CWN - News & Information for Coventry & Warwickshire 20x21spacer.gif (59 bytes)What's New?Search CWN
The New Wheels Of Local Government

Revolution is 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.

Instead of 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.

The council 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 non-voting member.

These meetings, 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 particular issue.

The new system is part of a wider revolution that will allow local authorities to change their approach to their areas.

Instead of 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.

Councillors are 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.

These committees 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 Hall.

Cllr Bottrill 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.

He said:

“When I 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.

“People from 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.

Instead, the money was granted within nine days, and once the scrutinising process had been completed, the cheque was sent.

Strict measures 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.

He said:

“It shouldn’t be members of my own group scrutinising the performance of the authority.

“All these measures were agreed by everyone on the council – they have to be by law.”

Traditionalists 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.

The in-built mechanism to allow controversial decisions to be stalled is a case in point.

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 halt.

But with the full council meeting more frequently, the process is still quicker than the old way.

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 punishment.

Serious cases 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.

Cllr Bottrill said:

“The main 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 providing up-dates.

1x22rule.gif (89 bytes)
Warwickshire County Council - Our County 1998-2001

150x15more.gif (274 bytes)


Find an old School Friend on CWN

CWN / Politics / Warwickshire County Council / 2 May 00

©1995-2000 Coventry Internet Developments Ltd

This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM