Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
TUESDAY 22 JUNE 1999
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.
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.
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
(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.
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
(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
(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.
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
The Committee suspended from 4.49 p.m. to 5.05
p.m. for divisions in both Houses.
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 onI am glad she has come back just as I am
about to make this pointis 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
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.