Memorandum by Councillor Merrick Cockell,
Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council
The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea
is the smallest London Borough by area, but also the most densely
We have a population of 180,000 people but we
are also home to a significant number of international workers.
Some 30,000 tourists stay in the borough each night.
The Royal Borough is marked by high property
prices and extreme development pressures. A third of our local
homes are social housing and 40 per cent of these tenants are
on housing benefit. At the same time the Royal Borough is renowned
for its history, architecture and a significant number of London
A STRONG COMMITMENT
Throughout its history the Royal Borough council
has enjoyed the talents of a large number of local people who
have been willing to commit themselves to public service.
The administration of the council has been characterised
by a single party administration by the Conservative Party, but
the minority Labour Party has made a significant and constructive
Turnout for local elections has been comparable
to other metropolitan areas. However, the context for participation
in local elections needs to be understood. Our electoral roll
is characterised by considerable turbulence. One quarter of those
on the electoral role depart each year, to be replaced by incomers.
A high proportion of these people may well be migrants of one
form or another and therefore it is to be expected their initial
commitment to local democratic systems will be muted.
Both the political parties in the council believe
the current system of committees to lead and oversee the council's
work, has served the Royal Borough well.
The government has claimed the new local authority
government's arrangements will "increase efficiency, transparency
This view appears to be based on a number of
assumptions that the Royal Borough does not accept, namely:
the committee system is out of date
real decisions are taken elsewhereusually
behind closed doorsand the committee system is therefore
decisions are not the subject of
discussion or scrutinyeither at the time or subsequently;
as a result, some councillors feel
excluded from the decision-making process;
local people have no confidence in
the system and are looking for change.
The Royal Borough considers none of these assumptions
are correct so far as its own operation of the committee system
All of our meetings are held in public and only
those matters that are genuinely confidential are considered in
It is the council's view, unanimously, that
having been democratically elected, all local councillors have
the right to be intimately involved in the decision-making processes
of their council and the Royal Borough remains deeply concerned
about the process of marginalising the majority of councillors
who will be excluded from the executive.
Naturally this council will do everything in
its power to ensure that non executive Members are provided with
a satisfying role in relation to their scrutiny and community
functionsbut the philosophy underlying local government
is that local people give up their time in order to run Municipal
affairs; not just scrutinise the process.
There are many councils, in the control of all
parties, that are forward looking, efficiently run and committed
to the provision of first class services.
They did not need to be legislated against and
forced to introduce structures for which there appears to be little
or no demand. The Royal Borough would have entirely supported
changes made to local government law in order to facilitate experiments
with new forms of government. The Royal Borough remains fundamentally
opposed to the imposition of new internal management arrangements
on democratically elected bodies.
The Royal Borough council does not cling to
its current arrangements out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia.
We believe we have solid evidence the existing system has served
local people well.
Last year OFSTED completed an inspection on the local
education authority and placed us within the top three local education
authorities in the country. Next month the Audit Commission/Social
Services Inspectorate joint review team will publish its report
and we know that will be similarly positive.
We've also recently had an inspection by the
Benefit Fraud Inspectorate and we are proud of our housing benefits
servicean achilles heel for most metropolitan authoritiesrepresents
a first class service which delivers benefit payments accurately
and promptly and guards against fraud.
The Best Value Inspectorate have placed our
first inspected review equal top with two others in a total of
34 inspections completed.
Recently Channel 4 completed the first ever
research into the effectiveness of crime and community safety
partnerships and placed the Royal Borough's partnership with the
Metropolitan Police first in their league table of London authorities.
We could go on.
These achievements have been hard won by the
constant application of local politicans, informed by local knowledge,
prepared to give up many hours of their time to keep in touch
with the needs of local people; to encourage a vast array of community
organisations to see the council as willing to listen and adapt
and to spend time on developing specialist knowledge about the
Any metropolitan authority with a full range
of local authority functions remains a large and sprawling, multi-purpose
body. We simply do not believe it is possible for 10 councillors,
even working full-time, to develop a superior knowledge of all
of these services to that which is currently held by 54 councillors.
The assumption that the role of executive councillors
will de facto become a full-time role is an assumption
we believe may yet prove deleterious to the future buoyancy of
We are pleased to say that from both parties,
we have a number of councillors who have paid employment and family
responsibilities. We believe this rich mix of councillors is an
essential part of representing the local community.
We believe the government's reforms are based
upon assertion rather than evidence. It is our experience, having
now commenced consultation in a comprehensive way with our local
community, that there is simply no public appetite for these changes
and the division between executive and scrutiny roles for councillors
is an academic experiment which jars with the natural expectations
of local people.
We will of course follow Parliament's will and
we fully intend to do our best to ensure the local government
system remains one which will ensure the talents of all our councillors
are effectively harnessed for the public good.
However, we believe it would be entirely wrong
for the Committee to proceed on the basis that these reforms go
with the grain of public opinion. We think they contain dangers
that will deter local people from putting themselves forward,
for the best reasons, for public office. We believe they will
provide an excuse for the worst councils to become more secretive.
We accept that not all councils can claim the
advantages we have had in terms of the ability and willingness
of local people to put themselves forward as councillors. However,
we believe these reforms will fundamentally fail to deal with
the arrangements for securing governors in the headlong dash for
an academic experiment with governance.