Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)
DAVID PANTER, ALEX BAILEY, CLLR JOHN PRICE AND CLLR JEAN EVANS
TUESDAY 23 APRIL 2002
40. In any way; have they ever challenged?
(Cllr Price) Yes. I hold the portfolio for ITC, and certainly I have been questioned, in the same way that you are doing here, about things that we are actually doing. We have had no formal disagreement, as such, but you have been called to account for what it is you are doing, certainly, yes.
41. Are there any examples where the existence of an overview and scrutiny committee has made any difference to what the Cabinet has done?
(Cllr Price) Yes, indeed.
42. Can you give me some examples?
(Cllr Price) The corporate plan itself, a huge and lengthy process, significant changes were made to that plan in terms of policy through the dialogue that took place, through a number of workshops, with the review bodies and, indeed, the Council as a whole. I cannot be specific, here, today.
43. Can I just be precise about that, through workshops, not through direct scrutiny committee work?
(Cllr Price) Both.
44. How effective would you say the scrutiny and overview committees are?
(Cllr Price) Very.
45. Is that because they do not appear to be doing very much?
(Cllr Price) They are doing a great deal. Take the best value review of culture and leisure; that work was done in conjunction with the portfolio holder, but led by Jean's review body, totally, and that was a huge piece of work that went across six months, I think, from start to finish.
46. Can I look to Brighton and say, when you had your referendum for an elected mayor, there was a pretty substantial vote against; why do you think that was?
(Mr Bailey) I think it was because of a number of issues. I think David has already made reference to the fact that there was a perception that this may have been around people; but I think Brighton and Hove, as a city, has a number of particular issues that are live at the moment which people are genuinely keen to be involved in. We have been, for the last two years really, through a period of quite sustained economic growth, and whilst that was a very real upside, that also has a potential downside for us, in terms of our built infrastructure, our housing, the impact that has on our environment. And a number of these decisions create considerable civic debate, if you like, both within the Council and outside, in the press and in various organisations; and I think there was a fear, slightly played upon by those that wanted a `no' vote, to encourage people to believe that voting for a mayor and a cabinet might, potentially, decrease the role of the individual, if you like, in decision-making. And that was a fear that I think was heard by a large percentage of our electorate.
47. And the role of the Council, if they elected in a mayor, were they concerned that they might lose the ability to represent their point of view as well, in that process?
(Mr Bailey) No. I think the perception of the `no' voters was that, if you like, the mayor and the cabinet would be the be all and end all.
48. Yes; and that would undermine, as well as themselves, as individuals, the person they elected as their councillor would have less power?
(Mr Bailey) Yes, I think that is right.
49. Can I just ask then, further to that, we have all heard of the third way, but I understand Brighton is going for the fourth way, one of the models that was not anticipated for a council of your size when the Act was passed, how are you intending to progress that, has the Department given their go-ahead, and will it really differ from the old committee system?
(Mr Panter) Again, post referendum, we went through a very clear, all-party process to determine what the new committee system was going to look like; that was submitted to the Secretary of State, against a deadline of the end of February, and we have had the go-ahead to now implement, and it will be implemented at the municipal year, after 16 May. It is different from the old committee system, in that there are only four committees, and the number of sub-committees is highly restricted, there are no task groups, other sorts of member bodies, which have been floating around for some time and were part of the old system. There will still remain a form of cabinet; it will be called the Leadership Team, and is the Leader of the Council with the chairs of those four committees, plus the group leader, plus the Council liaison lead for the administration; and that will still meet on a weekly basis, and therefore there will be opportunities for ensuring that the business of the committees is highly structured and is not allowed to meander. Because I think our big concern is about how we retain the gain we have had during our shadow period, with the cabinet arrangement, of the turnover of decisions being fairly quick.
50. And how does scrutiny happen, in that process?
(Mr Panter) There will be a single overview and scrutiny committee, and it is supported in entirely the same way as all the other four committees, and it will operate in a similar way to, perhaps you might be familiar with, internal and external audit processes, in that it will have a themed agenda, in terms of the scrutiny side, and will pull together short-term pools of members, in order to undertake those scrutiny exercises. And it has a specific protocol around call-in to allow that to happen as well.
51. If this is going to be any good, why should not other councils be able to do the same?
(Mr Panter) I think that is not a question for me to answer. I think we need to demonstrate that it works for us, in Brighton and Hove, and the proof will be in what it delivers in terms of benefits for the people of the city. If others then wish to lobby to have a similar option then so be it.
52. Was it really a good idea to make the Act so prescriptive in the regulations, or would it have been better to let people experiment with different arrangements?
(Mr Panter) I think that, clearly, over the course of the period since the Act, there have been opportunities to experiment, hence we are doing what we are doing, because we were very quick on the ball and saw there was an opportunity to have an improved committee system for a unitary of our size.
53. I know we are running out of time, and I want to ask John and Jean, from Chester, these questions. You mentioned earlier you had set up local panels; can you say to the Committee to what extent you believe those panels have actually improved public participation? Secondly, how much money and how many powers do you delegate to them? And, thirdly, how has the role of councillors been affected by the establishment of those panels. That is the first question, rolled into one. Then the second question is Local Strategic Partnerships; just tell us how many have been established in Chester, and tell us why, in your opinion, they are not just talking shops, and how are they truly accountable?
(Cllr Price) Shall I take the LSP. The LSP is very, very effective; we have not got accreditation yet. Chester was, is, a city of partnerships; the LSP has pulled together all those that existed previously, building on Chester in Partnership, which was Chester Action Partnership, which has existed for over ten years. The emerging LSP has held two major conferences, which connected with over 300 people from a raft of different organisations, who have developed Chester's Way Ahead, a ten-year programme, which embraces the City's community plan, which embraces best value; it all sits within there, there is a total coherence around the LSP. We find it a bit difficult, I have to say, to engage with the private sector, although we are now beginning to draw them in more meaningfully than we have hitherto.
54. How far have those plans been changed, as a result of anything that was done over the coffee and biscuits?
(Cllr Price) Coming out of the initial consultation, quite a lot of our thinking has been changed, because it is in response to what it is that people want, rather than what we think they ought to have.
55. Just one example of what has changed then?
(Cllr Price) Our approach to leisure and culture and how we will change what is a community facility which serves the whole of Chester, to disaggregate, to serve communities; that is a very significant change, I think. Jean can answer on the local plan far better than I can.
Chairman: I think we are running out of time; so, very quickly, John Pugh.
56. Two very straightforward questions; just `yes' or `no' to the first one. Is it a good idea to have the local MP on the LSP?
(Cllr Price) In our case, if she will come, I would say, yes; sadly, we have got two MPs, only one is the right colour.
57. Have you made any use of the new power to promote well-being; either of you?
(Mr Bailey) Not directly, yet. You will see in our written submission, we are very keen to pursue this partnership process at issue, but at the moment we are still slightly confused by central Government's position on charging.
(Cllr Price) In the same way, really; we have not gone in any real direction to use those powers, but we welcome the possibility of so being able.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence. Thank you.