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2013 Seminar Report
 

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Fylde Civic Awareness Group

Seminar Report: 2013


The 2013 seminar had three aims

To introduce local people to the work of the Parliamentary Outreach Service
To explain the provisions of the Localism Act in relation to Council Governance
To ask local people if they still supported the idea of Fylde Council changing its governance model back to the Committee system, as they had done in 2008

This web page is a report of that seminar, summarising the main points of each speaker's presentation.

We also have a two set DVD recording of the seminar which is available on request for a small charge to cover the media cost.

The seminar was introduced by Jon Harrison, FCAG's Chairman.


 Hearter Roberts 

HEATHER ROBERTS:
Engaging with Parliament

Heather spoke of the work of the Parliamentary Outreach Service saying it was a free service, funded by Parliament and it was politically neutral.

The aim of the service was to increase awareness and engagement with the work and processes of Parliament. To do that we need to understand who makes decisions and how and when they are taken.

She noted the difference between Parliament and Government, with Parliament comprising the House of Commons (650 elected MPs), the House of Lords (around 800 Life Peers, Hereditary Peers and Bishops), and the Monarch, who is politically neutral and gives Royal Assent to Acts of Parliament, without which they cannot become law. The last time assent was refused was Queen Anne in 1707. When speaking to open Parliament for example, the Queen will say "My Government will.....", which demonstrates the link between the Monarch and parliamentary governance

The house of Lords spends 60% of their time scrutinising legislation from the House of Commons and in addition to having your elected MP, "if you want to influence a piece of legislation, don't forget about the house of Lords, who debate, and can put amendments in and take amendments out, change the wording and so on." The House of Lords does not have a programmed timetable - if they want to debate something, they can, and for as long as they want.

 The Government of MPs etc can propose legislation, but it is Parliament that makes legislation - and then only after the Monarch has provided assent to it. Parliament also holds Government to account by scrutinising it, using a whole range of tools to do so.

Parliament also enables the Government to set taxes, but exceptionally the House of Lords has no say on financial matters because it is unelected. It may debate them. but may not change or revise them.

There is provision (in the Parliament Act) for the House of Commons to push through legislation against the wishes of the House of Lords, but the Parliament Act is very rarely used.

The Civil Service are employed by the Government to support Government departments. They do the administrative and functional work of the Government.

It is important to distinguish between policy and legislation. Policy consists of ideas and guidelines that come from Government. Legislation enacts policy if Parliament agrees. Policy often forms the basis of legislation, but it is not enforceable until all three branches of Parliament have approved it.

When campaigning or engaging, it is important to know whether you're trying to influence policy or legislation - because they are not the same thing and the process to influence will be quite different.

Parliamentary Questions are where you MP tables a question for you. The key thing is to work with your MP or a member of the House of Lords to explain you want a question raised around some particular issue, and explain why you want it raised. You should also explain what you want to do with the answer when it comes (e.g. use it as a press release, or in a report) so as to further the aims of your campaign. Having your member know what you are trying to achieve is key to the process.

Other ways to influence would include Select Committees (who research, call witnesses,  and often invite public evidence on matters they are considering), Supplementary questions, Early Day Motions, petitions (which your MP can submit on your behalf and may be debated). There is also a new innovation called the Backbench Business Committee formed because it was felt that Government had too much power in scheduling its debates to 35 days in the year were allocated to the Committee where they can choose the topics for debate. This ties into the other innovation where, if an online petition generates the support of 100,000 people, it will usually become part of the Committee's choice of debate.

 


 

 

JOHN BAINBRIDGE:
Democracy via Localism

John is the Vice Chairman of FCAG, and set out to explain the options for running a Council that the Localism Act now provides, and how people can change their Council back to operating the Committee system if they wish to do so.

History of Local Government in England
John gave a brief history which, from 1887, has led to the Committee system of governance that most people know and understand today.

But change came with the Local Government Act 2000 at the start of the new Millennium. This required all but the smallest councils to change to Executive arrangements such as the Leader and Cabinet system.

Then in 2011 the Localism Act introduced powers for local community influence, and to deliver more flexibility for Council governance systems.

The Current Governance of Fylde BC
The Council uses a Leader and Cabinet Executive system, An newly elected Council chooses a Leader for the four year term. The leader then handpicks six councillors to be their Cabinet and these six are allocated topic based portfolios by the Leader.

