Memorandum by the Improvement and Development
Agency (LAG 17)
NEW POLITICAL MANAGEMENT ARRANGEMENTS IN
ENGLAND AND WALESTHE IMPROVEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT AGENCY
FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT (IDeA) SUBMISSION
1.1 The Improvement and Development Agency
(IDeA) was founded in April 1999, by local government, to work
with it and for it and help it do better. It basically offers
two types of service.
Those tailored to the needs, issues
and problems faced by individual councils in areas such as Best
Value, new political structures and political development;
Work that is generic and affects
local government as a whole.
1.2 The work of the IDeA is directed by
a widely representative board of directors. It includes councillors
from the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Parties as
well as an Independent representative. The Society of Local Authority
Chief Executives (SOLACE) has a place, as does the Trades Union
Congress, Audit Commission, representatives from academia and
the private sector, regional employers and the Society of Chief
Personnel Officers (SOCPO).
1.3 The IDeA, with its strategic position
in the local government world and its strong links with individual
authorities, is ideally placed to comment on the progress of local
authorities in implementing the requirements of Part 2 of the
Local Government Act 2000.
2. THE SOURCE
2.1 Much of the evidence in this submission
comes from the work and knowledge of teams within the IDeA, namely
Member Development, the Local Government Improvement Programme
(LGIP) team and Best Practice.
2.2 Member Development exists to expand
the range of development opportunities available for elected members
and has developed a range of new programmes and initiatives. The
nature of much of its work is actually performed on site within
councils, so it has access to first hand information. It also
commissioned a major study by INLOGOV into the scrutiny function
in six "case study" authorities and has recently published
"Practitioners Guide to Scrutiny" which provides a benchmark
as to how the scrutiny function is being implemented. Evidence
from these is used in this submission.
2.3 The LGIP is based on peer review and
brings together a team of six or seven people from across local
government and the wider public and private sector. At the invitation
of an authority, the team spends a week assessing it against a
national benchmark. This concentrates on leadership, community
engagement, and performance management and is updated regularly
to reflect current good practice. The team, led by an IDeA Review
Manager, has carried out over 80 LGIP reviews to date.
2.4 The Best Practice unit is a more recent
addition to the IDeA. This unit exists to identify areas of best
practice, to help authorities share experiences and to raise their
2.5 To this extent a questionnaire was sent
to all 410 English and Welsh local authorities in September 2000.
The IDeA believes this is the most recent relevant research carried
out on a national basis hence much of this report is based on
this survey. Out of the 410 local authorities, 210 (51 per cent)
replies were received. Over half of those responding (108) had
been experimenting with new models. The timing was all the more
crucial because the survey was sent out so soon after the Local
Government Act received Royal Assent; the survey represents a
snapshot of councils very much in transition.
3. THE IDEA'S
3.1 Our response to the Sub-committee's
inquiry will be under the bullet points given in Press Notice
4. (1) PRELIMINARY
4.1 At the time of the IDeA survey only
around 40 authorities (who had responded) had been operating under
a new structure for 12 months or longer. Also, only five out of
108 authorities experimenting with new arrangements have evaluated
their structures independently or asked for the views of the public.
Hence, current evidence is patchy and it is difficult, and early,
to say whether efficiency, transparency and accountability of
decision-making in local government has improved.
4.2 Although the majority of authorities
have only recently embarked on modernising their decision-making
arrangements, it is still possible to comment on some early signs
4.3 Observation by the LGIP team shows that
where authorities have moved early to a cabinet system decisions
are made more quickly. Authorities are streamlining the decision-making
processes and reducing the number of committees but in some instances
the time members spend in committee meetings does not always reduce
proportionately. However, some councils are introducing issue
specific, time-limited selected committees as seen in Parliament.
Many authorities that have been reluctant to move early to a cabinet
system have also streamlined and rationalised their structures.
