Examination of Witness (Questions 404
THURSDAY 1 JULY 1999
404. Good afternoon, ladies. Thank you very
much for responding to our invitation and coming to the Committee.
May I ask you first of all whether there are any statements that
you would like to make briefly about your views on the Bill before
we move on to questioning? Ms Ryan, are you the principal spokesman?
(Ms Ryan) No. They just put my nameplate
in the middle!
405. And on the top of my list as well! My invitation
is extended to whoever is your principal spokesman who would like
(Ms Clarke) I am Stella Clarke. I work
for the Council. The people here today are three members of the
Lewisham Citizens' Panel which is one of the citizens' panels
which you have just heard about. It is 1,000 local residents in
Lewisham who we regularly consult via surveys and by using community
workshops and qualititative research like focus group-type research.
The people that are here today are regular participants on our
panel. They also took part in what we call a community workshop
which was qualitative consultation about the issue of political
management structures, so they are principally here today to answer
questions about that consultation and their views that came out
406. You said the panel that "we regularly
consult", that is Lewisham Borough Council, is it?
(Ms Clarke) It is Lewisham Borough Council,
but it is also a partnership with the University Hospital in Lewisham.
407. Does the Council provide the secretariat
and support for it?
(Ms Clarke) The panel is 1,000 people.
It is run by a third party office of public management and we
consult the whole panel through telephone surveys, but then we
also undertake additional qualitative research like focus groups.
Lord Bassam of Brighton
408. The allegation has been made in this Committee
fairly frequently that when members of the public are questioned
about the idea of a directly elected mayor they are answering
a question that they do not understand in the sense that there
has not been enough information or background or contents given.
Do you feel that in addressing the question of what a directly
elected mayor might be you were well informed in that process?
(Ms Ryan) Everyone is saying that the
local people do not understand. I think everyone is under-estimating
the average citizen. You sit here saying that we do not understand.
We were given an impartial view of all the different options in
the White Paper and I have read the White Paper and maybe local
people are not interested or are not informed because of the jargon
in there. I have got a university degree and this goes over my
head. I think you still under-estimate us in that we do understand
it. In our case we were given descriptive information about each
of the possible options, so we were fully informed. From the discussions
we had as a panel before we went into the formal descriptions
it appeared that most people did have a good idea of what these
different things were anyway.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I wanted to get that
first point established right at the beginning of the session
because it has irked me in the past when I have heard this argument
409. How well informed did you feel you were
about how the Council runs now when you entered into this process?
What did you do? Can you describe to us how it worked?
(Ms Ryan) How they asked us questions?
Baroness Thornton: And what the process has
Mr Pike: And how it was appointed as well.
410. That is a separate thing because they will
not necessarily know that. I think we need to ask Lewisham that
in a minute.
(Ms Osbourne) It was a telephone poll
where they rang 1,000 people at home and asked some questions
about where they live, how many children they have, if you are
black or white, if you are able or disabled. When they did the
poll initially it was 1,000 people that were telephoned and asked
all the same questions and then Lewisham Council elected 1,000
people from those telephone conversations, but it also reflected
the ethnic origin of the person, their gender and whether they
are disabled or not.
Baroness Thornton: So they got a good picture,
there is a very good balance.
Lord Carnarvon: A good representative mix.
411. How informed were you? Did you feel you
knew a lot about the council before you started on this?
(Ms Osbourne) For me as an individual
perhaps I was but the workshop that followed once the panel had
started was very informed on what they did and how they represented
(Ms Ryan) In comparison to a lot of local councilsI
have lived in other placesI do think we are quite well
informed. We have a local council newsletter that comes out every
two months. We have got big council notice boards. There are a
couple of digital notice boards so things can be put up quite
quickly rather than printing it. There are two of those one in
the town centre in Lewisham which is the main shopping section
and Catford which is where the Town Hall is. Those give us immediate
information. So I think we are kept pretty well informed of services
and what is going on.
Sir Paul Beresford
412. Would you say the teach-in you had has
increased your understanding of the problem that we are looking
at, the three different choices?
(Ms Clarke) Do you mean the teach-in
in terms of this particular issue?
(Ms Clarke) Perhaps if I explain the
process for the community workshop and how they came to that conclusion
that would help. It was a one-day workshop. We had about 75 panel
members and they split down into workshops and looked at different
things. Some of them looked at how the council keeps in touch
with local people, some of them looked at the issue of leadership,
some of them looked at what we call (inaudible) which is essentially
about scrutiny and checking, some of them looked at getting directly
involved which was about local forums and other methods for consultation.
The idea of that was to bring out people's ideas about what the
council was like now, their views of how they related to the council
and people here can certainly elaborate on how they saw the council
in terms of contact with local councillors, etcetera. The idea
was to start focusing on what might be the different ways in which
the council could be organised. In the afternoon they had a more
detailed description of the three models from the chief executive.
After that they had more discussion about those three models and
the issues they had discussed in the morning around leadership,
scrutiny, how they might fit into the models and at the end of
the day they voted on those three models. We did do a random survey
of 1,000 people as well which was nothing to do with the citizens'
panel so we had both quantitative and qualitative research.
Earl of Carnarvon
414. Could you be so kind and tell us how Lewisham
works at the moment. Does it have an education committee, a social
services committee, is it a unitary authority?
(Ms Clarke) Yes, it is a London borough.
415. What is the population of Lewisham?
(Ms Clarke) About 230,000
416. And from the point of view of the police
you did not ask questions about that?
(Ms Clarke) The police?
417. The police, because they are not a police
(Ms Clarke) No we did not ask questions
about that. This workshop was focusing specifically
418. On the borough's responsibilities, on the
London borough's responsibilities?
(Ms Clarke) Yes, but specifically on
the political management structures of the council.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
419. Stella Clarke partially answered the question
I wanted to ask. Really what I wanted to develop was I accept
that the group is representative when it starts but whether the
very fact it has been through this process and the fact it has
been willing to put itself through this process maybe makes it
unrepresentative. Is there any way you can check that, maybe having
another 1,000 people who have not had an educational induction
and see how the results change as from what one set of people
think about the issues to another set of people who do not know
the issues and have an opinion.
(Ms Clarke) That is partly why we also
did the random survey which is nothing to do with the citizens'
panel to see if we got the same result as we got through the qualitative
research. In terms of the panel as a whole, and I think Ben touched
on this issue, the panels are not methodologically pure in that
sense in that they are not a purely representative sample of the
population. We are going to rotate a third of our panel each year.
Obviously as people are on the panel for longer they do become
informed. I would say on issues like thiswe have also used
methods like a citizens' juryyou need some process of informing
people before you ask them what their views would be so that that
complements the off-the-top-of-the-head view of Do you like the
idea of a mayor? Through these community workshops you also need
to get behind that with What is your perception of what that mayor
will do? How will that affect the other structures? What about
the split between the cabinet and the assembly functions and how
would that help?