RE: Returning to the committee system
I entirely agree on the 1998 WP - I have not been referring to it when doing my research as the Audit Commission study is far more circumspect and useful. I'll upload it in due course.
I agree with you Nick in what you have to say about the need of recognising the value and virtues of the old system. It's very easy to opine about it and how awful it was (and indeed, I was a mere babe in arms when it was still about) but the reason why it survived for more than 100 years was because it did the job.
The point that the Audit Commission paper highlights is that it encouraged councillors to focus more and more on operational management than on monitoring and review. Of course, you could say, "well, councillors *should* be in involved in the day to day running of the authority" but I think that a balance must be struck, and the AC's research suggest that, in many authorities in the 90s, the balance had shifted the wrong way. For example the report cites the example of one authority that had 302 meetings in one year just to do with education services.
Equally, I would query the extent to which the "traditional" committee system would be able to cope with the very different pattern of partnership working and joint decision making that happens these days. And I have difficulty with the huge time and resource commitment involved, and the time taken to make decisions. Then again, that's democracy.
So the debate is perhaps more nuanced than we might like to think - and it's important that we recognise this. That said I still say that councils should retain the cabinet/scrutiny model because, although it isn't perfect either, it provides a more flexible framework for decision-making and accountability than the old one. Some members and even officers will disagree and for those people, we'll have to work with them to ensure that a return to the committee system accentuates the positives and eliminates the negatives of that system, in part by maintaining a strong emphasis on strategy, policy development and review - the elements that, pre-2000, most often fell by the wayside in committee-based decision making.