Once the cabinet is chosen, power to take day-to-day decisions rests with the Leader and the six Councillors.

There are 51 Councillors elected to the Council but only seven of them now take the day-to-day decisions.

The remaining 44 councillors only determine broad policy and the overall budget.

Provisions of the Localism Act, and The Options For Change
The Act provides four options.

  • A Leader and Cabinet. as we have at Fylde
    Leader is elected they appoint 2 or more councillors as Cabinet Members
  • A Directly Elected Mayor and Cabinet
    where the Mayor is Directly elected by the local population and they appoint a Cabinet of between 2 and 10 people to form a governance unit that operates in a similar manner to the Cabinet at Fylde.
  • The Committee System
    The legislation is not definitive. It is the system used where a council does not operate Executive Arrangements or Prescribed Arrangements. In essence it is a system using Committees and the Full Council to make decisions.
  • Prescribed Arrangements.
    Are where the Secretary of State specifies some particular arrangements that a Council or Councils must adopt. The SoS 'prescribes' the system to be used. It is not envisaged this would become commonplace, but it leaves the SoS the power to intervene if they believe the need arises.

The regulations make provision for a change from one form of governance to another, and the Local Authority may cease to operate its present from of governance and start to operate another one. It may do this of its own volition if the Council passed a resolution to do so. This change would not require a petition or a referendum, although the Council could choose to hold its own public referendum to support its proposal to change.

The legislation also allows local people to petition for a change of Governance by their council and, subject to sufficient signatures on a valid petition, that petition will automatically require the Council to hold a binding local referendum on the form of governance to be used.

A valid petition is one signed by not less that 5% of the Fylde electorate which, today, stands at 3,077 signatures of people who are on Fylde's electoral roll.

The petition has specific wording required and this is set out in the legislation. If a public petition is used, the Council is precluded from changing back to Executive arrangements for a period of 10 years.

The petition has to be validated by the Local Authority and, if valid, they must publish a notice to that effect and state the constitutional change sought by the petition and the arrangements they will put in place to effect that change if the referendum result is for change.

The referendum question is also set out exactly in the legislation. It asks

"How would you like Fylde Borough Council to be run?
By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the
other elected councillors. This is how the council is run now.
Or
By one or more committees made up of elected councillors. This
would be a change from how the council is run now."

After a referendum vote, there will either be no change, or a change to the governance arrangements specified in the referendum. If the vote is for change, the Council must change no later than it's next Annual Meeting.
 


  

PAUL HAYHURST:
The Leader and Cabinet System

Cllr Paul Hayhurst, is a former Mayor and current Fylde Councillor of 34 years experience - including 9 as a former Council Leader.

He set out his background as a former Young Conservative, then a Parish Councillor, then a Fylde Borough Councillor, and eventually an Independent Councillor.

He said he was not arguing from any sort of political perspective in what he had to say. He said most councillors today had no experience under the Committee system so he would first explain how it worked.

The former Committee system worked on a cycle of nine meetings a year. The Council divided its work into topic based committees such as Tourism and Leisure, Housing, Environment, Economic Development and Transportation, and Planning.

All Councillors had the right to attend any meeting and to speak at any meeting, but did not have a vote at every meeting. Only those elected to be on Committees were able to vote.

However, each Committee came to a decision that was only provisional and was subject to ratification by the Full Council (a week or so later) before implementation. Any councillor could speak and vote at the Full Council meeting.

This meant that - provided they were supported by a majority of Councillors - any councillor could instigate a change to a decision made by a programme committee.

This slight delay in making the final decision by the Full Council also had another advantage in that if an item unexpectedly blew up as being publicly controversial (say, after the Committee decision which would be reported in the media),  the Full Council meeting the following week or so could refer it for reconsideration by the originating committee, thus giving the public the opportunity to lobby their councillors and a wider consideration of the matter.

He gave an example of a pub being proposed on Lytham Green - resulting in huge adverse public reaction which caused the full Council to overturn the Committee decision to approve the pub. He likened this to the situation at present where at best only six - and where possibly only one councillor - would take that irreversible decision, leaving no room for the electorate's view to be accounted for.

He said the Cabinet system was a Labour invention. Fylde had sent out a circular to all households, and 60-odd percent said the Committee system should be retained, and every party within Fylde fought to keep the Committee structure, but there were only allowed to have a modified committee system.

