Memorandum by London Borough of Barnet
1. AN INTRODUCTION
This briefing provides Barnet council's response
to an invitation, by the inquiry of the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee
of the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, Local Government
and the Regions, for evidence into the effective working of the
Local Government Act 2000.
The council wholeheartedly supported the aspirations
and requirements of the Act.
The briefing outlines how the council has complied
with the Act to introduce new decision making structures which,
it believes, are greatly enhancing the effectiveness of this authority
in delivering services which create opportunity for all.
Barnet Council is committed to creating a modern
and attractive borough where all residents can enjoy the highest
standards of education, the best job opportunities and a real
quality of life.
2. THE LONDON
Barnet which is situated in north London, was
formed following local government reorganisation in 1965.
It covers 8,663 Hectares, has a population of
340,000 and enjoys an ethnically diverse community living in and
around the communities of Hendon, Finchley, Edgware, Golders Green,
Whetstone and Barnet.
The council currently has 60 elected members
representing 20 wards. This will increase to 63 councillors representing
21 wards in the local elections of May 2002.
There is currently a Labour and Liberal Democrat
The council, which employs a staff of 9,300
is the largest employer in the borough.
3. THE COUNCIL'S
In recent years the council has undertaken a
comprehensive and constructively critical review of all its decision
While this has been in response to a range of
Government initiatives(including Modern Local Government:
In Touch with the People (July 1998)it has also been
driven by the council's determination to improve its own policy
making and service delivery.
In particular the council was acutely aware
that the traditional local government structures, particularly
the unwieldy committee system, were inadequate to meet the demands
of the 21st Century.
The council also believed they were not conducive
to the development of a truly open system of local government
where all residents have the opportunity to influence both decision
making and service delivery.
As a result the council introduced, in November
1998, a radical new structure for local government, based on a
leader/cabinet modelor an interim basis
4. THE NEW
In order to determine the best way forward,
in the long term, Barnet council undertook a comprehensive review
of the existing structure through a special member-level scrutiny
The commission met regularly between October
2000 and April 2001. It received papers and presentations from
officers on the requirements of the Local Government Act 2000,
considered guidance from the then DETR and heard evidence from
a wide range of interested groups.
The findings revealed a clear preference for
the now established leader and cabinet executive model of local
government for Barnet.
The commission's reportto this effectwas
subsequently endorsed by the council in May 2001.
The council's new constitution was agreed at
the annual council meeting later that month.
The council's new structure is based on the
cabinet and leader approach to policy making with the establishment
of comprehensive, member-led scrutiny mechanisms.
The Cabinet, which formerly exercised its influence
through meetings of a politically balanced policy and Implementation
committee, now comprises members from the political groups which
form the administration.
It is chaired by the Leader of the council.
The Cabinet meets formally, and in public, to
exercise its decision-making functions.
In addition, while a number of cabinet committees
have been established to lead in key policy areas, executive functions
are delegated to individual cabinet members and council officers.
The council's overview and scrutiny function
is now effectively delivered through seven service focused scrutiny
committees and a cabinet overview and scrutiny committee, which
has the power to "call-in" executive decisions.
This power is exercised post-decision, but prior
to implementation, and applies to decisions of the cabinet, cabinet
committees and individual cabinet members.
It is also able to call-in decisions of area
committees and those of individual officers.
The council retains responsibility for all of
those functions required by legislation and a number of "local
To make the process more effective, the exercise
of some council functions is delegated to a small number of specific
These are the general functions committee; planning
and environment committee; area planning sub-committees and area
environment sub-committees and to officers.
In addition the whole council meets, outside
the very formal constraints of a council meeting, as the council
This gives individual councillors the opportunity
to ask questions of the Cabinet and debate policy initiatives
promoted by the administration, the opposition and individual
It also provides an opportunity for members
to make comment on the work of the cabinet.
This provides an effective forum for debating
policy initiatives in an environment free of many of the restrictions
which would apply to formal meetings of the full council.
The role of individual councillors, who are
now free of the burden placed upon them by the unwieldy committee
structure, has been focused to enable them to tackle community
issues more effectively.
The council has also introduced local area forums
which give residents the chance to take an active part in the
policy and service delivery process.
Area committees have also been established to
deal with local development control and environment issues.
Barnet council has also restructured its officer
structure to ensure this is effectively aligned to the new policy
making structure of the council.
Because Barnet council was embracing the modernisation
process, in advance of the legal requirements of the Local Government
Act 2000, it was able to introduce the new way of working in an
efficient and effective way.
The cultural change in Barnet, for members and
officers, has been gradual rather than sudden and this has brought
Members and officers were able to adapt to the
cabinet's new executive powers, and the more public influence
the cabinet enjoys in the decision-making process.
In addition individual councillors have recognised
and embraced their role outside the executive and are developing
this to excellent effect.
To improve the system still further, the council
has established a cross-party, ad hoc, committee to review its
operation. Members and officers have been invited to make comment
on the operation of the new constitution and suggest amendments
that would improve its clarity and operation.
6. THE CONCLUSION
Barnet welcomed the changes imposed on local
authorities by the Local Government Act 2000 because these were
very much in line with its own thinking on the way to meet the
challenges faced by local council's in the new century.
As a result Barnet council has been able to
introduce a new and effective way of working.
This will be vital in it enhancing the opportunity
for all its residents to enjoy living in a modern and attractive
borough, with the highest standards of education, the best job
opportunities and a real quality of life.