Jacob Williams
Monday 26th August, 2013
Your say – your council

It’s 2001. Tony Blair has just safely defended his massive majority in the House of Commons, and some of the sweeping changes to local government reform are filtering through from his Labour government’s Local Government Act 2000.

Described by the then shadow minister for local government, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP as “…a glut of regulation and red tape,” the key changes the act brought in for councils were:

— To eradicate the ‘committee system’ as the main means for decision-making

— To separate the roles of the ‘executive’ and scrutiny

— To introduce the opportunity for a referendum to be held over elected mayors

There was, and would always have been, opposition to any form of change from many of the UK’s authorities, regardless of which political rule, but Mr. Clifton-Brown told the Local Government Chronicle: “Labour bullied councils into adopting the mayoral and cabinet system at a local level succeeding in cutting normal councillors out of the loop. Accountability and responsibility has suffered under the Labour government. Under Labour’s rule, local government is becoming more and more remote.”

Party politics or not, he may have had a point, and it’s one that might still be proven yet. To move away from the committees system, UK authorities were given the choice over their new system. There were three options for councils to choose from, except in Wales where an ‘alternative arrangements’ option was available. This wishy-washy fourth option exclusive to Wales was tacked-on as a result of the Lib-Dems. ‘Local Government’ was devolved from Westminster to the Welsh Assembly, and at the time, the Lib Dems had some influence in Cardiff Bay.

Everything that appears below is copied word-for-word from a poster published by Pembrokeshire County Council in 2001, during the decision-making stage of which system to opt for. I acquired the poster some time ago, and back in the early days of this website I said I would put it online, for readers to look at the alternative systems of governance for Pembrokeshire County Council. It won’t be of interest to all readers, or, indeed, perhaps many. It’s no coincidence either, that the gossip mill ground to a halt in the lead up to the Bank-Holiday!

Option 2 was eventually chosen by our councillors, and it’s interesting to note that, unless this poster is wrong, under this system: “The Leader or Council would appoint other Councillors to a Cabinet which can be between three and 10 Councillors.” [My emphasis.]

Your Say – Your Council

The new political arrangements for Pembrokeshire County Council


How does Pembrokeshire County Council Work now?

In the year April 2001 – March 2002, the Council will spend over £228 million on providing good quality services for you, its customers. Over £68 million will be spent on education in the County. Almost £29 million will be spent on Social Services.

Every four years at local elections, Pembrokeshire’s electors choose 60 Councillors. Councillors are ordinary Pembrokeshire people, from all walks of life who know the county well and want to do the best for its future. They represent the views of the people who elect them. The elected Councillors meet in Committees to make Council decisions on policy an public services.

Why is the Council changing?

This traditional Committee system has been around since Victorian times and while it enables all Councillors to be involved in making key decisions, the process can take a long time and it can be difficult to identify who is responsible for making individual decisions. The Government has introduced new laws which require all councils to change their constitutional arrangements by May 2002, in order to:-

— deliver accountable leadership for the Council and the community it serves

— provide transparent and efficient decision making

— provide vision and leadership for their communities

— deliver high quality services to local people

The focus is on changing the political organisation and arrangements. There will continue to be a Head of Paid Service (Chief Executive) supported by officers who will continue to deliver services to the Council’s customers.

When is this going to happen?

The Council intends to submit proposals for changes to the National Assembly for Wales before the end of this year (2001), and to implement them as soon as practicable thereafter.

What are the options for change?

The National Assembly for Wales has made four options available to Pembrokeshire. Two of these options are based around Directy-Elected mayors, and if either of these were to be proposed, there would first have to be a full County-wide referendum at which all local government would be able to vote, and, if the proposal is adopted, this would be followed by a full County-wide election for Mayor, repeated every four years.

OPTION 1

Directly Elected Mayor with a Cabinet

Councillors
The people of Pembrokeshire would continue to elect 60 Councillors every four years to represent the views of the communities. Some of these Councillors would be chosen by the Directly Elected Mayor to be on a Cabinet.

Other Councillors would become members of overview and scrutiny committees. The Overview and Scrutiny committees would monitor and challenge the work of the Directly Elected Mayor and Cabinet.

The Full Council would agree the Council’s constitution, budget and broad policy for providing services.

Directly Elected Mayor
A separate public County-wide election would take place to vote for the Directly Elected Mayor of Pembrokeshire. He or she would be the most influential member of the Council.

The Mayor may have his/her own priorities for Pembrokeshire and would have been elected on manifesto commitments and so would have a direct authority-wide mandate. He or she would provide political leadership, make proposals for how the budget and services are provided and appoint and dismiss Councillors to and from the Cabinet. However, the Mayor is not a traditional ceremonial Mayor who attends civic functions.

