Examination of witnesses (Questions 340
TUESDAY 20 MARCH
COCKELL and MR
340. Does that mean you have very firm control
(Mr Cockell) I used to be Chief Whip before I became
leader. The formal application of the Whip does not happen. Contentious
matters are discussed in group meetings and the group knows what
the group feels. They are expected to follow that and do. We do
not have very many problems. The last one was more than 14 years
ago. We had problems with members giving up the Whip and so on.
It is very cohesive but it is cohesive through political support,
following and implementing policies that are broadly supported
by the group.
341. Clearly, that has worked because group
members have had a chance to take part in the decision. Is it
not possible within the new setup to continue to operate that
in that you can have a party group system that meets before the
executive considers major items and takes a view?
(Mr Cockell) Within the whole of the new system, we
will find ways of making it work. That we have to do. We know
that. We believe there are ways we can do that. The group meeting
remains essential and probably becomes even more essential because
that could be the only opportunity that we are able to discuss
with all our colleagues together in private. The days of chairmen
of executive or service committees phoning up, having a pre-meeting
or whatever and making sure that they had support will not apply.
It is not going to be conceivable for the executive member, or
whatever ghastly title we come up with, a member of the Cabinet,
to talk to all the members of the group about a policy that he
has to take a decision on, so it will have to be done in those
342. Do officers come to your group meetings?
(Mr Cockell) No, they do not. That is no insult on
officers; it is just not the way we operate.
343. There are some groups who invite officers
to explain a policy.
(Mr Cockell) Indeed. In our whole history, it has
344. What impact do you think the changes are
going to have on your councillors?
(Mr Cockell) I think it will be a seismic change for
those currently councillors because there will be very definitely
a them and us. It will take some time for that to be clear. However
one tries to cook it up, there will be ten of us who are taking
the very major decisions and there will be the others who are
taking an overview or scrutinising those decisions. Again, we
will be trying to draw them into the process so that they feel
part of it, but you cannot pretend that that is not the reality
of it. We are likely to lose fewer experienced councillors at
our local elections next year than I thought. I thought that,
with the changes, more experienced councillors might say, "Enough
is enough. This is the time to go." In fact, that is not
the case. Four years on, I fear that it is likely there will be
more going because for some it will be clear that they are never
going to be in the executive. That will cause problems for the
new people coming on because when I joined local government 14
or 15 years ago I obviously hoped to have a senior position in
Kensington and Chelsea but I did not know. There was a fair chance
that I might be able to achieve that. Many will never be able
to get into that group of ten. We will do our best. We will apply
the rules we currently have with service and executive committees,
which are that chairmen cannot chair for longer than a maximum
of three years. We are intending to have that within our constitution
so that a member of Cabinet cannot hold a specific portfolio for
longer than that time, to keep things moving, but it will change
the possibilities for members. Also, the pressure of work. The
expectations of the executive will also, over a longer period,
change the nature of people who are prepared to put themselves
forward for public office.
345. Do you think there are too many councillors
for the new structure, given the point you have just made?
(Mr Cockell) No. I suspect that the agenda behind
all this is that ultimately it will be decided that there are
too many councillors and you really do not need, in our case,
54. You could do with half that number.
346. Do you think that the scrutiny role under
the new arrangements offers a really significant and potentially
important role for those members who might otherwise sit there
feeling that they have been carved out of the decision making
process? Do you see some advantages in separating that within
the new structure which were not there under the old committee
arrangements? My experience was, as a committee chair, you tended,
in answer to all criticisms, to say that everything was okay because
you were vulnerable if you admitted otherwise. Do you not see
advantages in allowing scrutiny to be undertaken in this different
(Mr Cockell) We have had a scrutiny committee for
a few years now. We will have more scrutiny committees in future.
It has worked pretty and increasingly effectively. What I do not
think is necessary is to separate that some councillors can only
have a scrutiny role and some can only have an executive role.
The current scrutiny role works very effectively by having members
who are senior members of the council, maybe with chairmanship
already, but who take on a clearly different role and are able
to do that very effectively. I do not think it is healthy for
the good of the whole council body to have such a clearly defined
separation between one group and another. We will be doing our
best to draw on the overview and scrutiny. Our intention is that
if we have major decisions that, say, the executive member for
education was proposing, that he or she would go to the overview
and scrutiny committee at a very early stage to take soundings,
to take their views on it, and then to take those into consideration,
to take those back to Cabinet and so on, so that when the decision
came to be made there was a clear line of how that decision had
been reached, hopefully with the support of the education overview
and scrutiny committee. That would lessen the need for calling
in and so on in due course. We want to try and get that in train.
347. You virtually mentioned once or twice about
the workload of the Cabinet and the executive. Do you see yourselves
as a member of the Cabinet or the leader of that Cabinet taking
on more work than your professional officers now do?
(Mr Cockell) I think it is impossible not to. If you
are expecting individuals in their own name and elected members
to be taking decisions, we have throughout the whole council very
able members. They are not hands off at the moment at the best
of times, but if you are expecting people to take on specific
responsibility delegated to them individually, they are going
to demand to be far more involved day to day in the operation
of their department.
348. What do you see as the future role for
(Mr Cockell) For the very senior officers, it is going
to be difficult to bring that about. Senior professional officers
who have gone into local government clearly expect to be running
a service, day to day. They are looking for political leadership.
To suddenly have a new tier of elected bureaucrats, to some extent,
senior officers' role will have to become far more enabling, helping
elected members through the process, to reach decisions sensibly
and to handle the type of expectations that will increasingly
be falling on individual members and not, for instance, perhaps
the director of education.
349. It seems to have come full circle. You
now seem to be embracing the changes because of the increased
powers it gives your locally elected members and the non-elected
(Mr Cockell) I am not embracing anything. I am just
dealing with the reality of what we will have to deal with. For
most members, delegation has always been a touchy subject. Delegated
powers to officers always raise the hackles of my colleagues,
especially when something goes a bit wrong. We will be reviewing
delegation. I imagine there will be less delegation, certainly
less delegation initially, because members will want to be taking
the decisions. The problem is it is only a few members. That is
my real complaint. It is not that more authority is being given
to elected representatives; it is that so few of them will wield
350. Can I ask about the effect of this on the
electors of Kensington and Chelsea? What impact do you think it
is going to have on them?
(Mr Cockell) I suppose at the end in five years' time
it would be nice to think that they might know the name of the
leader of the councilthat is likely to be the way we goand
a few others. I fear they may know those names but they may not
know their ward councillors any more. Other than that, I honestly
do not think it is going to have a cataclysmic change on our residents.
We have done some very interesting consultation through this process.
We have had to. One of the most interesting ones that worked quite
well was where we had an evening where the mayor formally invited
people and ended up with 250-odd residents selected at random
from the borough. They spent an evening with us, though it was
not run by members at all. It was actually run by Nick Ross, the
broadcaster, and a representative from DETR for all the technical
stuff. It was very interesting. Probably most of those people
had never spent an evening talking about local government. They
will probably never spend another evening talking about local
government but it was helped by some food and drink and, at the
end, we could not get some people to go home. The first thing
you had to do was explain the current system. Most people did
not know how the current system worked. You then went through
the three options that we had before us. Some were interested
in the mayor. Younger people were generally interested in a directly
elected mayor. 57 per cent were in favour of leader and Cabinet.
They thought it did not really matter too much and we should just
get on with the job that they put us there to do. Every four years,
if they were not happy with the work and the performance, they
had a chance to get rid of us and they did not want to be bothered
too much with the internal administration of the council.
351. Do you think there is going to be any change
to the turnout in Kensington and Chelsea as a result of these
(Cllr Cockell) Even when we had a very high profile
by-election and a very well-known candidate with attendant press
and publicity we hardly scraped any more of a turnout. Nearly
a quarter of our population turns over every year in any case,
so it is a very difficult thing to get a higher turnout and even
more difficult at local elections than national elections. I do
not honestly think it will make much difference at all. Just to
give you an indication, we have done a survey of all our residents
with 80,000 published pamphlets asking for a response. The response
rate was 2.77 per cent that bothered to take the trouble to answer.
