Set out below is my address to the committee:
"You set out on this review with four key principles in mind:
- Inclusivity and engagement and
- Durability and flexibility
You have before you a proposed structure with 18 committees, 6 subcommittees, 4 boards and a panel. That is a perfect recipe for obfuscation, deniability, exclusivity. I also suspect that with Barnet’s population rising to around 400,000 before this system can be changed again, it will also lack durability.
92% of citizen panel respondents have not attended any council meeting in the last 12 months and only 7% fully understand how the governance arrangements work. Shockingly 68% of respondents don’t even know who their councillor is. That suggests to me you have a major problem and from what I can see it is a problem you have either chosen to ignore or completely failed to recognise. The proposed structure will simply make the governance landscape even more confusing and inaccessible to the public. Based on the feedback I have received the council is body that imposes and dictates to residents not something which is there to listen and respond to residents. But I believe there is an alternative.
You have developed a system where committees are differentiated by function but it appears that no consideration has been given to differentiation by location. What I mean by that is bringing the committee system closer to the people who it is there to represent and creating a structure that actively encourages engagement between councillors and the electorate. For example you could have developed a structure where a very limited number of strategic or statutory matters are considered at an authority level with as many other matters as possible dealt with at a local level, either groups of wards or along parliamentary constituency boundaries. Local decisions could be dealt with at a local level including planning and licensing with local councillors getting much more involved. By making issues more relevant for local people at a local level that should encourage increased engagement. Budgets could be devolved giving a much greater financial incentive for local people to get involved with the way their council is run. It would certainly make local councillors much more accountable. The views and recommendations from each local committee could then be integrated back into the council to give a strategic view and assist in clear decision making. That integration could be in the proposed Policy and Resources committee or some other strategic committee run by representatives of the local committees.
I know that this is the first stage in the process and that further consultation will take place but you are not giving people a real choice because you haven’t identified the all the options and therefore any views will be formulated within a framework that has already been set by you.
Ultimately the question is what is the change in governance system really for? Is it to make the system more efficient. Probably not because for all its failings the cabinet system is efficient. Is it to give every councillor a job, probably because with so many committees, sub committees, panels and boards I’m sure every one of the 63 councillors will have a committee role. Will it make the council more transparent or encourage engagement – definitely not.
As the saying goes plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, and that is what you are presenting us with tonight, change without really changing anything. Please consider a much more local structure as one of the options".