Ask the public how they feel about you

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A Council can often make interesting decisions that tell you a lot about its emerging culture.

A good example is the decision made this week by Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet to reintroduce an additional layer of process to employment appeals.

Councillors will once more be asked to sit as an appeal layer when staff have grievances or face dismissal over matters including their conduct and level of performance.

This additional - and we felt unnecessary - layer of bureaucracy was abolished by the Conservative administration at Derbyshire County Council in 2011.

There are already detailed procedures in place to ensure fairness in these difficult matters, so why restore yet another layer? Why not trust experienced and capable directors to do their jobs?

The official explanation is that local trade union leaders ‘feel better’ knowing that the Labour majority Council will have Councillors involved in this process. A rather different political culture was in evidence when Derbyshire Dales District Council had an open, friendly but thoughtful debate on a motion proposed by the Leader there, Cllr Lewis Rose, welcoming the publication of the Local Government Association’s document ‘Rewiring Public Services’ - www.local.gov.uk/campaigns.

As Deputy Chairman of the LGA, I seconded the motion and was pleased to find that it commanded unanimous support across all parties.

‘Rewiring Public Services’ not only makes the case for local government in terms of its central funding but also suggests ways in which money can be saved.

I support the idea of devolving power down to a local level whenever and wherever possible. However, if we in local government are telling central government to slim down and reform its structures, then maybe local government itself is going to have to face some difficult structural questions in the next few years.

The Derbyshire Dales debate mentioned above gave rise to the following questions: Can ‘simply’ (and it is not simple) sharing services and staff between the tiers of local government, County and District/Borough, produce the savings required?

How do the Council Tax paying public feel about having: One Council for on street parking, but a different one for off street? One Council for refuse collection, but a different one for refuse disposal? One Council for environmental health, but a different one for trading standards? (There are dozens of such examples).

Who speaks for – and develops, protects or has vision for - a place when its Council layers have different political views and priorities?

These are major questions for us all to ponder, especially at a time when further rounds of cuts mean hard choices about how public services are delivered.

by Andrew Lewer, Conservative Leader, DCC