Memorandum by the Local Government Association
The LGA is the representative voice for all
local councils in England and Wales. As the national voice for
local communities, the LGA speaks for nearly 500 local authorities
representing over 50 million people and spending £65 billion
a year on local services.
Current experience is drawn from the operation
of pilotscouncils are not yet legally operating executive
New structures will need time to bed downto
allow members and officers to adapt to new ways of working and
Councils are facing a massive change agenda
in addition to the introduction of new structureslocal
strategic partnerships, best value, community leadership.
Some councils and councillors believe that committee-based
arrangements are most appropriate for their communities but they
are not permitted to consult on them.
New structures do not necessarily reduce the
total number of committeesthe resource implications of
new arrangements should not be under-estimated.
Access to and provision of information is key
to making the arrangements work and to ensuring open and transparent
The introduction of new structures must be supported
by new cultures.
Modernisation of local authority decision-making
structures has been on the agenda for some time. However, it was
the white paper, Modern Local Government: In touch with the people,
which provided the first real impetus for change in local councils.
Spurred on by encouragement from the Government and the LGA, many
councils began to introduce changes to their structures in advance
of the promised legislation.
That legislation was first signalled by the
draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill in January
1999. By the time the Local Government Act 2000 received Royal
Assent around half of the councils in England and Wales had introduced
some form of pilot structures. This evidence is drawn from the
experience of those pilots and the overview that the Local Government
Association has had of how they have developed.
However, the LGA urges the Committee to bear
in mind that these arrangements are only pilots. There are still
a number of significant pieces of secondary legislation outstanding
and councils do not yet have the complete framework in place to
be able to adopt new constitutions. As such many are not operating
the arrangements exactly as they would wish and are legally still
operating under the legislation for the previous committee system.
It is also fair to say that these proposals
have not been welcomed by all councillors or councils and many
remain convinced that the committee based system serves them and
their communities effectively and efficiently already.
Parliament, local government, the media and
others have paid a great deal of attention to this part of the
Government's modernisation agenda. However, it should not be forgotten
that it is only one part of that agenda. Indeed the Local Government
Act 2000 contained two other significant elements, the new power
for local authorities to promote the economic, social or environmental
well-being of an area, and the new ethical framework for councils.
The Local Government Act 1999 also introduced Best Value.
It is essential that new structures are not
seen as separate from the rest of this agenda. It is also important
not to lose sight of the overall aim of this modernisation programmebetter
services for local people. The development of new structures is
an important part of the agenda. However, the LGA considers that
it is the challenge of community leadership which councils must
now have as their priority.
"Community leadership involves councils
working in partnership with local people and organisations to
develop a shared vision of their future for their locality, identifying
immediate priorities for action, and then working together to
`make a difference' in local communities. It is about listening,
building consensus and agreeing strategies and action on the basis
of partnership." Sir Jeremy Beecham, Chair, LGA.
The LGA acknowledges that community leadership
is not easy. It will be a real challenge for councils to balance
the various elements of this new role. In particular they will
need to think carefully about the meaning of leadership and develop
new styles of leadership. Leadership in the context of partnership
does not always mean taking centre stageit is about recognising
other local leaders and creating the right environment for others
to act. Councils will still need to take some hard decisions,
but on the whole, community leadership is less about directing
and controlling and more about stimulating, enabling and empowering.
Councils will need to develop new skills and capacity to do this
New structures must be designed to enable local
councils to deliver this leadership to their communities. It must
ensure that all members, not just those on the executive, can
lead the communities they represent.
The LGA acknowledges that the introduction of
these pilots has not been easy. It has required time and commitment
from members and officers and it will take more time and energy
before councils get it right. However, this is not surprising.
Not only does their introduction require new ways of workingit
also requires a new culturea new approach to the ways in
which councillors work with each other, with officers and with
their communities. Changing culture is not quick.
