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£8 million loss =failure of cabinet & leader system

(October 16, 2008)
THE revelation that the county council risks losing more than £8 million after investing our money with a stricken Icelandic bank has left people relieved that the potential loss is less than the £25 million in Somerset and Dorset – but asking some questions.
Why did some councils, such as Hampshire, avoid the mess and why didn’t our councillors call time on these investments when banks such as Northern Rock first started to crumble more than a year ago?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and no doubt today’s councillors and officers thought they were doing the right thing when acting on government advice.
But if you ask whether this would have happened in 1989 then the answer is almost certainly not.
Twenty years ago the county council contained such a high calibre of councillor with financial expertise that such a policy would have been very closely scrutinised by the finance committee.(which no longer exists).
Councillors such as Andrew Christie-Miller (later chairman of SCATS), Professor of economics Alfred Ilersic, the very able chairman of finance Robert Syms (now MP for Poole), highly experienced farmer Jack Ainslie and dogged independent Tom Cowie had very sharp eyes for detail in matters of finance.
They would almost certainly have questioned this policy at committee.
The question why similar people don’t seem put themselves forward for election is worth asking.
The answer is probably very complex but contains the following elements:
1. Local government has been stripped of so much decision-making and tax-setting power that very able people don’t see the point in standing.
2. All decision making now seems to be done by the cabinets so that so called ‘back-bench’ members have little chance to participate in decision making. Many very able people have limited spare time and cannot commit to cabinet responsibility so there is even less incentive for them to take part.
The change to a cabinet and leader system was decreed by law and so can’t be blamed on the county council.
But too much power sits with one person. The council’s decision to establish area boards under the new unitary system is to be welcomed if it truly does give ordinary members a more vital role and more of a say in their communities.

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