stalking the corridors of power in Warwickshire, as council leaders have
chucked out the structures of old and set themselves up as a slimline
model of efficiency.
numerous committees and sub-committees eking out the decision-making
process, a new way of thinking has been introduced.
The changes are
part of the convulsion sweeping local authorities at the moment in
anticipation of new laws forcing a modernisation of local government.
A cabinet of nine
councillors, all from the dominant Labour group, has now been chosen,
with seven members taking on a particular portfolio.
leader, Ian Bottrill and his deputy also sit on the cabinet, and the
leader of the rival Conservative group is invited as a speaking, but
which are all open to the public except for confidential business,
usually with commercial implications, are held every three weeks,
allowing the council to make quick decisions.
The cabinet is
advised by eight policy groups, each of which take responsibility for a
The new system is
part of a wider revolution that will allow local authorities to change
their approach to their areas.
legislation stipulating what an authority can do, the tables have been
turned. Councils will soon be able to get involved with anything as long
as it not expressly forbidden from doing so.
Each authority is
now free to choose a new structure, and with smaller committees, Cllr
Bottrill feels it is a step that will encourage people to get involved.
now being urged to get on with their jobs representing local people.
Each of the five areas in Warwickshire – North Warwickshire, Nuneaton
and Bedworth, Rugby, Warwick and Stratford – has committees focusing
on their area.
also meet in that area to allow people to air their views on local
concerns. These views are then fed back to the decision-makers at Shire
said that at present too many councillors were male and over-50.
Reducing the number of meetings and increasing their direct relevance to
communities could encourage more to get involved.
joined the Labour group 20 years ago I was the youngest member. Now
I’m 49 and I’m the third-youngest.
”We had a
discussion on traffic-calming measures in Nuneaton and Bedworth and
the meeting was held there.
Nuneaton could attend the meeting and speak, or give written
information. They could have done that before but if the discussion
was being held in Warwick they would have been less likely to come.”
The new fast
decision-making process is already working, said Cllr Bottrill. He cites
the example of a school that needed to introduce new measures to tackle
problems of pupils with behavioural difficulties.
Under the old
system, with levels of committee after committee, the £40,000 needed
for the measures could have taken three months to approve.
money was granted within nine days, and once the scrutinising process
had been completed, the cheque was sent.
have been put in place to make sure that the controlling elite does not
ride rough-shod over the council.
Four scrutiny and
review committees monitor their every move, and here, the peculiarities
of political life in Warwickshire comes to the fore, as each of these
committees is chaired by a councillor from an opposing political group.
The prospect of
having the opposition in charge of the scrutiny is something that many
town hall mandarins would groan at.
It is something
that Cllr Bottrill welcomes.
shouldn’t be members of my own group scrutinising the performance of
measures were agreed by everyone on the council – they have to be by
used to the political bun-fights of committee meetings, the endless
debate, the attendance allowances and the secret party meetings in
advance that really made the decisions would be aghast at the changes.
mechanism to allow controversial decisions to be stalled is a case in
Every decision is
held in pending for four days before it becomes substantive. In that
time any five councillors can stop the process by requesting that it be
referred to the full council for wider debate.
It means that
five mavericks with an axe to grind could bring local government to a
But with the full
council meeting more frequently, the process is still quicker than the
The pressure on
councillors to improve their representation of their constituents has
also been upped.
Gone are the
attendance allowances of old, and in has come a part-time salary of £7,000
and a job description.
A new standards
committee, chaired by someone independent of the council, will monitor
their performance, and in cases of inappropriate behaviour fix a
will be passed to a regional committee, which has the power to remove a
councillor from office.
So far, the new
system, introduced in December, has proved a success.
problem we’ve had is getting information to members quickly enough.
The reports that were for information-only are not produced any more.
”But we are
looking at ways of improving this. Nearly all of the members have
internet access and we are considering using this as a way of