your own document on that. The danger, it seems to me, is that we are getting hung up on the models and the structures without the principles. I wonder how we can re-address that balance so that we are actually talking about what I think are the more important issues, which are connecting with the local community in a real way and giving a proper role to back-bench councillors?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) I think that is right. We want to see as our principle, as I say, a powerful role for all councillors, and if they are not executive members within what will largely be an executive and non-executive split, they will have to have the resources and support to sustain a community role as well as a role in both scrutinising decision-making and helping to develop policy. I think the role of full council needs to be examined here and in a way what has become in many councils rather a charade of a formal council meeting will hopefully be more of a process which involves both the community and members in real discussion about policy. But much may depend on the allocation of the functions, which, as I say, at present under the Bill will fall to be determined ultimately by the Secretary of State, which does not seem really appropriate; the role, for example, of the council in challenging the decisions of the executive, who ultimately, for example, should have the power to determine the budget; is it to be a veto by a mayor or cabinet or is it the other way round, that the rest of the council, as it were, should have a veto over the proposals of the mayor or cabinet? These are matters which, in our view, need to be examined and tested and at the moment we think the Bill leans rather too much towards an executive in some respects and I think most of us would welcome some redress of that, but fundamentally saying that is a matter for local choice, for local communities to decide.
  (Councillor Lord Hanningfield) In Essex we have 79 members with an executive of ten. The other 69 find it rather insulting to be called back-benchers. They may actually think they are doing a good job within their communities now. We can always do more and help them more and improve them but you almost have a riot when you actually talk to all parties about this system. They do not want it. They find it is going to be a real role for ten and what are the other 69 going to do. When you look at other countries with this sort of model, they have far fewer councillors. If you combine the County Council of Essex and all the district councils, we have 700 councillors. I have just been to Fairfax County in Virginia, which is about the same size as Essex county. They have ten councillors. They roll around laughing when I tell them I have 69 on Essex County Council and there are 700 councillors in Essex with the districts and the County, and our members are insulted when you say they are going to have more of a community role. They feel they have that already.
  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) They would rather be insulted than abolished, I think.
  (Councillor Lord Hanningfield) Yes.
  (Councillor Gee) The real problem is undoubtedly that the Bill is too prescriptive. If I may give you two examples on that, the executive in Cumbria, for instance, can have ten members on the executive and yet Rutland has three. It is all to do with numbers rather than functions and there is something wrong where it is so prescriptive that it cannot be changed. But the other thing that bothers me in particular is that my authority is independent. One thing we have always done is to ensure that there is a debate in public and one of the keynotes of the Bill says it is wished to get debate into the public domain. Having said that, we have, in fact, restructured. We have a cabinet which will formulate policy but the discussion and the decision will go straight out into a Policy Committee on which all members, all parties, are represented, and that, in turn, will go to full council. That, unfortunately, does not comply with the requirements of the Bill and my fear is that, because it is so prescriptive, there will not be a real job for the back-benchers if we have to change it. There will not be a real role for the back-benchers and the back-benchers are tomorrow's leaders, and if they do not have a role and feel that they do not have a role, then, of course, you can imagine that they are not really interested in staying in at election and taking an active part.

Earl of Carnarvon

  103. My Lord Chairman, I am particularly interested in Mr Gee's point. Looking at it from the large authority which Lord Hanningfield mentioned, the inferiority complex given to people called back-benchers, I can completely understand this. What I do not understand is any objection to an improved present position. Large councils no doubt are represented on the Local Government Association but we have not heard anything from Kent or up-to-date from Essex or Hampshire, where you have a situation of a very long distance to start off with from one part of the county to another. From the end of the New Forest in Hampshire to Fleet is a very long way away, 60 or 70 miles. What are the people who are going to be back-benchers going to do? Who is going to be interested in standing for local government unless they are going to get some sort of future, either on the executive or on a scrutiny committee, as I believe from looking at Hampshire, which I am speaking about because I know the geography, there will be 30 people out of a council of 75 members who will be involved and 45 who will not be involved? What interest is there going to be for people to stand for local government with very little to do if there is no committee system? At the moment they go because they are interested in education, they are interested in social services, they are interested in the police committee or in planning. If there are going to be no committees, what are they going to do and how is it going to get better quality people involved in local government? I wonder whether Lord Hanningfield could reply, Sir Jeremy, in relation to the large authorities, through you?