He said these changes came about because a new Chief Executive came in with different ideas. The previous Chief Executive held the view that the people of Fylde wanted pretty flowers, clean streets and their bins emptied effectively. The new one came in with a Labour Government agenda with priorities about homelessness and housing, and promoting reform and change.

The big thing about the cabinet system was that ordinary councillors were not allowed to speak at Cabinet Meetings. They could submit written questions in advance which are either answered specifically or more generally by Cabinet members during their orations, but the system denied most councillors a voice in day-to-day decisions.

This also limits the ability for all parts of the Borough to be represented when decisions are taken. A Cabinet member from St Annes, say, might not be well versed on the issues on which they are asked to take decisions affecting, say, Elswick or Singleton.

There is a call-in procedure which can refer Cabinet decision to a Scrutiny Committee, but the Scrutiny Committee must reflect the political balance of the Council, so it is possible for the majority party to push decisions through at Scrutiny, in support of the single party cabinet that has taken them. This loses the breadth of view and the depth of experience available from all Councillors.


 
 

 

CHRIS HOLTOM:
The Ribble Valley Experience

Chris is the current Mayor of Ribble Valley, has twice been its  Leader and is a former chairman of Lancashire County Council.

Ribble Valley BC is one of the few councils that did not change away from Committees in 2000, because it was below the population that required it to change.

He said there were, and gave examples of, massive similarities between Fylde and Ribble Valley.

He began his story in the winter of 1994 when Ribble Valley had a very dynamic and ambitious new Chief Executive. Ribble Valley had 39 Councillors at this time.  At that time, other than an allowance to cover postage, phone, transport etc, no councillors received payment except the Leader who was paid a salary of 1,500 a year.

They consulted their 54,000 electorate as to how the council should govern itself in the future. Did they want Area Committees, Did they want a revised Committee system, or did they want to consider this new thing called the Executive system. They visited all the main areas of the borough and asked people for their views, The Chief Executive and the Leader also attended these meetings which played he said "to really packed houses which were quite traumatic and at times disturbing. People became very excited, and the general view was that we need this change like we need a hole in the head." That was the message that was coming out loud and clear.

In the light of that, they told the government they would stay as they were with the Committee structure, (which was very similar to Fylde at the time). He said the committee cycles were as Cllr Hayhurst had described for Fylde and they had the same ability to question any item on the Council agenda - and, if a proposal to change was supported - it could be changed.

In the 1995 election, the electorate blamed the majority party Conservative councillors who they thought had tried to introduce the Executive system of governance, and - he said "they really gave us a hammering in the election"  Ribble Valley became a council with no overall control as the Conservatives (who had been one of the strongest majorities in the north of England) lost their huge 19 or 20 majority, to a majority of just one.

He said he must commend the Fylde Civic Awareness Group for going out on this period of consultation, but our role must only be informative so you let the people know, and they can make up their mind.

 

 

 

JOHN TAVERNOR
Experience as a former Leader.

Former Councillor - now Alderman - John Tavernor, was Leader of Fylde Council for 8 years under the Committee system.

He gave his background and how he had become involved as a councillor after a plan to pull down Lytham Pier.

He said when he first joined the council it was much smaller and had only about 26 members. During his term on the council he had been Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee and had been the Mayor twice.

He said the Council had obviously changed a lot since he was in office, but even then it was quite a big system with committees for more or less everything. He thought the Committee system had worked well, and he had enjoyed working within it.

He said he hadn't worked under the present leader and Cabinet system so he couldn't give a definitive statement as to its working, but he said "I don't like what I hear of it"


 

 HOW DO I FIND OUT MORE?

Use the 'More Information' button below for lots of detail, or take up our offer of a free information presentations to local groups - especially  for people who were not able to attend the seminar. We can provide a 20 minute presentation that explains the background, looks at the options, and helps you decide which you think would be the best way to run our Council. Just click 'Have A Presentation' below.
 

Click below to download posters, car stickers. and other literature about the referendum Click below for more in-depth information
about the petition and about Cabinets
 and Committees, and other options.
Click below to for more information
about the presentations

Get more information

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To find out more, please contact

 
fcag@fylde.biz

Fylde Civic Awareness Group
18 Sandhurst Avenue, St Anne's on the Sea, Lancashire. FY8 2DA
Phone: 0845 456 6122

Copyright © 2008 Fred Moor.
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