Memorandum by West Sussex County Council
1. West Sussex County Council is the 11th
largest local authority in England. It has a population of 750,000
people. The county council has 71 County Councillors and an overall
Conservative maority of four.
2. On 14 April 2000 the County Council introduced
a pilot scheme under existing legislation, to enable it to assess
a Cabinet with Leader model and to design a structure within the
parameters set by central government, to suit the needs of West
Sussex. The County Council's pilot scheme comprises.
a single party Cabinet of seven,
including the Leader of the County Council;
four overview and scrutiny committees,
reflecting or combining the Cabinet portfolios as follows:
|Education and the Arts|
Social and Caring Services
|to mirror Cabinet portfolios|
|Strategic Environmental and|
Resources and Information
to combine two Cabinet portfolios each
three non-executive committees, including development
control and rights of way;
a Governance Committee, chaired by the Chairman
of the County Council, with the remit to oversee the effectiveness
of the pilot scheme and to make recommendations to the County
a Standards Committee (including two independent
3. The County Council has recently reviewed the pilot
4. The County Council has also embarked on a public consultation
exercise to reflect guidance under the Local Government Act 2000,
with a view to submitting final proposals to the Secretary of
State in May or June 2001.
5. The views set out below have been organised to reflect
the questions in the Environment Sub-Committee's Press Notice.
6. Preliminary views on whether the changes in political
management structures are likely to contribute to greater efficiency,
transparency and accountability in local government.
6.1 The concentration of decision-making within the hands
of a small committee (the Cabinet) or individual members of the
Cabinet, has made the decision making process more publicly transparent.
There is increasing awareness, locally, of the responsibility
of individual members of the Cabinet for decisions within their
portfolio. (A recent newspaper article in respect of the Minerals
Local Plan, included the banner headline "Its up to you [name]",
referring to the individual member of the Cabinet responsible
for taking a final decision as to whether there would or would
not be a further public inquiry into local minerals issues.)
6.2 Different members of the Cabinet have reacted in
different ways. Some members of the Cabinet now share issues with
other member "advisers", of the same political party,
although the decision is made only by the Cabinet member.
6.3 There is considerable doubt, however, whether the
new system increases the efficiency of the decision making process.
On the one hand, individual Cabinet members are able to process
decisions on a weekly basis by dissemination of proposals on a
(hard copy of electronic) members' bulletin, which enables all
members of the County Council to see proposals and to consider
asking them to be called in; this is considerably quicker than
waiting ten or twelve weeks for a committee meeting.
6.4 On the other hand the requirement to submit a "policy
framework" of the 13 or so plans and strategies prescribed
in Government guidance and regulations to full meetings of the
County Council, has led to an additional stage in the decision-making
process for some of those items, which previously would have been
resolved at committee level. While the objective of imposing the
policy framework (to enhance the role of full council meetings)
is a laudable one, the result has been a number of dull debates
on issues which to date have been neither controversial nor of
great interest to either members of the County Council or the
public. A better option would have been for central government
to have recommended those plans or strategies from which each
council could have selected for full council approval, to reflect
local circumstances, rather than requiring all of them to be submitted
to full council.
6.5 An added complication is that the production of guidance
or instructions from central government departments or other agencies
as to the content of some of the plans, is produced very late
in the day and without any regard to the process which policy
framework items must go through. A recent example in West Sussex
was the Youth Justice Plan; the tight critical path for the development
of the plan amongst all the agencies and stakeholders concerned,
involved presentation of the draft plan to elected members in
early January, with a view to it being submitted to the inter-agency
steering group in mid January and to the Youth Justice Board by
the end of January. While that timetable just allowed a meeting
of the full County Council the opportunity to consider a draft
at its meeting on the 19 January, there was no opportunity (for
example) for either the Cabinet or overview and scrutiny committee
to consider the draft in greater detail, at an earlier stage.
