1. As part of the Government's plans to 'modernise'
local government, a Local Government Act was passed in 2000. It
2. The key changes introduced by the Act were to:
3. The draft Bill was scrutinised by a Joint Committee
but the Government took very little notice of its findings. Our
predecessor Committee received evidence on Local Authority Governance
in 2001, which was very
critical of the new arrangements. It was not able to make a report
because of the dissolution of Parliament. When we were established
we resolved to undertake an inquiry into 'How the Local Government
Act 2000 is Working.' The evidence submitted to this inquiry reinforces
the concerns expressed last year.
4. We received written memoranda from 41 organisations
and took oral evidence from 16 individuals and organisations in
April and May 2002, culminating in evidence from the Rt Hon Nick
Raynsford MP, Minister of State for Local Government and the Regions.
We appointed Professor Sir Michael Lyons and David Powell as our
advisors and are grateful to them and all who submitted written
memoranda and gave oral evidence to the Committee.
5. It is still early days with some of the provisions
of the Act having only recently come into force and the regulations
and guidance having been amended several times.
Our evidence and as a result our Report, refers not only to the
Act but to the plethora of regulations and guidance that accompanies
it. "There is only one Act but something like 17 sets
of regulations and over 300 pages of guidance and all of it keeps
being amended or revised and reissued."
The majority of our evidence came from councils that have chosen
the Leader and Cabinet model for their new executive arrangements,
corresponding to the position across local authorities as a whole.
Again, this is reflected in our Report.
6. Our Report makes reference to three recent local
government White Papers:
(i) Modern Local Government: In Touch
With the People, which was produced by the Government in July
1998 and set out its new programme of local government 'modernisation'
which aimed to create a "radical refocusing of councils'
(ii) Local Leadership: Local Choice,
published in March 1999, which accompanied the draft Bill (later
to become the Local Government Act 2000);
(iii) Strong Local Leadership: Quality
Public Services, which was published in December 2001 and
amongst other things sets out the Government's ambition to "remove
unnecessary controls which stifle innovation."
When we took evidence, the Department for Transport,
Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) was responsible for local
government. The responsibility has since been transferred to the
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).
7. The Government has recently commenced a five year
study to evaluate the effectiveness of the Act.
Officials told us that the ultimate criteria of success would
be "the impact on the vitality of local democracy and in
the quality of outcomes."
Our Report does not deal with the 2000 Act in its entirety. We
concentrate on the key issues raised in our evidence which relate
to the Government's most important objectives for the Act. Our
Report considers the Government's aims to:
The report below examines the extent to which these
aims have been met.
8. As we have undertaken our inquiry we have become
increasingly aware and concerned about the councillors who report
that they feel "excluded"
from the decision-making process. A number of witnesses have suggested
that the creation of a small, separate executive has left the
vast majority of non-executive councillors less well informed
and less able to take on their new role as 'community leaders.'
Questions are asked about whether this will reduce the flow of
informed members who might take on executive roles in the future.
We are concerned that the Government has tended to discount the
views of these councillors as transitional problems as they adapt
to changes their ways of working.
The Government should recognise that if there are problems
with the legislation, it is likely that they would identified
most quickly by councillors who are operating under the new arrangements.