Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-484)
MR DAVID CLARK AND MS MAIRI MCLEAN
TUESDAY 14 MAY 2002
480. And for officers as well?
(Mr Clark) For officers in certain professional frameworks I think so too. It is notable that a number of people have said in my own organisation, "That is enough. I have had one change too many. I am going now". Just as I was once in a city hall and looked at all of the city treasurers lined up that had done exactly the same taxation system until the current one, who had done three completely different taxation systems, the pace has moved quite rapidly and has gone backward and forward, too.
(Ms McLean) There is a positive aspect to that question which is: do not tell us why we cannot do it but tell us how we can do. I think there still is a desire on the part of officers to work within the law, but increasingly, and encouraged by the effects on the practice such as the PSA and the LSPs and so on, officers are saying, "How can we do this?" My concern is that solicitors are stuck with a lot of regulation about which there needs to be more debate in order for them to see their way through. I believe there is willingness on the part of solicitors as well to say: yes, we want to take this forward but we are at risk of being stuck with an awful lot of bureaucracy and regulation that may make innovation just too difficult.
481. Have standards committees worked?
(Ms McLean) Our local experience is that they have worked well but we have managed to use them little because we have had conciliation beforehand and that has been a very helpful way of solving battles between members. In terms of whether they have worked nationally, I do not think there is enough evidence to say, but the very fact that they exist is making a difference.
482. They are supposed to impose standards, are they not, on parish councils? Is that a good idea?
(Ms McLean) As we said in our submission, this is at the moment proving to be extremely difficult. It is creating a workload which cannot be predicted. The apparent overkill in is making a mockery of the good principle of standards in some areas and in some places, although I think it is also down to generational change, and it has caused mass resignations from parish councils particularly. So this is our point about one size does not necessarily fit all.
483. The intention of the legislation was to restore confidence in local authorities and perhaps to put them back to the situation they were in the first half of the twentieth century, where they confidently set out to do what they thought was necessary for the local communities. Do you think that has happened or do they simply whinge on that the government should give them more money and more powers?
(Mr Clark) There is an awful lot of whingeing in the world of local government. One would have to accept that. I think it is a brave ambition for any single Act to have that. For myself, recalling that 70 per cent of my budget came from DOH or DFES, I think that has not restored confidence because people still feel that they are more accountable as an officer sometimes to parliamentary colleagues than perhaps to people in their own town halls, but I think we have got a long way to go to decide at what level we want to position the decision-making services on vital services and one Act will not change that.
484. So ought local authorities to have more power to raise money locally?
(Mr Clark) It would certainly have a greater impact on electoral turnout than saying, "You can vote electronically" if it was to do with the fact that this is the person who can take £2,000 a year out of your pocket, and therefore I would have thought it would inject a healthy dose of that activity into the democratic process, yes.
Chairman: On that note, I thank you very much for your evidence.