4.4 There are a number of authorities making
progress in improving the transparency of decision-making. Some
are introducing decision-databases (eg Leeds City Council and
St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council) and report-tracking systems
(London Borough of Brent) and making these accessible on the Internet.
However, a two-fold problem remains in that the majority of residents
remain disinterested in the council's decision-making processes
and that too few of them don't know where to go or who to contact
to have their say. A number of authorities are also training their
executive members in how to deal better with the media and are
recruiting officers to communication posts to partly articulate
new decision-making processes and to publicise how citizens can
4.5 Within councils, there is often confusion
with both officers and members as to the routing of reports. The
executive does not always steer agenda items, often looking to
senior officers to provide a lead. This can sometimes result in
reports reaching members, via committees, that are purely for
information purposes, which wastes members' valuable decision-making
time. Good practice in this area tells us that these items are
best dispersed to members via bulletins or electronically, via
intranet etc. Dealing with performance issues is an area which
causes great confusionfor example, the presentation of
performance indicators is too often seen as an issue for scrutiny
rather than the executive using them proactively.
5. (2) THE
(a) role of councillors
5.1 According to the IDeA survey, over 75
per cent of authorities with interim structures have developed
new roles for their members and over a third (36 per cent) have
`job descriptions' for councillors. Authorities were asked specifically
in which areas, other than executive and scrutiny, had they developed
these new roles. Most respondents had worked on strengthening
the community and representative aspects of their members' roles.
Specifically these included advocacy, and how members should perform
their representative roles on area committees, community forums
and when representing on outside boards. This appeared to be mostly
as a response to the setting up of area committees and forums.
5.2 A number of authorities were also developing
appropriate skills for members on ethics and standards boards.
Others also placed greater emphasis on developing the skills of
the chair, such as chair of scrutiny or area committees. Some
had also developed the role of the leader of the opposition.
(b) role of local authority officers
5.3 Dedicated officer support is generally
rare, especially so in district councils. Of those authorities
with new arrangements, 10 had separate dedicated support for both
executive and scrutiny. A far greater number of authorities (75
per cent) were looking at reviewing the way support is provided
within existing resources. 15 authorities referred to lead officers
(for either executive or scrutiny) that had other jobs to do.
5.4 It has already been mentioned that there
is often confusion with officers about where reports should be
routed and that managers are sometimes uncertain as to which committee
or panel should first receive a report. Within some councils members
wait for a direction or steer from officers instead of doing this
themselves. Relationships between scrutiny members and middle
managers are developing as they are increasingly referred to to
find out `what really happens' whilst directors have a greater
relationship with executive members. Some commentators would argue
that this gives some support to the notion that two tier officer
structures may result from the implementation of new political
(c) role of the electorate
5.5 An increasing number of authorities
are introducing public question timesat present well over
a quarter of those authorities who are trialling the new structures.
However, it is unclear whether the public take up this opportunity
for debate and questioning.
5.6 Greater involvement with the public
can be seen at the area level, ie through area committees or forums.
It is very clear that the new arrangements have given area-based
forums and committees a new lease of life. Nearly 60 per cent
of authorities with new arrangements have some degree of area
development whereas this is the case for only 30 per cent of those
still operating traditional structures.
5.7 LGIP can refer to specific examples
such as Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council which has formal
youth representation at its area committees. Another observation
is that the scrutiny role at the area level is underdeveloped,
ie area bodies are not sufficiently tapping into views of the
community to support scrutiny reviews.
6. (3) LOCAL
Overview and scrutiny
6.1 On average there are four scrutiny panels/committees
per authority with one being the minimum and 12 being the maximum.
Most authorities (83 per cent) had scrutiny arrangements with
at least one cross-cutting scrutiny committee. Well over a third,
38 per cent, had only cross-cutting remits and 17 per cent had
only functional ones. Over 60 per cent had some form of formal
mechanisms for calling in decisions of the executive.
6.2 Authorities were also asked how effectively
(or ineffectively) their new system of overview and scrutiny (O&S)
was working and reasons why this may be so.
