Memorandum by the Royal Borough of Windsor
& Maidenhead (LAG 15)
In May 2000, ahead of the introduction of the
Local Government Act 2000, The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
embraced the need to modernise the way it worked and began piloting
the Cabinet/Leader model of new local authority governance. To
comply with the Act widespread public consultation is currently
underway on all three models and the authority aims to send the
agreed proposals to the Secretary of State in May for implementation
in August 2001.
For clarification, the Royal Borough's Cabinet
currently has no executive authority and full Council makes all
decisions. The main features of the pilot model in use include:
A 10-member Cabinet making recommendations
to the full Council;
New Service User Forums which feed
into the Cabinetenabling local people to participate in
the decision-making process;
Five new scrutiny panels to monitor
the way the Council is doing its job; and
A new independent Standards Board.
The Cabinet/Leader pilot model has only been
in operation for 8 months but it is clear that already the new
arrangements have delivered greater efficiency, transparency and
accountability in the authority's decision-making as set out below:
In contrast to the previous committee
system, the Cabinet tends to concentrate on matters of a strategic
nature rather than detail and low-level operational matters. This
enables more business to be transacted in a shorter time-span.
The Cabinet meets weekly to make
recommendations to more frequent meetings of the full Counciloccurring
at regular and easy-to-understand intervals. This allows decisions
to be taken at a faster pace than before and enables the Council
to be more responsive to the needs of the local community.
A more effective scheme of delegation,
specifying the level of powers that reside with the full Council
and senior officers, has also speeded up decision-making.
Cabinet Members have a new duty to
consult widely on service and policy proposals during their development,
i.e. before they arrive at the Cabinet. If there is broad agreement
amongst all stakeholders at the policy development stage then
later additional consultation can be avoidedthus saving
To provide the Cabinet with the support
it needs, a Cabinet Office has been set up with a team of three
officers dedicated to providing administrative and policy backup.
This enables the Cabinet to work effectively and efficiently,
fast-tracking communication to individual Cabinet members and
reducing red tape.
As well as enhancing consultation
generally, for the first time transparency in the policy-making
process has been achieved. Over 20 new and pioneering `Service
User Forums' have been created. Chaired by Lead Cabinet members
they enable everyday users of Council services to work alongside
interest groups and other local stakeholders to help develop policies
for the future.
Openness is at the heart of the Council's
scrutiny function. Meeting quarterly, the scrutiny panels can
include external members from key interest groups and local organisations
bringing a useful outside view and alerting councillors to wider
and emerging issues in the community.
Openness externally is also accompanied
by openess internally and a new `Staff Forum' has been created
to improve communication between management and staffreporting
directly to the Cabinet on personnel and morale issues.
The Full Council has also become
more open. Meeting in public, with public question time and public
access to all non-confidential papers, the Council gives members
of all political groupings a voice in every decision. Meetings
have now become the focus for borough-wide debate on the authority's
services. In contrast to the committee system, for the first time
all 58 councillors are fully engaged in all decisions being made.
With the committee system it was
sometimes difficult for local people to know who took decisions,
who to hold to account and who to complain to when things went
wrong. There has been a noticeable improvement with the new arrangements.
Through a number of sensitive local issues and the way in which
the local media now reports stories, Lead Cabinet members have
had to become more accountable for their actions publicly. Outside,
they are now often viewed as the individual that is directly responsible
for a particular Council service as well as the public advocate
of the Council for them.
Although it is the full Council where
decisions are currently taken, Lead Cabinet members rather than
`committees' are now perceived as the decision-makers by key interest
groups and local organisations. This can be attributed to the
active role taken by Lead Cabinet members via news releases, publications
and meetings with the local community.
At full Council, meeting reports
are now presented entirely by individual Lead Cabinet members
with no public assistance from Council officers. This has helped
raise their public profile and accountability.
To improve accountability in the
planning process, the number of Development Control committees
has doubled and their geographical coverage has been halved to
ensure that it is the local ward councillors, with the greatest
local knowledge, that take local decisions. Also, for the first
time, the applicant, objectors and parish council can address
meetings, if they so wish.
The new arrangements have had an impact on the
role of councillors and council officers. Some notable points
In their new role, Cabinet Members
spend significantly more time in meetings both internally and
externally and briefings with officers take place on a more frequent
basis. As a result, Cabinet Members who are employed full-time
have experienced some minor time allocation problems. Satisfactory
responsibility allowances have been an issue.
Many opposition and `back-bench'
councillors feel isolated and out of touch. This is because they
now attend less meetings than before and have more time to spend
in the local community. A typical `back-bench' councillor attends
one scrutiny panel (quarterly), an area development control panel
(monthly) and the full Council (also monthly). However, to ensure
that they do not feel isolated from the policy-making process
they are able to be a member of one of the Cabinet's Service User
Forums, if they so wish.
For officers, change from the committee
system to the Cabinet/Leader model was initially a challenge particularly
in the forward planning of reports for Cabinet and full Council.
However, a comprehensive forward planning list has helped to iron
these problems out and is in the process of being refined to meeting
the requirements of the Act.
Through regular briefings with Lead
Cabinet members, senior officers have benefited from better political
and policy guidance.
Local residents now benefit from a single point
of contact, via the Cabinet Office, for any complaints or queries
relating to Cabinet Members and Cabinet business. This has improved
customer service and public access to Cabinet Members.
As with many other local authorities, the setting
up of the Council's scrutiny function has been one of the areas
of most change. Initially a few difficulties existed, particularly
with the operation and work of the scrutiny panels and as a result,
it was necessary to issue special guidance to the Scrutiny Panel
Chairmen. However, scrutiny has began to improve since its conception
and this has been due to the willingness of officers and councillors
to make it work.
The comprehensive guidance issued by the Government
has, by and large, been useful in setting up the Council's new
arrangements, particularly through the use of case studies. However,
the Council has been sensitive to the number of changes and revisions
made to the guidance. Also, in some instances the guidance has
been too prescriptive.
In order to comply with the Local Government
Act 2000 and not pre-empt the views of the local community, the
authority will not be promoting or pursuing any one local authority
governance model during the forthcoming public consultation.
Deputy Leader of the Council (Community Consultation)