  (Councillor Lord Hanningfield) I entirely agree with what Lord Carnarvon says. We have to find some mechanism. That is why, going back to what Lord Bassam said, I think we will be re-inventing some committees to keep people interested in their subject. I am sure in the end there will be a scrutiny committee for education, a scrutiny committee for the environment, and that would be representing a lot of what we have now because those people will want to be involved in that subject. I do not see under the Government's proposed ideas the end of committees. All we will do is re-set them up under scrutiny committees.

  104. Chairman, one point that has not been raised so far, obviously it is an area which I have been involved in all my local government life, is planning. A county council has got a special responsibility for planning which is given to it. There will have to be a planning committee. There cannot be just an executive dealing with planning. What is the answer to that one?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) There would still be a number of committees of that kind in the area of planning, licensing and so on. The Bill envisages committees of that kind. To come back to the fundamental question about members wishing to serve and so on, Ron Gee said that today's backbenchers are tomorrow's leaders. Some are yesterday's leaders and I am one of them. I have to say that! In my experience the role of the backbencher now is more illusory than real in terms of influence and power, you just have the appearance of involvement. If you are attending a committee of 15 or 18 people effectively drowning in paper dealing with routine matters it is not a satisfying role and we are not now attracting a sufficiently wide group of people from the communities and we are not retaining those that we do get. So I do think there is a need for change. I am sure a role can be developed and will be developed for people to pursue their interests, special interests in education or whatever, but not perhaps in a role of formally speaking taking decisions, in practice probably rubber-stamping decisions taken elsewhere behind closed doors, the procedure report or the like. I think there is great potential here for members to assume a more meaningful role than they have at present. It will look different, but the reality will be they will have a more engaged role within the authority than they have had as backbenchers before.

  Chairman: I know that Mr Jones and Sir David Want to add to this, but can we just take some questions from members of the Committee because we are getting quite a number of members wanting to come in. Mr Burstow and then Lord Pilkington and then Mr Springer and then make you can come in with your response to some of those questions.

Mr Burstow

  105. I wanted to go back to area committees. Sir Jeremy, you referred earlier on to the evidence session we had last week when the Department seemed less than clear about certain aspects of how devolved models might actually work. I read with interest the hearings that the LGA itself has had and particularly the exchanges you had with the Minister on this particular point. My reading of those exchanges suggests that the Minister appears to be willing to consider devolved models but the Department does not yet seem to know quite how to make them work within the framework that the Bill puts in place. What work is the Association doing with those authorities that have an interest in this sort of model both to advise Government and perhaps also to assist this Committee in undertaking its work which has us concluding by the end of July?

  (Mr Briscoe) We are doing some work with authorities who are interested in developing that model. The LGA's position is that models should be devised by authorities for their circumstances rather than devised in London and imposed on authorities. During the period of your Committee's deliberation we will be able to give you some advice about how models involving delegated arrangements to area committees or area organisations would work and the Minister did say that that was something that she was prepared to consider when she attended our hearings.

  106. That would be very helpful in terms of at least removing any legal obstacles that this Bill might put in the way of such structures. The other question I had was related to an earlier exchange about the importance of making sure that the systems of governance that are set up fit the needs of the local community, which again is a point echoed in the hearings that you held yourselves. I wonder there whether or not the LGA is gathering from its authorities material that would give a better feel at a qualitative level, not necessarily in terms of opinion polls which are based on single questions, of what communities around the country are actually saying to local authorities' consultations and other's consultations about the systems of governance they might put in place. I was interested to hear the Camden experience. Are there other examples that could be brought to this Committee's attention?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) There certainly will be. My own authority is about to embark on such a consultation exercise. I think a number are doing so through various models, citizens' juries or panels of the kind they have in Bradford and so on. I do not know how much information we have got already in some of authorities, but we can certainly forward to the Committee within the time-span as much information as we can glean from authorities.
  (Mr Briscoe) I think it is probably early days for authorities to be consulting effectively on what the Bill might or might not contain and it is probably fair to say that it is not the most rivetting subject for the local public who are much more interested in the quality of service and the way in which the authority responds to problems.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

  107. Could I turn to a more panoramic level and I would like your comments on this. First of all, and I am not a great expert in local government, I am puzzled by the term cabinet governments because, of course, it is the practice of every cabinet government that cabinets consist of ministers who are heads of department, whereas this is totally different. I am no expert on New York, but I was there three weeks ago and it seemed in New York there were also heads of departments under the mayor, in other words like a cabinet. What do you feel about this mis-named cabinet government where there is no head of education, no head of Civil Service or anything like that? Secondly, you are talking about scrutiny committees which would represent areas of education and things like that, but they would just talk to this enormous executive body of presumably the most powerful councillors and I see problems in that area. Thirdly, how is this system going to cope? Let me take as my example education. The committees, for all the criticism that has been levelled at them, the level of paperwork and everything which I am very familiar with, did actually deal with tensions that occurred, education being a case in point. The churches, e.g. Roman Catholic and Anglican, have a large stake in education. The committee dealt with the tension that occurs when schools were closed or a sixth form was moved. In this case you might have a really painful decision by a local council of closing a school, possibly a Roman Catholic or an Anglican school. The education scrutiny committee would hear all the things but then the executive committee might overrule it, not being intimately concerned, in other words the boil was often lanced in the local committee. I realise these are panoramic but I would like the comment of you and your colleagues on that.

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) I think in the first place, as far as the cabinet is concerned, it would be open to an authority to have a departmental structure of the kind you envisage. I am assuming you would have a cabinet.

  108. There would be a larger membership than is allowed.

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) The size of membership is important. You could not do it adequately with three or six as in Dorset, which is a county council. Ten might be feasible. We do think there should be flexibility there precisely to allow coverage of service interests whether they are grouped together or kept separately as now, but there is nothing in principle which would prevent it. The role of the scrutiny committee should not just be to talk to the cabinet. There ought to be the facility, for example, for a scrutiny committee to report to the full council. They ought to be able to call cabinet members and officers in to question them. There will have to be changes to the whipping system that very often applies in councils to facilitate that process and my own party, the Labour Party, is currently looking at precisely that. I dare say the other parties will be doing the same. That will be necessary because there cannot be a fetter on the role of members. In just the way that members of this Committee are entirely free to question so must the scrutiny committee in a local authority. On the point you make about the virtues of the committee system in mediating conflict, I can see that, but again I suspect the reality may have been a little different. In the end, if it is a really controversial issue about the closure of a school, the education committee will no doubt meet and take views, but I would be surprised if the committee group in control of the council did not actually take that decision out of public view at a group meeting before the final decision was made. Again it is that old English literature question about illusion and reality. In a way formalising the scrutiny system would actually make the process more transparent. It would mean that certainly the arguments are tested in public and in the end the decision is made perhaps, if necessary, at full council but on the recommendation of a cabinet that fixes the responsibility on people who should actually make the decision.

Mr Stringer

  109. If I could take you back, Sir Jeremy, to one of the apparently uncontroversial things you said at the beginning that local authorities must have ownership whatever changes are made. Why? Part of the purpose of this legislation is potentially to change the membership of local authorities so surely it is more important that the electorate have ownership and given that if you move to certainly one of these schemes you may change the membership drastically that is less important.

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) I think you need ownership both by the local authority and by the local community. If the local community does not own it then that fails the test. It has got to be something that is accepted by the local community but it has also got to be something ultimately worked by people with a commitment to it. I think that will emerge from a process of consultation and dialogue between elected members and their community. If after all the elected members do not satisfy their community then they will not be elected members that much longer and I think that would be appropriate.

