Memorandum by the London Borough of Hammersmith
and Fulham (LAG 39)
1. The Borough Council developed its thinking
on an executive cabinet and scrutiny system in the latter part
of 1997, at the time of the Hunt Bill. The new system was introduced
in June 1998, following Borough elections, and has operated since
that date. There has been some subsequent modification to strengthen
the scrutiny function, but few other changes. The Council therefore
has two and a half years experience of a "modernised"
political management system. These new arrangements were designed
to meet the aims for pilot schemes set out in the Hunt Bill, while
remaining within the legal framework of the 1972 Local Government
2. In terms of evidence to the committee,
the Council would wish to reiterate points previously made in
written and oral submissions to the LGA hearings (chaired by Lord
Hunt in early 1999) (1) and to the Joint Committee on the Draft
(Organisation and Standards) Bill in mid 1999 (2).
3. The success of new models depends ultimately
on the calibre of those that work within them, rather than the
structures themselves. While some progress has been made at national
level in the last two years on councillor development, support
and training, it remains too early to say whether the next round
of elections in all tiers of local government will succeed in
drawing in a new generation of high calibre councillors, well
equipped to undertake both executive and scrutiny roles.
4. As compared with the role and status
of local government in other European countries, there remains
a very long way to go in the UK in terms of achieving any real
shift in public thinking, interest, and involvement, in the institutions
of local government. This remains the fundamental obstacle to
reform, as it impacts on the calibre of those willing to work
in local councils (both Members and Officers), and how the public
respond to efforts by councils to develop a community leadership
5. While Part 1 of the Local Government
Act 2000 has brought a clearer definition of the role of local
government, along with the new power of well-being, there is no
real sign as yet of this development impacting on public perceptions.
This requires a clearer lead from central government and local
authorities, as well as continued reform in areas such as local
government finance and the modernisation of electoral systems.
6. In the meantime, there is a real danger
that continued public debate and dissection of the minutiae of
alternative systems of political management is becoming a disincentive,
rather than a spur to the process of reform. Evidence of consultation
exercises on alternative models suggests that the public, not
unreasonably, are disinterested in much of the detail. They are
rightly more concerned about outcomes, and in having councils
that deliver efficient and cost-effective public services on the
ground. Effective community leadership, that will articulate and
resolve competing public interests and bring real change to local
areas, may be seen as a bonus and an ideal, but one as yet achieved
in few parts of the country.
7. LBHF therefore continues to support the
concept that visible and accountable political leadership is essential
to reinvigorated local government. It believes the executive/scrutiny
model is well suited to unitary urban authorities. But the variants
between a directly elected mayor, a "strong" indirectly
elected leader, or a high calibre executive cabinet are not the
real issue for the public.
8. The Council's view is that no one is
yet in a position to reach meaningful conclusions as to whether
new forms of political management will deliver the desired outcomes.
It is simply too early to say. The evidence of the Commons committee
stages on the LGA 2000 suggests that any serious debate has long
become distorted by party politics and issue-based lobbying, much
of which may again be played out before the Environment Sub-committee.
9. The Council would therefore wish to confine
the evidence of its own experience to more objective, external
measures. As an inner London authority, operating under an indirectly
elected executive mayor and cabinet, and with a rapidly developing
and effective scrutiny system, the Council has in the past two
Received a very favourable OFSTED
report (June 2000), which commented on the new Council's political
management systems in the following terms. "The changes have
been received with almost universal approval from headteachers,
governors, opposition spokesperson and officers spoken to during
the inspection. The scrutiny panel is seen as enabling much more
rigorous and detailed discussions of educational matters than
previously and with less political point scoring." (3)
Received an equally favourable review
by the Improvement and Development Agency (March 2000) which commented
"The new political structure has shifted direct accountability
for decisions to the Mayor and his Deputies, a responsibility
that they acknowledge and commit to seriously and enthusiastically.
