Memorandum by Gateshead Council (LGA 04)
It is difficult at the present time to give
a definitive verdict on the success of the Local Government Act
2000. This is for two main reasons:
many of the Act's key features, such
as new constitutions and the new ethical framework, have yet to
be fully implemented;
the Act forms just one part, although
a significant part, of the Government's modernising agenda for
local government; it needs to be looked at in conjunction with
the local government White Paper, the reform of the local government
finance system, the Representation of the People Act 2000 and
numerous other initiatives.
That said, the Council generally welcomes the
provisions of the Act, which it believes will help to foster a
system of local government that is more open and accountable and
more fully engaged with local people and stakeholders. The comments
that follow should be read in this context; they draw attention
to certain points which may need more thought.
This submission takes each Part of the Local
Government Act in turn.
The general power to take action to promote
the economic, social or environmental well-being of the authority's
area is, of course, a power which has long been sought by local
government. Gateshead Council welcomes this power, which recognises
the Council's role in promoting the welfare of its residents.
The new arrangements allow for greater flexibility than the previous
rather restrictive arrangements.
The Council looks forward to early delegated
legislation giving effect to the promised clarification of local
authorities' powers to charge for discretionary services.
The Council also views positively the duty to
prepare community strategies and consult with local communities.
It is important that the Government, in issuing guidance on these
issues, recognises that conditions vary from one authority to
another and does not try to be too prescriptive in its approach.
In Gateshead Council, as no doubt in many other
authorities, the new constitution under this Part of the Act does
not take effect until May 2002. However, the Council has found
the process of preparing a constitution to be a very worthwhile
experience. We believe that this has enabled us to draw up a form
of constitution which will bring many benefits, not least the
fact that consultation with local people on all significant issues
will be built into the new arrangements.
It is interesting to note that to date the concept
of the elected Mayor has attracted support in relatively few authorities.
There have, however, been suggestions that the Government might
wish to "force the pace" on this issue. This Council
would be opposed to any attempt to impose elected Mayors on authorities
where local people have not expressed a preference for this form
of constitution. As the legislation stands, a petition signed
by five per cent of the electorate is sufficient to trigger a
referendum on an elected Mayor; if this degree of support is not
forthcoming there should be no grounds for taking the matter further.
This Part of the Act has given rise to a plethora
of secondary legislation much of which is of greater than usual
obscurity. While a degree of complexity may be inevitable in dealing
with matters of detail, part of the problem seems to lie in an
over-prescriptive approach. An example can be found in the rules
which specify which members may or may not be appointed to joint
committees; these rules have now been amended but only after authorities
had spent a great deal of effort trying to make sense of the original,
highly prescriptive, rules. It is not a mark of good legislation
that regulations have to be amended by further regulations before
the primary legislation is fully in force.
This Council is fully committed to promoting
the highest standards of conduct and is happy to work within the
framework laid down by the Act.
How effectively that framework will operate
in practice is something that still remains to be seen. At its
best, it should provide local people with the reassurance that
standards of conduct in local government continue to be very highas
was found by the Nolan Committee. At worst, it could provide encouragement
for a spate of politically motivated complaints which will do
nothing for local people's trust in their Councillors. The situation
is not helped by the inclusion in the Members' Code of Conduct
of a clause requiring every Councillor to report to the Standards
Board for England any breach of the Code of which he/she becomes
awarea provision which has been described as Orwellian.
There will be a heavy responsibility on the
Standards Board to handle complaints in a fair and proper manner
but also to deal robustly with complaints that are ill-founded
The Act empowers the Secretary of State to change
the frequency of local authority elections.
This Council sees no particular reason for the
Secretary of State to exercise this power, certainly as far as
metropolitan authorities are concerned.
Section 99 of the Act allows provision to be
made for the payment of pensions to such members of a local authority
as may be prescribed in regulations.
As the sub-committee will no doubt be aware,
the Government issued last year a consultation paper on pensions
for elected members. This proposed that eligibility should be
restricted to executive members and chairs of overview and scrutiny
committees. This Council expressed the view that this proposal
is not only divisive and unfair but fails to address disincentives
to serving as a Councillor, which the Government has stated should
be an objective of members' remuneration schemes.
The Council believes that all Councillors should
be eligible to join the Local Government Pension Scheme and hopes
that the Government will reconsider its proposals.
The Local Government Act 2000 marks a significant
step in the modernising agenda for local government. The Council
now looks forward to the introduction of further modernising measures
as outlined in the recent Local Government White Paper, such as:
a simplified, more transparent and
fairer system of funding for local government
greater discretion over borrowing
and greater freedom to invest
a streamlined, integrated and proportionate
review and inspection system
These and similar measures will ensure that
the executive arrangements created under the Act are effective
in delivering improved public services and speaking for local