  110. Possibly you can explain this phenomenon. Of the opinion polls that have been taken, certainly in the big cities, they seem to show about 65-70 per cent of the electorate in favour of elected mayors whereas surveys of councillors, and certainly this is true in my old authority, show about 90 per cent and upwards of local councillors against elected mayors. Would you like to explain why there is such a divergence of view?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) I think it is a seductive argument to ask people whether they would not like a single individual to, as it were, represent their whole community by direct election. It sounds very simple, attractive and straight forward. On the other hand, councillors know that there is a little more to it than that. For example, that simple question does not deal with whether you have a system which is a strong mayor system or a weak mayor system, where the balance lies between the mayor and the rest of the council. Councillors may feel that whilst the public are very engaged and interested in the election for a mayor they may feel even less inclined to participate in the election of the rest of the council if the mayor is seen as a repository of all power within the community. In the end this is a proper matter for debate and this is a proper matter for local choice. What we say is that there should be a choice on offer to communities. That choice should not be the mayor or nothing, for example it could be the mayor or the cabinet or some other model. The choice ought to be fully argued out and fully debated and then we will see which is deemed in a particular place to be the most appropriate. Opinion polls, as we sometimes find to our cost politically, do not always tell you the entire picture. I think a snap poll of an oversimplified question is not likely to produce necessarily the result which will stand the test of examination and debate.

  111. It is rather a dramatic difference, is it not, Sir Jeremy, 70 per cent of the electorate in favour and 90 per cent of elected councillors against?

  (Councillor Lord Hanningfield) As you say, that is from urban areas. At least half of the country is covered by—

  The Committee suspended from 4.49 p.m. to 5.05 p.m. for divisions in both Houses.

Chairman

  112. May I ask Mr Jones and Sir David, I know they wanted to come in and I am sorry it is a bit after you indicated but I thought we needed to get on with the questioning.

  (Councillor Jones) It is going back a little back to Lord Carnarvon's comments regarding this role of the scrutiny. If you recall at the start I did say that I felt there was a great misnomer that had been created by the terminology "scrutiny" and "executive". I believe that there is a more fulfilling role for members on that side than on the executive side and it has been misled by this term "scrutiny" because really it is a role that now gives them the opportunity to be involved in the creation of policy within an authority which to some extent was not really happening under the committee system. It also gives them the opportunity, and this is an important factor I think, to look at how authorities are able to devolve down. I know that there is a possibility that Government under the Bill may consider allowing the executive to devolve some of the power down to area committees. Area committees are really coming back to a question that has been raised today and that is how do you link back into the community. It is by devolving that I believe you are actually going to take that forward. Inherent in all this is the one area that we feel so very strongly about and that is the role of community leadership and the new duty that has been placed upon us which is the social, environmental and economic well being of the community. We believe that there should be an empowerment within the Bill to enable us to actually carry that out. We feel there is a great lack of that in being able to take it forward. If we want to provide community leadership it has to ensure that we are in the position to pull together the whole of the agencies that in actual fact have a bearing on the well being of the community at large. We believe that empowerment is a very strong facet in actually taking that forward at this moment in time. We would be seeking to try and get that strengthened in the Bill whereas at this present moment in time there is no sign of it actually appearing. It is something we have raised on numerous occasions.
  (Councillor Sir David Williams) It is important when we consider what this Bill really should be for, as well as the point that Harry Jones has raised about the new duty, you have to judge it on more fundamental principles like we have tried to put into our evidence, which the Government are supportive or sympathetic to, about the modernisation process. What must not be lost in all this, and this comes back to Margaret Moran's point earlier on—I am glad she has come back just as I am about to make this point—is that it is not just about structures, it is really about democracy. There is a worry that some of us have about concentrating more on means than ends in all this. The end that we should be trying to achieve with modern local government is to make it more accountable, more open, more transparent and more relevant to the local communities so that they do not look upon us just as an organisation that they blame for everything that goes wrong or throw brickbats at us, but they see us as the key catalyst in representing them as far as their local services are concerned, as far as co-ordinating what happens in the local community. That is why it is important not just to talk about structures but it is important to relate this to the community leadership role that Harry Jones has mentioned. The other thing that we want to put into the pot as far as the referendum aspect of this is concerned, which Sir Jeremy has raised, is that we ought to have a level playing field for the public to choose what type of change they want or even if they want to choose change. Referenda are notorious as being dependent for the result on the wording or even the timing. An early example you might like to bear in mind from 1802 is Napoleon Bonaparte: "Should he be consul for life?" I think about 99 per cent of the French electorate voted "oui". Referenda can be a little dangerous. I think that they are a crude blunderbuss in all of this. We want to have legitimacy for our councils and we want to have all the sorts of things that we have listed in the appendix for the principles of this.