Many councils have now had over 18 months of
experience of piloting arrangements and their structures are evolving
to meet the challenges that these pilots throw up. This process
of evolution must be allowed to continue to ensure that councils
can develop structures that really work for local people.
The Local Government Association is committed
to helping local councils develop effective structures and share
their ideas and has produced a number of case study documents,
discussion papers and other materials to help councils do so.
The Association will make reference to some of these in its evidence
and is happy to share these with the Committee.
Professor John Stewart, in a role for all
members: the council meeting,
part of the LGA's "designing governance: issues in modernisation"
series says that:
"the council meeting assumes a new importance
under structures based on an executive. It becomes for councillors
the main formal decision-making setting and one in which all councillors
play a part bringing together those on the executive with other
In some authorities full council had become
a rather meaningless event, merely rubber stamping decisions and
policies made by other committees. The introduction of new arrangements,
of whatever form, provides an opportunity to re-emphasise full
council's role as the sovereign body of the councilthat
which determines the policy direction and budget of the authority.
The present experience of some councils, particularly hung councils,
points to the possibilities for full council to be an arena of
great debate. Some authorities piloting new arrangements have
begun to change the way full council operates. The London Borough
of Sutton introduced a "question time" element to its
meetings to allow members of the public to ask questions of the
council. Wakefield MBC allows councillors five minutes to raise
ward issues at council meetings. Cabinet members are expected
to respond and issues are followed up through an officer group.
It is clear then that authorities are beginning
to think about and try out new roles for full council and to attempt
to establish it as the sovereign body of the authority.
Of all the elements of the new arrangements
it is the creation of a "split" between executive and
non-executive members that has caused the greatest debate. Some
argue that it produces greater clarity as to who is taking the
decisions. Others believe it consigns most members to the back
benchhaving no role to play but nit-picking over decisions
already taken. In extremesit can be both.
In his paper, Getting the right balance,
Professor Steve Leach argues that councils must ensure that there
is a balance between the powers of the executive and those of
full council and overview and scrutiny to ensure that the executive
can operate efficiently, but that the necessary checks and balances
are in place to ensure transparency and openness.
Much attention has been focused on overview
and scrutiny committees but whilst these are an important role
for non-executive members they are not the only ones. The LGA
established a task group to look at the range of roles available
to non-executive members and the practices of local councils piloting
such arrangements. In its final report, Real roles for Members,
the task group set out a table describing a range of roles that
non-executive members would play under executive forms of governance
It is clear that there are many roles for members
not on the executive and that councils are innovating and developing
new roles such as rapporteurs and champions to research and lead
on specific issues and other roles to support and advise the executive.
Gateshead, for example, has introduced advisory
groups covering all areas of council policy to provide advice
to relevant cabinet members. In Cumbria County Council two/three
of non-executive members support each executive member to fulfil
their portfolio responsibilities. A table of other innovative
arrangements is included at Appendix II.
The key task is to ensure that there is a real
balance between the roles given to executive and non-executive
members. Councils must avoid the pitfall of focussing too much
attention on the executive and leaving non-executive members feeling
Of all the elements of the new structures it
is probably fair to say that it is overview and scrutiny which
is causing the greatest difficulty. However, that is to be expected
as it is the one element of the arrangements that is totally new
to most councils. That is not to say though that it is not working
at all, or that it is not worth pursuing. It is only by piloting
different approaches that councils can find out what works best.
A number of councils have been operating pilots
for over a year and have carried out reviews resulting in changes
to overview and scrutiny arrangements. For example, Bedfordshire
County Council changed their arrangements from select committeessome
of which were chaired by the oppositionto a system of select
committees chaired by majority group members and a scrutiny committee
chaired by the opposition.
It will be important for all authorities to
review how overview and scrutiny arrangements are working to ensure
that they are providing the effective checks and balances to the
executive necessary to make these structures work. It is unlikely
that councils will get it right first time.
