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


Examination of Witness (Questions 404 - 419)

THURSDAY 1 JULY 1999

MS STELLA CLARKE, MS JO RYAN, MS EDITH MEGBELE AND MS ELAINE OSBOURNE

Chairman

  404. Good afternoon, ladies. Thank you very much for responding to our invitation and coming to the Committee. May I ask you first of all whether there are any statements that you would like to make briefly about your views on the Bill before we move on to questioning? Ms Ryan, are you the principal spokesman?

  (Ms Ryan) No. They just put my nameplate in the middle!

  405. And on the top of my list as well! My invitation is extended to whoever is your principal spokesman who would like to start.

  (Ms Clarke) I am Stella Clarke. I work for the Council. The people here today are three members of the Lewisham Citizens' Panel which is one of the citizens' panels which you have just heard about. It is 1,000 local residents in Lewisham who we regularly consult via surveys and by using community workshops and qualititative research like focus group-type research. The people that are here today are regular participants on our panel. They also took part in what we call a community workshop which was qualitative consultation about the issue of political management structures, so they are principally here today to answer questions about that consultation and their views that came out of that.

  406. You said the panel that "we regularly consult", that is Lewisham Borough Council, is it?

  (Ms Clarke) It is Lewisham Borough Council, but it is also a partnership with the University Hospital in Lewisham.

  407. Does the Council provide the secretariat and support for it?

  (Ms Clarke) The panel is 1,000 people. It is run by a third party office of public management and we consult the whole panel through telephone surveys, but then we also undertake additional qualitative research like focus groups.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

  408. The allegation has been made in this Committee fairly frequently that when members of the public are questioned about the idea of a directly elected mayor they are answering a question that they do not understand in the sense that there has not been enough information or background or contents given. Do you feel that in addressing the question of what a directly elected mayor might be you were well informed in that process?

  (Ms Ryan) Everyone is saying that the local people do not understand. I think everyone is under-estimating the average citizen. You sit here saying that we do not understand. We were given an impartial view of all the different options in the White Paper and I have read the White Paper and maybe local people are not interested or are not informed because of the jargon in there. I have got a university degree and this goes over my head. I think you still under-estimate us in that we do understand it. In our case we were given descriptive information about each of the possible options, so we were fully informed. From the discussions we had as a panel before we went into the formal descriptions it appeared that most people did have a good idea of what these different things were anyway.

  Lord Bassam of Brighton: I wanted to get that first point established right at the beginning of the session because it has irked me in the past when I have heard this argument put.

Baroness Thornton

  409. How well informed did you feel you were about how the Council runs now when you entered into this process? What did you do? Can you describe to us how it worked?

  (Ms Ryan) How they asked us questions?

  Baroness Thornton: And what the process has been.

  Mr Pike: And how it was appointed as well.

Baroness Thornton

  410. That is a separate thing because they will not necessarily know that. I think we need to ask Lewisham that in a minute.

  (Ms Osbourne) It was a telephone poll where they rang 1,000 people at home and asked some questions about where they live, how many children they have, if you are black or white, if you are able or disabled. When they did the poll initially it was 1,000 people that were telephoned and asked all the same questions and then Lewisham Council elected 1,000 people from those telephone conversations, but it also reflected the ethnic origin of the person, their gender and whether they are disabled or not.

  Baroness Thornton: So they got a good picture, there is a very good balance.

  Lord Carnarvon: A good representative mix.

Baroness Thornton

  411. How informed were you? Did you feel you knew a lot about the council before you started on this?

  (Ms Osbourne) For me as an individual perhaps I was but the workshop that followed once the panel had started was very informed on what they did and how they represented us.
  (Ms Ryan) In comparison to a lot of local councils—I have lived in other places—I do think we are quite well informed. We have a local council newsletter that comes out every two months. We have got big council notice boards. There are a couple of digital notice boards so things can be put up quite quickly rather than printing it. There are two of those one in the town centre in Lewisham which is the main shopping section and Catford which is where the Town Hall is. Those give us immediate information. So I think we are kept pretty well informed of services and what is going on.

Sir Paul Beresford

  412. Would you say the teach-in you had has increased your understanding of the problem that we are looking at, the three different choices?

  (Ms Clarke) Do you mean the teach-in in terms of this particular issue?

  413. Yes.

  (Ms Clarke) Perhaps if I explain the process for the community workshop and how they came to that conclusion that would help. It was a one-day workshop. We had about 75 panel members and they split down into workshops and looked at different things. Some of them looked at how the council keeps in touch with local people, some of them looked at the issue of leadership, some of them looked at what we call (inaudible) which is essentially about scrutiny and checking, some of them looked at getting directly involved which was about local forums and other methods for consultation. The idea of that was to bring out people's ideas about what the council was like now, their views of how they related to the council and people here can certainly elaborate on how they saw the council in terms of contact with local councillors, etcetera. The idea was to start focusing on what might be the different ways in which the council could be organised. In the afternoon they had a more detailed description of the three models from the chief executive. After that they had more discussion about those three models and the issues they had discussed in the morning around leadership, scrutiny, how they might fit into the models and at the end of the day they voted on those three models. We did do a random survey of 1,000 people as well which was nothing to do with the citizens' panel so we had both quantitative and qualitative research.

Earl of Carnarvon

  414. Could you be so kind and tell us how Lewisham works at the moment. Does it have an education committee, a social services committee, is it a unitary authority?

  (Ms Clarke) Yes, it is a London borough.

  415. What is the population of Lewisham?

  (Ms Clarke) About 230,000

  416. And from the point of view of the police you did not ask questions about that?

  (Ms Clarke) The police?

  417. The police, because they are not a police authority?

  (Ms Clarke) No we did not ask questions about that. This workshop was focusing specifically—

  418. On the borough's responsibilities, on the London borough's responsibilities?

  (Ms Clarke) Yes, but specifically on the political management structures of the council.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

  419. Stella Clarke partially answered the question I wanted to ask. Really what I wanted to develop was I accept that the group is representative when it starts but whether the very fact it has been through this process and the fact it has been willing to put itself through this process maybe makes it unrepresentative. Is there any way you can check that, maybe having another 1,000 people who have not had an educational induction and see how the results change as from what one set of people think about the issues to another set of people who do not know the issues and have an opinion.

  (Ms Clarke) That is partly why we also did the random survey which is nothing to do with the citizens' panel to see if we got the same result as we got through the qualitative research. In terms of the panel as a whole, and I think Ben touched on this issue, the panels are not methodologically pure in that sense in that they are not a purely representative sample of the population. We are going to rotate a third of our panel each year. Obviously as people are on the panel for longer they do become informed. I would say on issues like this—we have also used methods like a citizens' jury—you need some process of informing people before you ask them what their views would be so that that complements the off-the-top-of-the-head view of Do you like the idea of a mayor? Through these community workshops you also need to get behind that with What is your perception of what that mayor will do? How will that affect the other structures? What about the split between the cabinet and the assembly functions and how would that help?


 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 11 August 1999