  Chairman: There are again a number of questions. We need to bear in mind that we have got to move on to standards at some stage.

Baroness Thornton

  113. There are two things I want to say, one of which is on what has already been said, which is to do with the economic, social and environmental well-being proposals because you clearly see these as being very important. What powers do you not have that would allow you to do that? Why are the current proposals in the White Paper not consistent with that or are they consistent with that?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) They are consistent with it but the duty is not there, whereas it is in the London Bill which is currently going through and what is good enough for London in that context we strongly feel should be good enough for the rest of us.

  114. Quite.

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) It is partly a symbolic matter in the sense that it would underline that community leadership role which we claim, I think rightly, across the range of issues of governance that affect our communities. It is also necessary to avoid the restrictive attitude at the moment of the law in the courts in looking at what councils can do. The ultra vires doctrine has been rigidly applied and a number of decisions over the last few years have underlined that in effect councils can only do that which they are permitted to do by statute. We think that the more all-embracing duty would give us greater flexibility. It would need to be followed through, it is fair to say, in particular areas. For example, one area that one might identify would be the Local Authority Goods and Services Act which actually prohibits councils from carrying out a number of activities which in our view would be compatible with that of their duty. It would give us some purchase in pursuing changes of that kind. There are areas around the environmental agenda and community planning where the duty would provide a legitimate role for local government which arguably it does not have at the moment and we would very much hope that this Committee would endorse our plea for it to be included.

Lord Marlesford

  115. I want to go back for a moment to this question of the backbench councillors and the executives etc. Do you agree that there are councillors who wish to serve on local authorities because they have more of a constituency interest rather than a policy interest and that this is a good thing in many respects and certainly has to be respected as part of the outcome of a democratic process? If there were to be these executives or whatever, how is one going to ensure that when the constituency councillors feel it necessary they will have a proper input at the policy level?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) I think that really does form part of the whole rationale of what Councillor Jones has said is inappropriately described as the scrutiny role. Scrutiny has this aura of looking retrospectively at decisions that have already been made. In our view that is not all that the scrutiny committees should be doing. We think that there is a role for involvement in policy at an early stage, e.g. in a scrutiny committee making recommendations to the cabinet or to the full council resourced independently of the main departments and authorities so that where they are not simply going to follow a departmental line in a relaxed whipping system there would be no constraint on members putting forward the point of view of their community, whereas at the moment they are very often constrained politically in that context. We very much see the role of constituency representatives as representing their communities to the council and not as the other way round. Given the support and status within that context I think they are likely to be able to fulfil that role, if that is what they choose, than they are at present.
  (Councillor Jones) The envisaged role and certainly the one that we are currently operating as an authority is that the executive only carries out the existing policy of the authority and it is the non-executive members who are the developers of new policy, they are the developers of the monitoring of the existing policy and certainly have a greater role than they previously had. We had an executive where we gave the opportunity, as the legislation is not in place, for other political parties to serve on that executive and all the other political parties, other than the controlling group, refused to serve on the executive because they felt that their role would be stultified, whereas they have a more fulfilling side on the other side, particularly in their relationship with the community at large. So this is where I feel that in actual fact there is a far more fulfilling and a greater role on the other side of the executive than within the executive. There may be perceived to be a greater role on the executive, but I believe that is a perception that has come out of the mythology of the way the Bill is being progressed and discussed.
  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) It is all in item eight of our principles.

