Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Deficit in Local Democracy.

Wrexham Council has an Executive Board of 10 members who make most decisions other than those that the Constitution states must be made by Full Council i.e the budget. The Executive Board is as expected well attended. Most reports that come to the Executive Board for a decision have also, supposedly been scrutinised and challenged by one of the five Scrutiny Committees who then make recommendations to the Executive Board and/or Full Council. Members of the Executive Board cannot also be members of any Scrutiny Committee but they can attend as observers and contribute to any debate.

My concerns around the democratic deficit arises from a Joint Meeting of Social Affairs, Health and Housing SC and Children and Young People's SC held on Monday 30th November 2009, to discuss matters of Adult and Children's Social Care and the Annual Reporting Framework, a matter of some considerable importance where there was a need for challenge. Unfortunately out of the 26 members of both committees only 7 members were present and although those 7 together with 3 Lead Members did challenge officers it does show that there is the potential with poor attendance for important matters to get through the democratic process without proper scrutiny or challenge.

I am not using this as a political point scoring exercise as ALL parties can improve their attendance, some more than others; and I don't doubt that the timing of the meeting at 10.30am on Monday morning did nothing to improve attendance especially for those members who work. There were also some on holidays.

To improve attendance at Scrutiny Committees I would be looking at changing the times of the meetings, but there again times to suit those working will not suit those with child care issues. Secondly I would look to publish Attendance records which would give voters an opportunity to see how well they were being served. Thirdly I would advocate a sanction of reducing a member's allowance if they failed to attend meetings without good reason.

Would really appreciate views from other Welsh Local Authorities.

7 comments:

Plaid Whitegate said...

There are real dangers that being proscriptive with attendance of meetings to get your council allowance. There are plenty of councillors who attend meetings and contribute nothing (or worse, speak nonsense) - are they more deserving than councillors who cannot attend for a genuine reason?
The main danger is that this 'presentee-ism' will skew council meetings further in favour of those who are retired and/or don't have childcare issues. At present those of us with young-ish children and another job do our best to juggle, but can't always make it.

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

At one time Cllrs could only get their allowance if they attended the meetings so you used to get Cllrs attending signing in and disappearing.
It's still a debate that needs to be had, there are too many issues arriving at Exec Board where it has not been properly challenged.

Jo Houghton said...

The deficit in local democracy is when scrutiny recommend to leave the school transport policy the same then the executive board push changes through against the wishes of Plaid Cymru members in Chirk and Llangollen Rural.

Dougal said...

From what I've seen even if the councilors actually attend meetings half of them don't say anything. I believe there is a distinct lack of talent on Wrexham council. It is more like an old peoples home than a place of business. We should have an age limit. Why can't they stream meetings online then we could see who are the dead wood.

Plaid Whitegate said...

Funny you should mention that... Plaid called for that in February of this year. http://wrecsamplaid.blogspot.com/2009/02/broadcast-council-meetings-live-on-web.html

I don't agree with an age limit as many of the older councillors are among the most knowledgeable and also sharp in holding officers to account.

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

Banning older people from exercising their civil rights is age discrimination and is illegal.

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

Jo,

You do what you know is right!

Estyn have criticised Wrecsam LEA over their Transport Policy.

The historical links policy in Chirk is inequitable as others in the County Borough have to pay if they want to send their children to a school other their local school.

Perhaps you need to ask why Ysgol Dinas Bran don't pay the transport costs they do after all get millions of pounds in pupil funding.

But all these arguments have been aired in the public meeting.