Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)|
THURSDAY 11 JULY 2002
420. Could you tell us since we ratified whether
any other country has either had an adverse report or a good report
in relation to their performance in local government?
(Ms Kitchin) I am not able to help you.
421. So your legal advice told you that this
was a very important thing to put in, but it did not tell you
how it had been used or how effective it was?
(Mr Reed) I think prior to 1997 there was a lot of
concern from within political parties, and from the Labour Party
then in Opposition, that the Government was one of the few countries
in the whole of Europe which had not signed up to the Charter
and it was included in a manifesto
422. With respect, that was not the question
I asked. You told us you had legal advice and I would have thought
that one of the things you asked when you used this kind of advice
to prepare your evidence is how effective has it been, how often
has it been used and where is this Government manifestly in breach.
I have no doubt with the principle that you are enunciating, but
it just seems to me that you are coming at it from such a slanted
angle when the way we have seen in this country is to amend inadequate
(Mr Reed) I think that is what we are asking you to
423. No, I do not think that is what you are
asking us to do. You are asking us to make a statement that it
is not working very well as that is exactly what elected Members
(Mr Reed) The preamble was one aspect to it, but that
is to be included in the Bill. That is the suggestion.
424. But the Local Government Information Unit
say that the Bill will implement the key elements of the Government's
programme, so the change of relationship between central and local
government, and that is referred to in the European Charter of
Local Self-Government, so the LGIU or the Local Government Information
Unit do admit that the Bill will implement the key elements of
the European Charter of Local Self-Government. If it is doing
that, then what do you want?
(Ms Kitchin) I think there are two elements in answer
to your question. The first is that the statement would not in
fact add anything to the White Paper. It would confirm the position
in the White Paper and it would be one which was based on consensus
and against which the raft of regulations, which are going to
be introduced under the legislation, could be tested.
425. But here it says that in the opinion of
the LGIU, "The Bill will implement key elements of the Government's
programme", referring to the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
Now, if the key elements are being introduced and the Government
are making that so they could, "establish a partnership for
delivery of high quality local services and secure strong and
responsive leadership by local government, freed from unnecessary
government controls", what are you asking for?
(Ms Newman) That paragraph you are reading, what we
are saying is that is the intention of the Bill.
426. And you do not feel that it achieves that?
(Ms Newman) No.
Chairman: Well, I am afraid that the Charter
is not doing very well with the Committee and I think we need
to move on.
427. Can I move on, Ines Newman, to comments
you made briefly at the beginning where you expressed your disappointment
that there is nothing really in the Bill to encourage more people
to stand as local councillors.
(Ms Newman) Absolutely.
428. What would you like to have seen?
(Ms Newman) As you will remember, Chapter 5 of the
White Paper was about supporting councillors and was meant to
be the "Green" bit of the White Paper. We have not seen
the responses that have come out from that, but we put in a considerable
response to that. We suggested a raft of reforms. At a very minimum,
we would want to see reconsideration of the Widdecombe restrictions
on local authority officers standing as members. We are not saying
abolish them by any means, we are just saying reform them because
we think they are unduly restrictive as they currently stand.
429. Sorry, can you be specific? Who should
be allowed to stand who is not able to stand now?
(Ms Newman) Well, there is a salary restriction, as
you are aware, and we think that needs to be reconsidered.
430. And moved from where to where?
(Ms Newman) I am not going to give you the details.
I think what we are saying is that
431. You are not convincing me unless you are
prepared to give me a for instance of somebody who, you think,
should be moved into the category that they can actually stand.
(Mr Reed) An architect who would be obviously way
above the salary limit at the moment, who has no particular relationship
with advising members or being involved in the political function
as such, but is simply a high-flying and reasonably highly-paid
professional, why should they be banned from political activity?
It is those sorts of situations that we really do need to address.
(Ms Newman) Unison put down an amendment to the 2000
Act which Hilary Armstrong promised to look at, and we feel it
is very disappointing that, having had that commitment from her
that she would be looking at that, and this is a long-term commitment
from the Labour Party, that that is not in the Bill, but that
is in a sense a minor issue. I think there are some more significant
issues. We have been concerned for some time about the fact that
pension provision only applies to executive members and it is
not available for backbenchers, that childcare allowances are
discretionary and not mandatory for members. We believe very strongly
that an opportunity should be taken to lower the age at which
people can stand for office to 18, and we would also like to see
the voting age lowered to 16, but just to take it simply, if people
are currently allowed to vote and they are adults at 18, why can
they not stand for office?
432. Why is it the role of the Local Government
Information Unit to have a view on the voting age?
(Ms Newman) Because one of the problems at the moment
is that there is, I think as you are aware, a declining turn-out
of young people to vote at elections. The average age of councillors
is rising very rapidly and it is now 57. We believe that if you
are going to strengthen local government, you need crucially to
have able people who are representative of their community in
the position of a councillor and that is one of the building blocks.
Chris Grayling: Do you not believe that the
process of professionalising the role of a councillor, the structures
that are being put in place, really makes the responsibility for
the most active councillors much more onerous than it was in the
past and is in itself making it impossible for anybody who has
a substantial professional life to participate as a councillor?
It is something we have touched upon in our previous inquiries.
Adjusting benefit payments for councillors does not avoid the
fact that if you professionalise them, if you make them semi-full-time,
you make it impossible for anybody who wants another career to
do the job and that is the root of the problem. The reason you
have got 57-year-olds is because they are the people who have
got the time to do it.
433. Can I add a quick supplementary to that
before you respond. Is it not true that increasingly employers
nowadays are reluctant to let their employees have time off for
council duties and is that the other reason why the average age
(Ms Newman) We have also called for a Public Services
Act which would strengthen the position of people wanting to take
time off for public duties and we have suggested that compensation
is given to employers for time off for public duties. Those are
the other things we would like to see considered. Basically we
think this needs a very radical reform. We are going down the
road at the moment of in some areas it being very, very difficult
to find people to stand as councillors and I think you are right
in the sense that the job is becoming more difficult.
434. Can you give us a specific example of where
it is difficult to get councillors to stand?
(Ms Newman) I think if you ask a lot of
435. No, no, I want a specific example. We all
believe things, but what we need is concrete evidence and you
cannot give us any concrete evidence.
(Mr Reed) I think we can give you concrete evidence.
At recent meetings of our Management Committee, which represents
all our local authority affiliates, I think, from every Party,
the message was exactly the same, that
436. I am not asking you about the message.
I understand the message. Where is the example? Can we have a
local authority where there is a problem?
(Mr Reed) I cannot give you an example where parties
are not having difficulty getting sufficient people to stand as
437. Can I ask you both for very succinct answers
to this: who does this Bill give power tolocal government
or central government?
(Ms Newman) I think it is hard to give a succinct
answer. There are in the Bill, which are very hard to see, like
the financial framework, but there are a series of places within
the Bill where there are reserve powers kept for the Secretary
of State. There is also the issue that a lot of the Bill cannot
be judged without
438. Come on, on a balance of some scales, which
way is it going?
(Mr Reed) Well, I would say that because the core
of the draft Bill in terms of central/local relations is the Comprehensive
Performance Framework provisions, that has tilted things too far
to the central.
439. I think you have expressed the view, the
LGIU, that you felt that the Government instinctively wanted to
give that bit more freedom and power to local government and when
it actually came to drafting the details of the Bill, it could
not bring itself to do it. Is that how you feel about it?
(Mr Reed) That is precisely so. It is true on the
Performance Framework, it is true on the regulations which are
likely to emerge on trading and charging, so yes.
(Ms Newman) And the reserve powers on finance which
actually are totally unnecessary.