7. The impact of the new arrangements on the role of councillors,
the role of local authority officers and the local electorate
7.1 There has been a vast increase in the workload of
individual Cabinet members (previously chairman of the County
Council's principal committees). In effect, members of the Cabinet
singly and collectively have replaced all the county council's
principal committees; if members of the Cabinet collectively wish
to assume ownership of the principal proposals and strategies,
those members have to read a considerably greater volume of material
covering all aspects of the county council's functions, than was
previously the case.
7.2 One consequence has been the tendency for some members
of the Cabinet to seek regular meetings with policy "advisers"
from the same political group.
7.3 Without increased delegation to officers and a considerable
improvement in the method of producing and writing reports, the
workload of Cabinet members in making collective decisions will
remain at a high level. During a debate on the recent review by
the county council of its pilot scheme, several members of the
Cabinet expressed the view that full time local politicians would
be a natural consequence of the introduction of any of the new
7.4 Other members of the county council have expressed
a feeling of disengagement from the political and decision making
processes, and a lack of opportunity to ask senior members publicly
what is going on, and to account for their stewardship. An outcome
of the review of the pilot scheme has been the introduction of
an enhanced question time at County Council meetings, to question
Cabinet members of their stewardship.
7.5 One of the consequences of the review of the county
council's pilot scheme has been the production of a member development
programme for the period following county council elections in
7.6 The pressure on officers has increased as well. The
pressure to produce succinct briefing papers on the key policy
implications of a proposal, is a skill which needs to be exercised
at a very senior level, essentially at chief officer or assistant
chief officer level. The administrative burden on more junior
staff has also been intensive, because staff have had to support.
13 cycles of meetings for Cabinet and overview
and scrutiny committees instead of five committee cycles, and
nine or ten full council meetings instead of four every year;
the need to support meetings of Cabinet members
and policy advisers, and overview and scrutiny committees in pursuing
their own programme of reviews of current services and policies;
the need to continue to support non-executive
committees and other groups and panels.
7.7 The local electorate has expressed concern about
the accessibility of documents and a lack of understanding of
how the system works. An extensive distribution list of papers
has been established, with papers sent electronically or by hard
copy to those who wish to receive them. Papers are also now available
on the County Council's website. Leaflets explaining the system
have been sent to all parish and town councils and to 700 organisations
throughout the county. A special edition of the County Council's
newspaper has been sent to most households in the county, explaining
the three models on offer under the Act.
8. Experience of setting up overview and scrutiny committees,
the role of area committees or other devolved arrangements
8.1 The county council's overview and scrutiny committees
have produced their own programme of work. Some items of work
have been highly regarded by members, in terms of the interest
of member involvement and the value of the outcome. Others have
been less successful. Overall, however the programme of work by
overview and scrutiny committees has not been adequately linked
to the best value process nor to other reviews within the county
council. One benefit of the pilot scheme has been that the County
Council is now producing an integrated programme (the West Sussex
Improvement Programme) combining best value and other reviews
which members wish to undertake.
8.2 The process of call-in has been very successful.
The County Council's design principle for call-in was to ensure
that it was exercised as a reserve function. Only four items have
been called-in since April 2000, three of them in public and one
(because of litigation with a former contractor) in confidential
session. The public hearings have been extremely well received
by members and the press and public; all three cases were high
profile locally contentious issues.
8.3 The County Council has introduced within the pilot
scheme one area committee and is about to consider a programme
for the introduction of more hand-in-hand with the community planning
process. The community planning/area committee programme is likely
to be of key importance in a two-tier local government area, in
integrating the efforts of county and district councils in the
community planning processes and in ensuring that county councils
are not seen as remote from their electorates.
9. Difficulties authorities are experiencing in implementing
the provisions of the Local Government Act 2000 and views on the
adequacy of the guidance and how it might be improved
9.1 The provisions of the Local Government Act 2000 may
only become operative once the County Council has made its submission
to the Secretary of State in May or June 2001, in accordance with
the government's timetable.
Chairman of the County Council