Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-208)
ANDREW WHETNALL, PAUL ROWSELL AND PETER MURPHY
TUESDAY 23 APRIL 2002
200. It is important to be very clear about the groups we are talking about. What we have heard this morning from those councillors is that, and they cited examples of their own executives, where very few members of their executives were in full-time employment, what they have said to us very clearly is, it is not possible to be involved as a full-time employee, whether it is in the public sector or the private sector, a business person, a professional, whatever, it is not possible to be involved on the executive of an authority, one of the key positions on an authority, if they are holding down a serious full-time job; that is the message we got this morning?
(Mr Whetnall) I would respect the message, and I think it is something that needs continuing attention.
201. Can I take you back, first of all, to the question of costs. Presumably, you can give us a note as to how much is in your own estimates for the cost of your activities? Next, Brighton and Hove managed to sort of wangle their way through, with a fairly imaginative system for going back to the committees; why are you not letting other councils do the same?
(Mr Rowsell) The option which Brighton and Hove took is an option which is only available to a council which has a referendum on a mayoral proposal.
202. So it is a bribe for having a referendum?
(Mr Rowsell) No; no, it is not a bribe. And one where the local people, as a result of consultation about what the fall-back model should be, have given some indication that the preferred fall-back model in the mayoral referendum is the so-called alternative arrangements, which is a restyled committee arrangement, restyled crucially by having overview and scrutiny.
203. So you can go back to those proposals, as long as you have a mayoral referendum, in which the proposal for the mayoral referendum is defeated, and this committee structure is put forward; so it is not a one-off for Brighton and Hove, it is available for other people as well?
(Mr Rowsell) It is available for others under the legislation in those circumstances.
204. We have got a new Local Government Bill being drafted at the present moment; is that going to amend or change the 2000 Act?
(Mr Whetnall) I do not think there are things that arise from the White Paper that cannot be done under secondary legislation; so I think the answer to that is, probably not.
(Mr Rowsell) Could I just add, there is one point in the White Paper which may require primary legislation in this area about which we are talking, which is to allow greater co-option onto overview and scrutiny committees.
205. Now, also, that White Paper suggested that there should be far less prescription between central and local government; is that going to be achieved by thinning down the rules and regulations and guidance?
(Mr Rowsell) We have undertaken in the White Paper to review, to work with, the LGA, with local government, looking at the guidance about this area. Whether that working with local government means the guidance is slimmed down or not, that is an open question; partly, it is making the guidance more effective, making the guidance meet what local government, in particular, wish to see about the guidance.
206. But, wait a minute, the Local Government White Paper actually said it should be a less prescriptive relationship between central and local government; you are saying that is not really what is going to happen, the present level of prescription might be described better, is that it?
(Mr Rowsell) No, I am not saying; as the White Paper says, the total relationship is overall one of less prescription, and, indeed, we have seen the example of that already, in relation to the direction where we are going on key decisions, where, following the debates about the secondary legislation last year, there was consultation about having more guidance on key decisions and, in the light of that consultation, and as stated in the White Paper, the decision was taken, the Government took the decision, that local authorities were best placed to decide, as it were, about what should and should not, within the framework, be key decisions. So it is less prescription.
207. Right; so we need to get rid of regulation where these impede councils in finding innovative ways of tackling local problems. That is in the White Paper. How is that going to be achieved?
(Mr Whetnall) There are various proposals in the White Paper, including a proposal to reduce significantly the number of requirements for plans around service delivery and to rationalise and provide opportunities for a sliding number of partnerships; now some of that will require secondary legislation, quite a lot of it will not, but we published on the web our plan for various milestones towards those objectives.
208. I thought the plan for milestones was to reduce the number of milestones; that is a new milestone, is it not?
(Mr Whetnall) In this case, the milestones measure our progress towards doing what we have said we will do in the White Paper.
Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen.