Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
THURSDAY 8 JULY 1999
Sir Paul Beresford
600. How do you define a decision?
(Cllr Slaughter) That is a very good
question. Very much in the same way as we did under the committee
601. The White Paper talks of what I would have
thought was a much lower level to be reported, even decisions
on a one-to-one basis. You do not do that.
(Cllr Slaughter) What I hope the system
is trying to do is to focus on where decisions actually come from
and what decisions actually are. In the old days of the committee
we all knew that no decisions were taken at committee but very
often no decisions were taken at the call over meetings either,
or very rarely. There were reports but very rarely were reports
changed at call over. Where were those decisions formulated, where
were those reports drawn up? Was it by the chair of the committee,
was it by the chief officer or was it by somebody else? We are
trying to spotlight what decisions come forward and how they are
602. Would you think it practical to follow
the White Paper suggestion that it should be even on a one-to-one
basis, you and your chief executive, Mr Peterson, who came to
(Mr Peterson) If I could come in briefly
here. No, I do not think that would be practical. What happens
at the moment in Hammersmith and Fulham is that every decision
that would have gone through a committee under the old system
still comes through and it is published following the cabinet.
Not all of those would have been discussed with the cabinet, some
of those would have been simply reported by the relevant deputy
or cabinet member in summary form. They are then all available
with, if you like, standard local government reports and any of
those can be called in. Apart from those things delegated to officers,
and we do not in fact have a layer of decisions of any great substance
delegated to officers, all decisions of substance going through
the system are subject to access to information. It is at that
stage that they become available to the public and opposition
councillors and that is prior to implementation.
603. Thank you very much. Can I just ask one
question. Have you got a planning committee?
(Cllr Slaughter) Yes, we have a planning
application committee which deals with all planning applications.
We still have the quasi-judicial committees for licensing and
matters of that kind.
604. Can I just ask one final question. With
your experience is there anything, having looked at the draft
Bill, that you think could be improved in the draft Bill because
that is the whole purpose?
(Cllr Slaughter) I think the answer is
there are a number of things but it is only our opinion. I think
our opinion is valid in the sense that we are probably the authority
that has tried it out most so far. We have given a whole year's
go at it and we have had reviews. I think we put most of those
in our written submission. We are trying to move on, if you like.
We hope that the Bill comes forward soon and we hope that we will
be able to slot in very easily to a mayor cabinet system under
that Bill and move on to the next stage which is trying to get
the public more involved and trying to get a higher degree of
genuine accountability rather than just the opportunity for it.
To go back a stage, I do think it is very confusing the way that
the Bill is being set up in terms of when do you need a referendum,
what systems are actually being promoted, why you have different
titles for what is effectively the same post, the head of the
local authority. I think a little bit more clarity and a little
more direction from Central Government would actually be quite
helpful. I do not think that is prescriptive in terms of telling
local authorities what to do, I think the choice should be there.
I think it has been said by others if we are going to have referenda,
and I am not sure that will be necessary, then make it a straight
choice between the four, the status quo and the three new approved
models, and see what people do rather than this elaborate scheme
that is there at the moment.
Earl of Carnarvon
605. Chairman, on your question regarding the
planning committee, is the planning committee open to the public
(Cllr Slaughter) Yes, we have to abide
by the accepted legal practice.
Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank
you for coming and for dealing with all of our questions.