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Dear Laura Sandys MP
I am replying to your email sent to the Chief Executive.
The legislation requiring Councils to consult residents about future governance models was contained in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. That legislation redefined the governance options available to Councils from May 2011 and required Councils to consult residents on their opinions, and then take a final decision before the end of 2010. The timing was required so that a formal referendum could take place on the Mayoral option before May 2011, if that was the preferred route.
Note that several residents are misinterpreting the consultation requirements in my opinion. Section 64 of the Act requires Councils to consult the public before drawing up their proposals (i.e. before they are put to Council). It goes on to say that after drawing up their proposals (i.e. after Council has taken the decision) those proposals must be published in a local newspaper. So there is no legal requirement for a notice to have been placed in a newspaper at this stage.
A newspaper notice was also one of the options available to the Council during the pre-decision consultation, but the strategy adopted was heavily influenced by a letter we received from Eric Pickles MP. In effect, that letter said that he intended to repeal several of the constitutional provisions of the 2007 Act and offer Councils other options (e.g. a return to the committee system). In view of that, Eric Pickles MP encouraged us to take a “minimalist” approach to the consultation. The following is a quotation from that letter:
“the case is strong for any consultation now about future governance arrangements to be the minimal cost option. It will be for each council to decide, but in our view no more than a small newspaper advert/article or press release on your website may be proportionate and right in these circumstances.”
Note that the above recommendation is “or” – a newspaper article or a press release on the web site. In fact, Thanet went a bit further than a press release on the web site by creating a dedicated page:
That page has a direct link from the home page of the Council’s web site.
In my view, therefore, the Council is complying with the law as it stands and the expressed intention of the relevant Minister.
It should also be noted that all of the above processes were undertaken transparently, through recommendations and decisions taken at the following meetings:
Constitutional Review Working Party, 7 June 2010:-
Standards Committee, 29 June 2010:-
Council, 15 July 2010:-
The decision on future governance arrangements is due to be taken at an extraordinary meeting of the Council on 16 December.
We have not received many responses to the consultation so far. Of the half-dozen or so we have received, all of those expressing an opinion have stated a preference for the Mayoral model, and that will be reported to the extraordinary meeting of Council on 16 December. It is worth noting, however, that the current statutory threshold for triggering a Mayoral referendum is very nearly 5,000 people on the electoral register. It will be for Council to decide how much weight to give to the relatively small number of responses we have received.
Finally, a clarification of the law relating to the consultation requirements will be added to the Council’s web site within the next day or two.
I trust this provides sufficient information for you to respond to your constituents.
Democratic Services & Scrutiny Manager
Thanet District Council
Tel: 01843 577187