Baroness Thornton

  116. I wanted to pursue the role of backbenchers. I think this is a very, very important part of this because some of the remarks that have been made earlier, particularly by Lord Hanningfield, concerned me slightly because I got the impression that there was concern that they would have all these backbenchers who would not be motivated to be on the councils because they could not be on the committee. It seems to me that that is the point which this legislation seeks to overcome, that we are not here to help to create jobs for councillors, we are here to help them turn out from the Town Hall to look at their community and I would like to know if that perception is the one that you share because it seems to me that that is a completely new way of looking at what councillors should be doing as community leaders.

  (Councillor Lord Hanningfield) I have been to meetings about this Bill all over the country and literally met hundreds of councillors of all parties and they are somewhat insulted when you say to them they have got to do more of a constituency role. I have always thought they should have more back up and help in dealing with their constituencies. We do not often do enough of that. A good councillor does that now. They feel they do it now most of the time. They would like to do more of it and perhaps we would help them in that. They do want a role in policy formation, particularly in the subjects that they are interested in. I would just like to add to this point. The council must always be paramount. We keep talking about executives and overview committees or whatever we want to call them. I think if we go ahead with these proposals there should be more council meetings. I agree with what Jeremy said right at the beginning, that council meetings of most of our authorities are not very fulfilling at the moment. They tend to be just going through the reports of committees and I think probably we should turn the council meetings into more of a mini Parliament where there is a chance for individual members to put down motions on policies and have debates on policies and you could even change policy. I think if we are going ahead with these sort of models then we need to look at how we run our council meetings to give the backbencher a more fulfilling role in the council meetings because they do not all want to do constituency work, they do want to get involved in some areas of interest that they are particularly there for.
  (Councillor Gee) Yes, it is true, some members do want to be just constituency, but not many. They also want to be involved in the policy. The danger with the Bill as it stands at the moment is the differentiating and putting into watertight compartments those that make the decisions, those that look after the grass cutting and the road sweeping. There is not a lot of mileage in that, although I have known them. I have been on the council 29 years and I know you do get those and they do not want to do anything else, but they are in the minority and they must have the opportunity for a full debate and a full discussion in the full council, that is essential.

Chairman

  117. Do I get out of these responses in effect that you are saying these models as bodies in the draft Bill cannot work with councils of the size we have got because too much effort has to be put in to finding gainful occupation for those not on the executive or the leader?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) No, I do not think so. I think that it is perfectly possible to have a more fulfilling role and linkage which fails if it does not provide this in a more fulfilling world, in the real world, for most members of the council than they have at present. It is partly a question of political parties changing the way we operate in local government too. That is a real prospect and I personally welcome that. I did 17.5 years as leader and two years as committee chair after that and the perception from the back benches is really very different. I find that the present role is virtually useless.

  118. But it is true to say, is it not, that the models have been cherry picked from other jurisdictions but not the total number of councillors?

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) That is right but you can take that in a number of ways. France, for example, in total has many more representatives than we do.

  119. I really meant on one council rather than the 36,000 communes.

  (Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham) In aggregate presumably they total up. This could be argued in a variety of ways. I do think that the community role itself strengthened as it should be is challenging, particularly if we are given, for example as we ought to be, scrutiny rights over quangos and appointed bodies that operate in our areas as well as scrutinising with the local authority, really championing local interests in that way with outside bodies as well as the council itself. That is important. I think the limitation on the size of the executive could be a problem. North Tyneside, for example, have developed a system which hopefully will be permitted under legislation, but perhaps needs to be clarified, in which they have smaller groups of about three or four members allocated, as it were, to the cabinet member, a sort of PPS system if you like, so they can assist in getting involved on that side but without taking a formal executive role. There will be different levels of involvement. I do not see that it is incompatible with retaining councils of roughly the size that we have now.


 
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