Much of the early focus on this issue was on
the aspect of scrutiny, ie the review of decisions taken. However,
it is becoming apparent from the pilots that there is a much greater
role for the overview aspect, reviewing the effectiveness of council
policies and proposing new policies or amendments to existing
ones. Many councils have also used the introduction of these committees
to look at issues in a more cross-cutting manner rather than the
traditional service based approach.
One experience that has been common has been
the need to ensure that overview and scrutiny is properly resourced.
Resources are needed for training members and officers to carry
out new and different roles and to learn new skills based around
questioning and listening. They are also needed to support the
committees, not only to organise meetings and produce agendas
and minutes, but also to research the issues and advise members
on key issues and lines of questioning.
Early discussion about the introduction of new
arrangements talked about reducing the number of committees. However,
many councils have found that their pilots do not contain fewer
committees, particularly those that had already streamlined their
committee arrangements. The resources required to support overview
and scrutiny should not be underestimated. It must not be assumed
that new structures will free up officers to provide this support.
Smaller councils in particular are finding some difficulty in
allocating sufficient resources to support these arrangements.
Whilst it is not yet legislation, the LGA wishes
to draw to the Committee's attention the proposals contained within
the Health and Social Care Bill which will give councils responsibility
for scrutiny of local health services and organisations. This
is welcomed and is a natural extension of the community leadership
role of councils.
However, many councils do not currently have
the skills and in-depth knowledge of local health services required
to ensure that this responsibility can be carried out effectively.
Given the level of resources already required for scrutiny, the
LGA is concerned that it is not proposed to allocate additional
resources to councils to carry out this new responsibility.
This problem is likely to increase as councils
gain confidence and begin to conduct more reviews and investigations
of external issues and local quangos. The review of other local
public services is an essential part of the council's community
leadership responsibility, but without adequate resources it will
be difficult to carry it out effectively.
At present the only form of executive that can
be approximated under existing legislation is that of cabinet
and leader and even within that model there are some constraints.
In particular any cabinet comprised of only one party (or which
is not politically proportionate) can not legally take decisions.
Thus many councils have "ratification committees" to
carry out this duty. In other cases decisions have been delegated
to senior officers for this purpose. Also, individual members
cannot currently take decisions on their own, so whilst they may
have portfolios they are not at present legally responsible for
However, there are a number of lessons emerging
from the pilots. The first of these is the amount of business
that is taken to the executive. Many councils have increased the
amount of decisions delegated to officers to help alleviate some
of this burden, concentrating the time and efforts of the executive
on more strategic matters. Other authorities have delegated some
of their responsibilities to area committeesthose decisions
that have much more of a local impact. However, even with increased
delegation the workload of an executive should not be underestimated.
This has serious implications for the amount
of time members are expected to put into their duties. It is likely,
certainly in some larger authorities, that the debate may begin
soon about whether some, or all executive posts should be full-time.
This is a matter for local councils to determine but the Local
Government Act 2000 requires councils to establish Independent
Panels to assess levels of members' allowances and also to consider
making some of these allowances pensionable. The Government has
committed itself to consulting with local government on these
issues but as yet this consultation has not taken place. It is
unlikely that councils will consider introducing major changes
to allowances until this consultation has taken place. Until then
executives will rely on the good will and commitment of their
The second is an issue of information. Many
councils have found that they have needed to review existing and
develop new forms of information distribution amongst members.
Many of those not on the executive feel that they do not know
what is going on or that they are missing out on new developments.
Communication, not only with other members, but also with the
local media, residents and other stakeholders is a key part of
making executive structures work.
Swale Borough Council has developed a process
of monthly member briefings on a single topic. Topics are selected
by members and can involve presentations from outside bodies such
as the health authority or the Environment Agency. Blackburn with
Darwen have developed fortnightly written briefings which include
information on decisions taken by the executive and updates from
scrutiny commissions. The briefings are individual and include
information about local ward areas.