We did a similar consultation, again 80,000 leaflets, on congestion
charging (Mayor Livingstone's proposal) and we got a response
rate of 4.3 per cent. So when it matters more to people, I think,
they are interested, but this, I do not think, most residents
thought was really of too much interest and would not have a direct
effect on their lives.
352. Quality of councillors. I will not ask
you the quality of the Conservative group, as that, perhaps, would
be a bit unfair. As far as the Labour councillors are concerned, they
are likely to be in opposition to your council for most of the
time. Do they manage to attract people of the quality that you
would think would be worth being councillors?
(Cllr Cockell) Yes, at least equal to the general
quality of my side; very able, very good representatives and,
I think, a group that any political party would be proud to have
as members; many professionals, many with families and other commitments,
other interests, who bring their expertise and knowledge to representing
their residents. Of course, the area that I fear is that with
the loss of a roleboth less of a role for my backbenchers
but, potentially, much less of a role for our Labour groupthis
will put people off. We are taking steps to try and make sure
there is a role for our opposition because we think that is essential
for a healthy local authority, because as the minority party the
opposition has a very powerful role.
353. So there is going to be room for a member
of your cabinet to be a Labour member?
(Cllr Cockell) No. We have discussed it and they do
not want to be part of the executive, and in their position I
would not either. What we are doing is ensuring that the overview
and the scrutiny committee that will scrutinise the executive
will be chaired by the leader of the Labour group.
354. What sort of support will they get from
(Cllr Cockell) He will, as a chairman of the scrutiny
committee, get exactly the same support as any other chairman
of the scrutiny committee.
355. No specific designation of someone with
particular expertise, or someone who is not necessarily directly
responsible? How do the officers fit into the structure?
(Cllr Cockell) Specifically on how we deal with the
356. For scrutiny, yes.
(Cllr Cockell) There will be a small group, initially,
of officers who are there to facilitate the scrutiny role. The
chairman of the scrutiny committees will be equal within that,
there will not be any difference between one that is a Conservative
chairman of a scrutiny group and a Labour chairman of a scrutiny
group. There will be a small designated group to support the scrutiny
357. Do you find that someone who is going to
have a cabinet responsibility is going to have enough time to
actually have a full-time job and be a member of one of your cabinet
(Cllr Cockell) It is going to be increasingly difficult
because just seeing the number of decisions and the amount of
work that will have to be done directly by that person, for them
to hold down a normal joband, indeed, possibly, have a
family and other commitmentswill make it very, very difficult.
We are trying to find ways of making it possible. We are intending,
broadly, to mirror the business groups within the executive, but
certainly I want to have the adaptability within it so that, for
instance, if the intention is that the leader of the council will
choose not only the members of the executive but, also, the portfolios
that they hold, and if somebody who was seen, perhaps, to be about
to take over as executive member for social services but had a
lot of other commitments, they could say "Actually, I cannot
do this job myself, I need another colleague to take some of that
responsibility", so you would have two members of the executive,
perhaps, handling one portfolio. So we do not just end up with
people who either have their own business, self-employed, retired,
of private meanswhatever it may beand we try and
keep that sensible balance of true representation of the community
as a whole.
358. Do you think the allowances that are now
available to councillors in those sorts of roles will be sufficient
to compensate them for loss of promotion or loss of job opportunities?
(Cllr Cockell) Of course, Kensington and Chelsea is
not the cheapest place to live in the country, for a start. The
figures that might recompense people who happen to live in the
area, for a start, would be way outside what would be reasonable
to my mind and to my colleagues' minds that ratepayers, taxpayers,
should pay for local councillors. I have no doubt they will be
rising substantially. I get an allowance of £15,000 a year
as leader of the council, and although obviously I will not be
taking a role in what allowances may be paid in future I am sure
in ten years' time throughout the country there will be very,
very different figures, I imagine, and they will be quickly moving
to full-time, paid councillors.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very
much for your evidence.