A brief word about the structure of the Council.
The Council comprises the councillors, who are elected periodically – there are elections in May 2018 and there will be more elections in May 2019. The Leader of the Council is Councillor Peter Rankin.
The councillors are your representatives, working for you and dealing with issues affecting individual residents and their ward as a whole. For example, the Conservatives claim to be “working for you all year round, caring for College ward” and “Caring and campaigning for our community”. Labour claims to be “working hard for you all year round”.
Plus there are the paid officers and employees of the Council, who work throughout the city and in the Town Hall. These officers and employees are not elected – they are employed by the Council.
Heading up these employees and officers (and the person ultimately responsible for them) is the Chief Executive, Ms Lorraine Norris.
Ms Norris and the directors of the four Directorates (Corporate Services, Customer Services, Development and Environment) constitute the Corporate Management Team.
Apart from Ms Norris, a name worth remembering is that of the Director of Development, Chris Hayward, as the planning department is part of the Development Directorate and also his deputy, Alison Kershaw, who is charged with day-to-day management of the planning department.
One could consider the relationship between the councillors and the officers to be similar to that between ministers and Members of Parliament and the Civil Service. That is that the councillors decide policy and the officers and employees implement that policy.
But it is not that straightforward, because the Council has chosen to operate a policy whereby certain officers are empowered with a delegated authority. This affects residents most directly in planning matters.
A delegated authority entitles an officer to make a decision on a planning application. You will see from the pages which follow how this operates in practice.
But first, what of the relationship between the officers themselves and the councillors and the officers? A few statements will give you a flavour of the warm and high regard in which they hold each other and for their proficiency:-
“We believe that the planning process is open and transparent”.
Alison Kershaw in November 2016
Mrs Patricia Ashcroft, the Governance Officer, subsequently confirmed that “We” describes the whole of the Council.
“Ms Kershaw is an experienced, trustworthy and honest officer who, as Deputy Director, leads the planning service by example”.
Chris Hayward in February 2017
Preston has “a planning department that we should be proud of…they are doing very well”
Peter Rankin at the Cabinet meeting on 24 January 2018
Alas, if only these statements were correct. As you will learn from the pages which follow (and from those which will be added over time) there is much amiss with the workings of the Council.