Areas of good progress
6.3 Greater flexibility. Many councils
welcomed the opportunity to establish their own O&S work programmes
and in a style that suited them. They welcomed the power of calling
in decisions as well as playing a meaningful role in policy development.
However, the greater flexibility in work programmes still needs
to be managed so that scrutiny is not seen to be `messy', `fitting
around', too ad-hoc or duplicative. Many authorities do this by
means of an over-arching scrutiny committee/panel that would set
the work programmes or the framework for all scrutiny units. Some
systems support temporary select committees whose lifespan is
related to a particular major issue.
6.4 Greater accountability of the executive.
Many have considered the mere fact that scrutiny is a separate
body has enhanced the accountability of the decision-makers and
decision-making has been `sharpened-up'. Of course, for this to
be sustained the O&S function needs to demonstrate effectiveness.
This is the case in a number of authorities where members have
shown enthusiasm for and commitment to their new roles, although
this is not the case in all places.
6.5 More in-depth and higher quality
scrutiny and policy development. More time can be allocated
to specific subjects and issues, ensuring the need to call in
decisions is reduced. This can be better achieved under a planned
programme of work and with good understanding and co-operation
between the executive members and scrutiny chairs. Good officer
support is also very important. Some have done this through dedicated
support, others have ensured that an identified panel of officers
for support exists.
6.6 Develop skills and expertise of members.
Where scrutiny panels consider an issue in depth the members of
that panel gain expertise of the subject area and learn skills
in scrutinising important issues.
6.7 Less political point-scoring.
For many authorities, members, welcoming a new way of working,
have enthusiastically entered into the new arrangements. Decisions
have been `depoliticised' and consensual politics is becoming
more apparent. Some of this is down to ensuring that all members
feel that they have an important role, eg by giving opposition
and minority parties at least some of the chair positions of scrutiny
6.8 Scrutiny and the public. Another
observation, not from the survey, is that many councils are overcoming
the traditional lack of presence of members of the public at committee
meetings, by choosing to hold them outside of the town hall, often
rotating round the local authority's area. Others have chosen
to give members of the public the right to also ask questions
at scrutiny hearings.
Areas requiring greater attention
6.9 Taking on too much work. Work
programmes were often too ambitious, resulting in some work not
being completed. Clearly greater management of scrutiny's programme
is needed. Whilst most authorities see benefits in giving cross-cutting
remits to their overview and scrutiny panels/committees, there
were several who felt that members were having difficulty in grasping
the concept of scrutiny. Too much emphasis was being put on day-to-day,
operational issues and criticising decisions of the executive
rather than taking a more strategic, overview approach.
6.10 Not enough support. There were
some authorities that felt the organisation did not want to "own"
scrutiny. Scrutiny members considered they did not receive the
same level of officer support and access to resources as compared
to members of the executive, with existing resources being inadequate.
6.11 Engaging members (especially members
of scrutiny bodies). More training needs to be purchased to
enable members who are struggling to understand their new roles.
Some members feel they don't have enough to
do, and have less to do than in their previous roles as part of
6.12 Inexperience of scrutiny. This
relates partly to the above point. Members require greater awareness
and training as to what can be achieved by the scrutiny function.
At present they often lack confidence to challenge decisions of
the executive. Many are still trying to shake off past methods
or working, with many scrutiny members still wanting to make decisions
rather than recommendations.
6.13 Greater community involvement.
Trying to build awareness with the public. Some respondents felt
that their scrutiny arrangements were not engaging with the community
enough. Some recognised this was partly to do with raising awareness
amongst the public.
6.14 Effective O&S. A few respondents
mentioned that it was sometimes difficult to get effective scrutiny
when there was virtually no opposition.
6.15 Authorities were asked whether they
had any area committees as part of their new decision-making processes.
61 (over 58 per cent) said they had such arrangements with a further
13 authorities planning to introduce them.
