Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Would the old committee system be better?

One part of the Localism Bill is to allow a choice between the current Executive Leader/Cabinet system and the old committee system. Some may think this is a backward step. But the old system has its merits.

The current system is the Executive Leader/Cabinet system with scrutiny panels supposed to be looking at the decisions the Executive Leader/ Cabinet makes. The whole Council agrees the budget for the year and the Executive/Cabinet runs the budget and takes decisions. This was supposed to be modelled on the Parliamentary system where select committees can and do look in depth at what Government does and do scrutinise decisions.

That is fine for a Parliament that has 650 MPs. At HDC there are just 52 Councillors. In Parliament, Select Committees employ staff and researchers. At HDC the same staff who make the decisions are also the ones that report to the Scrutiny Panels. This means there is already an inability of the Scrutiny Committees to hold the Executive to account for their decisions.

The parking pantomime is a good example. The Scrutiny Panel rejected the idea of the introduction of parking charges at the Riverside CP in St Neots. Cabinet went ahead anyway. This just goes to show how detached the current non executive Councillors are from decision making. Their only recourse is to change the budget. The Conservative Councillors didn't even attempt this.

This is the downfall of this system. Scrutiny isn't working. There isn't independent scrutiny of cabinet decisions. All these committees can do is shout and that is about it. Useless really.

The old committee system isn't without its faults. Reports and decisions got bounced around the committee system and eventually their was a decision. The old system at St Neots Town Council is the best example I can think of. Reports went to the Policy and Resources Committee and were then re-discussed at Council. A waste of time and energy.

But Councillors had an input. That is important. Rather than keeping decisions away from the ordinary councillor we elect these people to take decisions on our behalf. The old Committee system partly allowed this. The current system doesn't.

What we need in Huntingdonshire District Council is the old Committee system back with modifications. Abandon scrutiny unless it is going to be properly funded. Which I doubt. There needs to be 3 committees.

Cabinet Committee - Policy, Resources, Finance, Property Services, Information Technology, Law
Leisure Committee - Leisure Centres and Countryside services
Environment Committee - Strategic Planning, Transport, Housing, Public Health, Street and Waste,

Each Committee would have a delegated budget and would run each service. When they need to act outside their budget then this would go to full Council. The Committee Chairman would be an Executive Chairman able to steer the Committee to the decisions that need to be made. This is not a perfect solution. More Councillors would be involved in decisions and would be able to have their say on our behalf. Having all 52 Councillors turn up for every decision would be a waste of time. The Executive Leader/Cabinet Government has been a step too far. So bring back the old system with modifications.

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