The Cabinet
The Directly Elected Mayor would appoint Councillors to a Cabinet and would also have the power to dismiss them. The cabinet can be between two and nine Councillors. The Cabinet would be influential and would implement policies for providing services under the political guidance of the Mayor.

Chairman
The Council Chairman’s role would be largely ceremonial. He or she would attend civic functions and chair meetings of the Full Council.

OPTION 2

Leader with a Cabinet

Councillors
The people of Pembrokeshire would continue to elect 60 Councillors every four years to represent the views of the communities. One Councillor among the 60 Councillors would be selected to become Leader.

The Leader or the Council would select the Cabinet of up to 10 members. Other Councillors would become members of overview and scrutiny committees. The Overview and Scrutiny committees would monitor and challenge the work of the Leader and Cabinet.

The Full Council would agree the Council’s constitution, budget and broad policy for providing services.

Leader and Cabinet
The Councillors would select one Councillor to become the Leader. The Leader or Council would appoint other Councillors to a Cabinet which can be between three and 10 Councillors.

The Cabinet and Leader would meet regularly to make important decisions about implementing policies for the provision of services and providing political leadership. The Cabinet would propose an annual budget and policies for providing services, both of which would be agreed by Full Council.

Chairman
The Council Chairman’s role would be largely ceremonial. He or she would attend civic functions and chair meetings of the Full Council.





OPTION 3

Directly Elected Mayor and Council Manager

Councillors
The people of Pembrokeshire would continue to elect 60 Councillors every four years to represent the views of the communities. The Councillors would appoint a Council Manager to help deliver the Directly Elected Mayor’s priorities. The Councillors would agree the Council’s budget and the broad policy for providing services.

Councillors would also be members of overview and scrutiny committees. The Overview and Scrutiny committees would monitor and challenge decisions made by the Directly Elected Mayor and Council Manager.

Directly Elected Mayor
A separate County-wide public election would take place to vote for the Directly Elected Mayor of Pembrokeshire. He or she would be the most influential member of the Council.

The Mayor may have his/her own priorities for Pembrokeshire, would have been elected on manifesto commitments and so would have a direct authority-wide mandate. The Mayor would give broad political guidance to the Council Manager in line with the manifesto commitments, and the policy framework agreed by Council. The Mayor’s role would also include making proposals for how the budget and services are provided. However, all decisions on delivering and implementing that framework would be the responsibility of the Council Manager. The Mayor is not a traditional ceremonial Mayor who attends civic functions.

Council Manager
The Council Manager would be appointed by Full Council to work with the Directly Elected Mayor and together, the Mayor and Manager would form the Cabinet.

Chairman
The Council Chairman’s role would be largely ceremonial. He or she would attend civic functions and chair meetings of the Full Council.

OPTION 4

Alternative arrangements

Frequently referred to as the Fourth Option, it is important to emphasize that an “alternative arrangement” does not and cannot mean that local authorities can maintain existing committee structures or methods of working (i.e. status quo).

Although the Council would not under this option operate an “executive” of the type set out earlier, it must nevertheless have a Board and scrutiny committees.

Council
The full Council would agree the Council’s constitution, budget and the broad policy for providing the services.

Board of the Council
The Council would be required to set up a Board which would be known as the Board of the Council.

The Board would have a maximum of 12 members and would have delegated to it decisions about implementing policies for the provision of services.

In addition, there would be up to nine scrutiny and overview committees of which one would be the Principal Scrutiny Committee and the remainder would be known as Subject Committees.

None of these committees could have a membership of more than 12.


Pembrokeshire County Council’s preferred option?

Option 2 – Leader with Cabinet

The majority of Councillors who currently make up Pembrokeshire County Council have stated Option 2 as their preferred option.

Your choice – your say

Please tell us which option you think is best for Pembrokeshire. Please use the freepost address to return the coupon below before 28th September 2001. The Council will use your views to help to make the decision about which option to adopt. You will be informed of the outcome through the local press and in the next edition of the Council’s newspaper, Pembrokeshire News in the New Year.


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14 Comments...

  • Keanjo

    When consulted, I voted strongly against the preferred option pointing out that it would lead to an oligarchy. I never saw any reference to the referendum results and I doubt whether the results of the public consultation were reported. The County Council merely selected the system which offered them the most. It has proved to be an abject failure and needs to be changed as a matter of urgency.

  • Paul Absalom

    Surely, to be democratic, the overview and scrutiny committee members should be from the other parties and not the IPG.

  • Hi Keanjo,

    I believe there would have been a referendum had the council chosen a directly-elected mayor i.e. option 1 or 3.

    Part of the poster was inadvertently hidden in the post – I’ve now corrected that and the pre-amble now shows immediately ahead of the four options, and it does mention the referendum briefly.

  • Dave Edwards

    This, in retrospect, turned out to be one of the worst pieces of legislation passed by the Labour government.

    Even though I was, and remain, a Labour member, I along with the then owners of the Milford Mercury organised a petition in support of a directly elected mayor.

    Unfortunately, as the numbers required were so high (10% of the electorate) it failed, 2,000 signatures, to attract enough support to be put to a vote.

    As the then leader of the Tory Group on PCC also supported our petition it led to his demise and the disbanding of the group – this history is well rehearsed on that other website.

  • Jon Preston

    It’s interesting to note that Option 2 states that the Cabinet would be selected by the leader or the council. Is it a coincidence that the selection process operates in favour of the leader?

    Additionally there is no mention of the position of a deputy leader being appointed yet the current leader has seen fit to appoint two and yet is still struggling to submit his expenses on time.

  • I well recall these events.

    The then Leader Cllr Maurice Hughes claimed to be opposed to a directly elected Mayor on the grounds that it would place too much power in the hands of one person.

    His Independent Group then forced through a constitution that gave exactly the same powers to the Leader.

    His real reason for opposition was, of course, that he knew that if there was a county-wide election he and his IPG confederates wouldn’t stand a chance.

    For my previous posts on this subject go to Tory turncoats (second story down) from September 17 2001, and then Back-door Tories (second story down) from April 19 2005.

  • John Hudson

    While going back to the origins of the present Council and the arrangements for the way it operates following the passing of the Local Government Act 2000 and its own approved Constitution, we are where we are, with a failed Council.

    The Constitution is currently under fundamental review and I note that the Recovery Board has a specific member appointed with the specific remit for this aspect of its work.

    I have no confidence that officers and Leading members of the council would support a more open and transparent way of working. There are a number of areas where the council has local discretion. For example it can retain the power to select the Leader and Cabinet members. In reality the majority political group determines who shall be Leader and also that he/she can choose his/her preferred members.

    In my view the Constitution is the only protection afforded to us, the public, from abuses of power, both political and managerial. This council’s starting point is unsatisfactory in as much as not many of us had the opportunity to decide that we wanted to vote for or against candidates who would join a group with no policies or mandate.

    The electorate are further handicapped in so far as registered party candidates/members have for whatever reason decided not to join, or even leave, the political party they were voted in to support. Even worse some have determined to support the largest grouping.

    The majority of members still support this group which has demonstrably failed the people of Pembrokeshire, who can do nothing. WE cannot even vote with the certainty that we will get what we voted for, if we bother to vote.

  • Concerned

    Blimey, was it 12 years ago when this came up? I remember it well.

    Total carve up and what we have been left with is an insult to democracy. Loads of stuff has happened over just the last 12 months or so, and as usual all will be swept under the carpet and forgotten about by the time of the next local elections.

    I admire the persistence of certain people, mainly posters here, who are trying to get some sort of accountability. But I won’t be holding my breath.

  • John Hudson

    I can understand why “leading” councillors organise themselves into a group to control the council, even if they do not have any policies.

    I cannot understand why other councillors are ready to sign up to support them, especially given the track record of the IPG and senior officers. I suppose it boils down to not having to think and/or hope that being in the majority group and giving unquestioning support to the group will convey some sort of preference for their constituency.

    Why else would they do it? Who are they supporting, the group or the Council, or are these seen as the same thing?

  • Keanjo

    John, the reason is MONEY!!!

  • Malcolm Calver

    Perhaps the Chairman should have been issued with a written job description.

    I would agree with Keanjo, for many it would be money but for the rest who don’t get anything out of it, I’m not so sure.

  • William Rees

    The Localism Act 2011, which unfortunately only applies in England, includes the following section:

    The Bill will allow any council in England to adopt the committee system, which was abolished by the Local Government Act 2000. Under the committee system, committees of councillors made decisions collectively rather than power being concentrated in the hands of a Cabinet. Councils adopting this form of executive arrangements may still appoint an overview and scrutiny committee.

  • Keanjo

    This Act seems to concede that the new cabinet system has not worked. The Welsh Assembly could adopt these provisions. Why don’t they? What do our AMs and MPs think?

  • John Hudson

    Keanjo, I must agree with you for some of them, but many, the majority, do not get any more cash. Their motivation must therefore be perceived preferential treatment for their constituencies, or perish the thought, sloth, in as much as they get an easy directed ride and do not have to think.

    Just a thought on the Recovery Board – I see that the Council is due to meet in October, December, March and May. 5 meetings with the cycle of O&S committees following.

    If the Board is to follow the “improvement” in scrutiny and stay to oversee the engagement of all Councillors and an improvement in reporting by officers in practice, then the Board is going to be here for a long time.

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