6.16 Those with area arrangements were asked
to provide an indication of the depth of powers devolved. Over
55 per cent said that the area bodies existed as discussion/consultation
forums only with the majority of these informing both the executive
and scrutiny. Almost 40 per cent have devolved some decisions
down to these area bodies. 22 authorities had area bodies which
6.17 Currently 30 per cent of councils with
committee systems have a degree of area involvement, eg area committees
or fora. When asked about future devolved arrangements 58 per
cent did not know how they intended to devolve power, 20 per cent
said they would have no area devolvement, 14 per cent said they
would devolve budgets to area bodies, eight per cent said area
bodies would have consultative powers only, and four per cent
said they would have decision-making powers but no devolved budgets.
7. (4) DIFFICULTIES
2000 (PART II) AND
7.1 Most local authorities that have adopted
the new structures ahead of legislation had done so in the expectation
of experiencing difficulties in implementation. Starting early
has allowed them to identify problems in new practices and processes
and to start ironing them out in readiness to implement them according
to the legislation.
7.2 Some of the difficulties experienced
have already been identified, particularly around the role of
scrutiny members. However, there are some general difficulties
faced by almost all authorities. These are:
7.3 The level of communication is often
inconsistent. The LGIP have seen a mixed picture when it comes
to communication between members and between members and officers.
We have already mentioned the problems officers and some members
of the executive have in knowing where to route reports.
7.4 Councils are often struggling to communicate
to non-executive members the exact nature of what the new roles
entail. Some authorities are doing better at this than others
and it appears that purchasing effective training and awareness-raising
are the key. Findings from the survey, backed up by LGIP and member
development's observations, show that councillors prefer hands-on
training and getting first hand experience, for example through
visiting other authorities.
7.5 Although they have changed their structures
most councillors in experimenting authorities are still struggling
to adapt to their new roles and have not changed the way they
do things. For many councillors it is easier and comfortable to
keep to former ways of working. Some typical difficulties are:
(a) In those authorities that have recently
changed their structures, non-executive members are finding it
difficult to accept the loss of their decision-making roles.
(b) Non-executive members sometimes see their
work on committees as being more important than their work within
(c) Councillors have often spent many years
on a particular committee acquiring specialist skills and knowledge
and become somewhat demoralised when they are no longer part of
such a set up. Some authorities are overcoming such problems by
proactively helping councillors gain new skills and knowledge
through initiatives such as work-shadowing, mentoring and coaching.
7.6 Many authorities, particularly smaller
ones, are hindered by the lack of resources in implementing the
new arrangements, especially overview and scrutiny and area arrangements.
From the survey, it is apparent that it is the larger councils
who are more able to provide dedicated or "lead" support.
8. (5) THE
8.1 When asked whether authorities were
considering holding a referendum for a mayor, only two per cent
(four councils) said yes, 71 per cent said not and 27 per cent
of authorities did not know. We are aware, however, that in a
number of authorities residents are organising their own petitions
to force a referendum.
9.1 The evidence that the IDeA has access
to reveals a mixed picture in how authorities are coping and progressing
with implementing the new structures, particularly the non-executive
aspects. The survey reveals that those authorities that feel they
are progressing better than others do so because of several factors:
(a) Timeit is early days for
many councils. Time and greater experience is needed for new systems
to bed-in and for lessons to be learned.
(b) Training and awarenessthis
is crucial. If this is not done adequately it will lead to members
feeling confused about their roles, feeling they do not have enough
to do and resenting loss of decision-making powers.
members are able to carry out better reviews and manage their
workloads through identified support through both staff and being
(d) ManagementWork programmes
of scrutiny need to be managed otherwise experience suggest that
reviews will not be completed, committees become overworked and
the policy objectives of the council are not always met.
(e) Relationshipsthese need
to be managed too, especially between cabinet members and scrutiny
members and between chairs and opposition lead members of scrutiny.