John Clark writes…
First published: July 2011 – Gazette & Herald
What is the collective noun for millionaires? ‘A cabinet’. Sorry about that. Local government has two systems. Ryedale District Council uses the committee system; North Yorkshire County Council uses the cabinet structure.
In the committee approach, as policies or issues arise they are discussed first by the appropriate committee. In Ryedale, Housing and Leisure go to the Commissioning Board Committee. Finance and Policy decisions go to the Policy and Resources Committee. Planning applications are the responsibility of the Planning Committee. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee can challenge any of the decisions of the Commissioning Board or the Policy Committee. This system, at least in theory allows all the councillors to be involved in the decision making processes.
Compare this with North Yorkshire County Council. Here, the council elects the Leader at the beginning of each four year term. The Leader then appoints (no democracy or elections) the cabinet members, all of whom on North Yorkshire are conservatives. Each one is the portfolio holder for an area of responsibilities. There are Scrutiny committees which have the power to challenge the cabinet decisions. They don’t of course. Not even the Chairs are elected – they are appointed.
In early 2011 the Ryedale District Council partner (Community Leisure) proposed a gymnasium at Pickering Swimming Pool. In March this proposal was put to the Commissioning Board. It was agreed in principal but that a ‘Business Case’ was needed. The issue was returned to the Commissioning Board in June. Some of us complained bitterly that it was then sent to the Policy and Resources Committee without a Business Case. We knew however we would have another chance at Full Council. The Policy and Resources Committee recommended that RDC did not proceed. When it came to Full Council last week Councillors looked at the reports. The idea was good but there were holes in the Business Case as it was presented. Council referred it back so that it could be looked at again. If it is sound then Ryedale should go ahead. If it isn’t sound then the Council Tax payers’ money will not be wasted. This system involves all the elected representatives of the people of Ryedale. It is democratic and I believe gives a better decision despite being cumbersome and slower.
In North Yorkshire the portfolio holders make many of the decisions. The Executive (the cabinet) make many more. Very few are decided at Full Council. If six councillors get together and ‘call in’ an Executive or Portfolio Holder decision it is referred to a Scrutiny Committee. In my two years not a single Scrutiny Committee has ever questioned, let alone challenged the original Cabinet decision.
The Cabinet system is quicker and more efficient than the Committee system. However there are many different opinions and political views in North Yorkshire. The cabinet system does not allow these democratic voices to be heard. The Government is to allow all councils to use the committee system. We would all benefit from the scrapping of the present ‘elected’ dictatorship in North Yorkshire.