Another issue, likely to become more prominent
once individual decision making becomes possible, concerns the
confidence of executive members to make decisions on their own.
This is a new role for members, previously being used to the support
of their group, if not the whole council. Executives are pushing
individual councillors into the spotlight. In response some councils
are providing media training for members.
Under current legislation it is not possible
to operate a pilot involving a directly elected mayor. There is
therefore, no evidence on which to draw conclusions about how
such a model may work.
It is fair to say that there has not been an
enthusiastic welcome from councils or councillors to the idea
of directly elected mayors. Whilst surveys still show that the
cabinet and leader model is the most preferred option for councils,
it is too early to predict how many councils will introduce mayoral
models. Authorities are currently consulting on the options with
their communities and it is only after completing such consultation
that councils will decide which model to pursue.
There are however, a growing number of councils
considering holding a referendum on this option to let the public
decide. There is also growing momentum in some areas for organising
a citizen initiated petition.
Whatever the final picture turns out to be,
it is clear that directly elected mayors will have an impact on
the way councils work and interact with their communities and
on local government in general.
Whilst not originally included in the draft
local government bill, area or neighbourhood committees are taking
on increasing importance. An LGA survey
found that half of those responding were intending to include
some form of area arrangement within their structure. These mechanisms
range from those that are purely consultative to those taking
a significant number of decisions. Already, it is apparent that
such arrangements can be a vital part of reconnecting with communities
and public attendance at such meetings is often higher than for
other council meetings.
Experience to date suggests that there are a
number of key issues councils must address before establishing
such arrangements. There is the issue of ensuring that there are
adequate resources to support them. Also, in many areas there
are parish and town councilsbodies which for many years
have been operating effectively at the local level. This must
be recognised in such arrangements.
Tameside MBC has introduced eight District Assemblies
that have a wide range of responsibilities including youth services,
road maintenance and community grants. Each Assembly is made up
of the local councillors for the area and has a local advisory
group which takes part in the meetings. This group is made up
of two/three representatives of voluntary or community groups,
two/three from residents and tenants groups and two/three from
local businesses. It also includes a Year 11 student (15/16 year
old) from each secondary school within the District Assembly area.
The local police also attend to hear about local concerns and
report on their work. Each meeting starts with an Open Forum when
anyone can raise an issue of local concern. Up to 100 questions
are asked at the Open Forum during each cycle.
West Sussex County Council set up an Area Committee
for the one area of Arun district. Members of the committee include
the county councillors for the area and representatives of the
district, town and parish councils. All three tiers are therefore
represented and participate in policy discussions. The Area Committee
has a number of delegated responsibilities that include countryside
matters, sustainable travel, highways and traffic management.
A last-minute amendment to the Local Government
Act introduced the option of alternative arrangements for small
shire districts. Whilst much of this evidence applies to those
authorities which do introduce such structures (overview and scrutiny
committees, full council and area committees), the LGA hopes that
the Committee will consider some of the issues facing these councils.
The most important issue here is the fact that
these councils have not had time to pilot these arrangements.
This has been compounded by the absence of the regulations required
for councils to be able to introduce such structures. There is
then understandable concern amongst those councils about how such
structures might work.
The Act requires these councils to consult on
whether to introduce alternative or executive arrangements. As
with other councils they are then expected to copy their proposals
to the Secretary of State by the end of June 2001. Whilst there
is draft guidance setting out the Secretary of State's intentions,
councils are cautious of pressing too far in case the regulations,
which are subject to affirmative resolution, do not match those
The deadline is now approaching and even if
these regulations are published shortly it will still be some
time before they have passed through parliamentary processes.
The LGA urges the committee to consider whether to recommend that
the deadline be extended for such councils, and/or that they should
be able to have a year's piloting period in between submitting
their proposals and actually introducing them, should they wish
There is also an issue about seemingly arbitrary
population threshold of 85,000 that was applied to this option.
