Letter: Council secrecy

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The Independent Culture

Council secrecy

Sir: While the move to weed out corrupt councils is welcome (report, 1 March), you barely touch on the frightening threat to democracy in Labour's recent White Paper which seeks to "modernise" local government.

Local authorities are required to change their decision-making processes in a way that concentrates power in the hands of a few - or even one.

In the most-favoured version, a leader with a "cabinet" of senior councillors will act as the executive. All other councillors, will have to be content with a "scrutiny" role. All committees (except for those with a statutory basis like Licensing and Planning) will be abolished.

The press and public, who now are able to be present at committee meetings and to see reports, will no longer know for certain how the "cabinet" reaches its conclusions. They and the remaining elected councillors will have to be content with hand-outs. Only at (whipped) council meetings will all councillors be able to vote.

The Government's two alternative versions are an elected mayor, similar to the one proposed for Greater London, with a chosen "cabinet", or a mayor alone, relying entirely on paid officials. Implementing the two "mayor" versions needs primary legislation, but some councils are already piloting the "leader and cabinet" version. In Hammersmith one councillor comments: "Ninety per cent of what was public a year ago is now secret."


Liberal Democrat Group

London Borough of Camden

London WC1