In addition other non-executive and opposition members display
a real commitment to ensuring the new system is successful and
to working together constructively to make it a success."
Been designated by DETR as a "well
above average" housing authority, for the fourth year in
Received uniformly satisfactory annual
management letters from the District Auditor for several years,
commending the authority's financial management and the contribution
that effective political management has made to this.
Been similarly commended by the District
Auditor for its first annual Local Performance Plan (April 2000).
Remained a cohesive public service
organisation, providing the vast majority of its services through
its own competent and committed workforce, despite the current
huge problems of retaining and recruiting staff in Inner London.
Worked closely with the Police, Health
Services and other agencies in tackling problems of social exclusion,
crime and disorder and public health.
Worked closely with the business
community and major developers in reducing unemployment, extending
affordable housing, renewing town centres, and regenerating the
Developed its community leadership
role, established a Borough Partnership, and drawn up a multi-agency
community strategy for the next decade.
Sought to consult and involve local
people in all that it does.
10. The Council would therefore want its
systems of political management to be judged firstly by the quality
of services it delivers to local people. And secondly by their
contribution to leadership and governance in an area of London
marked by major social divides, and where competing public interests
can often be stark, contentious, and difficult to resolve through
the democratic process. The Council considers its new political
management system to have contributed to achieving these goals.
But it is by no means the over-riding factor in the local authority's
success and effectiveness.
11. In answer to the first of the five issues
set down by the Environment Sub-Committee, the Council's response
would therefore be that:
new models have some "efficiency
gains" over traditional committee structures (although there
are unlikely to be significant resource savings, if effective
checks and balances are operated within the scrutiny function)
much greater transparency is achieved
through systems in which the realities of political decision-making
processes are matched in the formal structures (as compared with
the mismatch under traditional committee structures)
accountability and visibility of
political leadership, and of "scrutineers", is significantly
greater in new structures. This has been one of the most apparent
changes at H&F in the past two and a half years.
12. On the role of councillors, LBHF would
again stress the need for wider public understanding that the
role is demanding and requires very substantial time commitment
for executive members and leading scrutiny members, in unitary
authorities with large budgets. Training, development, and allowance
systems need to reflect this. The impact of executive models on
officers remains an issue insufficiently addressed at national
level (see paras 22, 23 of previous evidence to Joint Committee).
The codes and protocols introduced at LBHF in 1998, coupled with
longstanding good relationships between councillors and officers,
have proved sufficiently robust to weather any tensions to date.
13. The Council's experience of setting
up scrutiny committees is set out in an annual report prepared
by the chairs of the Council's Scrutiny Panels in May 2000 (5).
The scrutiny process is considered to have developed well over
the last 18 months. LBHF, being a geographically small borough,
has no particular experience to offer of area committees or other
14. The main difficulty in implementing
the provisions of LGA (part II) has been late modifications made
to the Act in its final stages in Parliament, and the subsequent
delays in issuing of final Guidance and Regulations by DETR (particularly
on the operation of Executives and access to information). Although
now issued, these parts of the regulatory framework will prove
difficult and complex to administer, and to interpret on a day
to day basis.
15. As previously stated (evidence to Joint
Select Committee paras 6-9), the Council believes that the distinction
between a directly mayor, and an indirectly elected mayor or "strong"
leader, to be a fine one in the mind of the public. The early
attempts in 1997-98 to focus debate on local government around
the directly elected mayor model has (in the Council's view) been
something of a distraction from the more fundamental aspects of
1. Written evidence to LGA Hearing on Political
Leadership and Ethics 1999.
2. Memorandum of evidence to Joint Committee
on the Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill
published in HL paper 101-11 July 1999.
3. OFSTED report on the Hammersmith and
Fulham LEA (OFSTED June 2000, and published on IDeA website and
4. IDeA review of LB Hammersmith and Fulham
March 2000 (published on IDeA website and at lbhf.gov.uk).
5. Annual report on LBHF scrutiny system
(LBHF Council Meeting 24 May 2000).