Many authorities just over this limit, and others, also believe
that a committee based structure would be the most appropriate
one for their area and their communities. However, this option
would only be available to them as a fall-back position were a
referendum for a mayoral model not be supporteda process
which is complicated and time consuming.
Some councils feel that they should be able
to pursue such an option in their consultation and introduce alternative
arrangements should their communities support it.
The Committee will no doubt be aware of the
debate that took place in the House of Commons recently when members
of opposition parties prayed against the Local Authorities (Executive
Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000.
There is concern that they will enable councils to operate a regime
of secrecy, taking major decisions in private. Concern has also
been expressed about the provision for councils to determine themselves
what constitutes a key decision. There is a fear that this could
be abused by councils setting excessively high levels to mark
Local government has a proud history of being
open in its decisions making arrangements and has traditionally
been the most open of all public sector bodies. The LGA is keen
to ensure that this tradition continues and encourages councils
to place openness at the heart of their new structures.
There are still a number of significant pieces
of secondary legislation outstanding. Regulations for "Alternative
Arrangements" have not yet been published nor have those
dealing with referendums or the election of mayors.
Whilst councils could now introduce leader and
cabinet arrangements there are still some conflicts with other
pieces of local government legislation that need to be resolved
under regulations. Until that takes place any council which formally
adopts such a new constitution may be liable to judicial review.
Consequently, there is some concern that councils
may not be able to meet the deadline for submission of proposals.
The Committee is urged to recommend that the Government is lenient
with councils that are developing their proposals but are unable
to meet the deadline for submission set in the guidance.
Pilot arrangements have changed the nature of
the interface between members and officers. Whilst officers are
still responsible to the whole council, most of their day-to-day
interactions will be with the executive. However, they will also
be called on to provide advice and support to the enquiries of
overview and scrutiny committees. It is essential that officers
maintain not only political neutrality but neutrality between
the executive and overview and scrutiny. A number of councils
are developing protocols to help clarify expectations, roles and
responsibilities of each party.
Party politics and the political group play
a very important part in UK local government. However, evidence
from the pilots show that overview and scrutiny does not work
effectively if the party whip is used. Therefore, the change in
culture needs to happen not only in the council but also in the
party groups, and indeed the local political parties.
Dr Colin Copus has suggested four models that
the party group might adopt in response to the changed environmentthat
of partner, arbitor, filter or leviathon. Diagrams of these models
are attached at Appendix III.
Local councils will no doubt find the process
of change a challenging one. The committee system has been in
operation since the nineteenth century. Councils have developed
mechanisms for making effective use of the system, and adapted
it as circumstances change. The new arrangements are revolutionary
and will take time to take shape in practice.
Authorities also have a range of other major
issues to deal with at the same timethe introduction of
best value, community leadership and the new emphasis on neighbourhood
renewal and local strategic partnerships. Councils need to be
allowed to adapt to these changes and let new structures bed down
before they can be assessed as to how effective they have been.
Local councils have not been offered any new resources to help
support this significant change agenda.
Councils have time and again proved themselves
to be capable of adapting to change and developing innovative
and interesting responses to new challenges. Those authorities,
which have been piloting new arrangements legislation, have already
started doing so and have a significant role to play in sharing
their experience with all councils.
10 Professor John Stewart, A role for all members:
the council meeting, Designing governance: issues in modernisation
series, LGA, 2000. Back
Professor Steve Leech, Getting the right balance: three scenarios
on the future of local governance, Designing governance: issues
in modernisation, LGA, 2000. Back
LGA, Real Roles for Members: role of non-executive members
in the new structures, LGA 2000. Back
Ev. not printed. Back
Ev. not printed. Back
LGA, Local leadership, local progress: a survey of local authorities
on political management and probity, LGA 2000. Back
Dr Colin Copus, It's my party: the role of the group in executive
arrangements, Designing governance: issues in modernisation,
Ev. not printed. Back