Memorandum by Malcolm Meikle, Leader of
Wychavon District Council (LAG 10)
I understand that the Sub-committee is interested
in five particular points in respect of this matter. My comments
relate primarily to the first two, whether the changes are likely
to contribute to greater efficiency, transparency and accountability,
and their impact on those involved, particularly councillors.
I believe we in Wychavon are in a position to
give evidence on the special but rather effective arrangements
for governance that we submitted for continuing approval. We can
also produce member experience of operating the two systems as
two members of Wychavon Leaders Panel are very frustrated Members
of Worcestershire County Council where a cabinet style administration
with portfolio holders has been introduced.
Other Wychavon District Councillors are also
County Councillors, representing the Conservative, Labour, Liberal
Democrat and Independent parties. The view of the great majority
of those who are District and County Councillors is that a Cabinet-style
approach to it's decision making just does not work. Decisions
are not made more quickly and efficiently and the role of `back
bench' Councillors has been significantly marginalised.
Wychavon is a rural District Council with a
population of about 112,000 in 70 Parishes and we have put in
place management structures which we think provide total clarity
as to which Councillors are responsible for making decisions,
include vigorous overview and scrutiny arrangements, and public
participation. We believe that these structures meet the Government
targets and are applicable to most, if not all, shire District
The arrangements we put in place following the
May 1999 elections, and were specifically designed to comply with
the Government's then stated policies on Modernising Local Government.
Key features of our arrangements are:
a Leaders Panel, consisting of the
Leader of the Council and the Committee Chairmen (but not the
Chairman of the Council), meets fortnightly. Members meet for
an hour on their own before joining the Managing Director and
other officers to advise the Council and its Committees on policy
and strategy matters. It addresses current matters for decision
and reviews performance of Committee Meetings. Senior second and
third tier Officers are invited to participate and representatives
from other potential partner organisations are invited to discuss
their interests with the Panel. (Recent attendees include an Assistant
Chief Constable, representatives of the Countryside Agency, developers
with interests in the District, and the Managing Director of a
local housing association.) Details of items discussed at these
Panel meetings are circulated to all members of the Council, and
are made available to the press and public. Such an approach provides
an ideal opportunity for interested parties to comment on matters
of interest at a formative stage and before final decisions are
Committees and working parties that
existed previously were reduced from 19 to five, meeting regularly
in public, and who are encouraged to attend and have the right
to ask questions of Councillors. All Members of the Council have
the job satisfaction of making decisions in Committee and Council.
Best Value service reviews are carried
out by politically balanced groups of councillors, with members
of the Leaders Panel not participating in such groups. Also involving
members of the public and interested groups.
The Leaders Panel have underlined
the public consultation by direct contact `walk-abouts' where
Councillors and Senior Officers can meet people on the streets
and hear and observe their problems. We have held seminars on
topics that are not strictly our responsibility, but are of increasing
interest to our electorate, such as Health and Youth, to bring
together a wider representation of deliverers and receivers.
In summary, we see the advantages of our current
system as follows:
A corporate approach in the introduction
of new ideas in partnership with officers.
Clarity in reporting and decision
making in public Committees.
Much greater Member satisfaction.
The retention of the best of a system
that provides the proper checks and balances.
A system that is understood by the
Parish Councils and electorate who have the satisfaction of knowing
that their representative has an equal role to play in decision
making and is not a second class councillor. (A view expressed
in public consultation).
In comparison, the County Council Cabinet Style
Portfolio Holder has:
Reduced public accountability.
Weakened the role of an elected Member
(A portfolio Holder unless he is a long standing Councillor with
a full-time commitment is at a clear disadvantage to an officer
and officer preference is more likely to prevail.
Trivialised and isolated the remainder
of the Councillor Members.
The effectiveness diminished Member
Reduced electors interest in local
We regret that we have not been allowed to submit
our well-tried and preferred system to the democratic choice of
our electorate. It is sad that the Government have presumed that
because our population is over the 85,000 limit we need to receive
the same structure as a sizeable urban authority. In a rural authority
there has always been a presumption that the electoral representatives
from each Committee are equal and have a right to be heard and