Joint Committee on the Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Report


REPORT


The Joint Committee on the Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill has agreed to the following Report:—

DRAFT LOCAL GOVERNMENT (ORGANISATION AND STANDARDS) BILL

  I. SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

General

We see merit in the inclusion of a clause at the beginning of the bill to state that its purpose is to achieve greater efficiency, transparency and accountability. (Para 30)

Model structures for executive arrangements

We consider that the bill can be viewed as an enabling measure. (Para 33)

We recommend that a clear indication of the options available to a local authority following the defeat of a referendum called by the Secretary of State be placed on the face of the bill. In order to remain faithful to the principles of "Local Leadership, Local Choice", provision might be made for the Secretary of State to receive proposals for models excluding an elected mayor within a specified time of the defeat of such a referendum on change in general. (Para 40)

An authority where decision-making is normally taken on the floor of its committees should be allowed to apply to the Secretary of State under clause 2 (5) for confirmation of arrangements not in conformity with the executive arrangements on the face of the bill. In exercising his discretion, the Secretary of State should have regard to whether:

  • the decision-making process has been enhanced;

  • the authority has engaged in public consultation;

  • the arrangements proposed for that particular authority better meet the principles of transparency, accountability and efficiency than any of the models prescribed; or

  • the authority has no tradition of party political control. (Para 42)

We recognise that some local authorities have already developed executive arrangements but with the inclusion of decision-making area committees and joint county/district partnership committees. We recommend that the draft bill should be capable of accommodating them, and that the guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State should clarify the basis on which local authority constitutions might include provision for the continuance or development of such committees within a corporate framework. (Para 47).

An additional model of a council leader with council manager may well appeal, for example, to some rural, a-political or traditionally hung authorities. It is, moreover, entirely consistent with the establishment of executive arrangements and complements the logic behind the other three models. We therefore recommend for the avoidance of doubt that a council leader with council manager model be included in clause 2 of the draft bill. (Para 49)

Elected mayors

There is a good case for singling out the question whether or not to adopt one of the two mayoral models for referendum procedure. The questions posed in any referendum must be drawn up even-handedly. (Para 66)

Guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State should allow any authority wishing to adopt an elected mayor option to make such provision regarding nomenclature of that elected post and the discharge of ceremonial duties as it considers appropriate, so far as existing statutory or charter provisions allow. (Para 68)

The Government should address in the bill the lack of electoral mandate of the deputy in the event that the elected mayor dies, is disqualified or resigns. (Para 71)

We invite the Government to consider whether a recall provision should be included in the bill before it is introduced. (Para 74)

Referendums and Petitions

The procedures for referendum and petitioning should be fully developed while the bill is still before Parliament and the arrangements for the conduct of these procedures must be in place before the commencement of any Act on the lines of the draft bill.

The key arrangements to be specified in regulations should be listed in the bill, such regulations to be available in draft while the bill is still before Parliament.

The form of question to be put in any referendum should be approved by the proposed Electoral Commission.

The Secretary of State should not hesitate to keep under review the appropriateness of the 5 per cent figure necessary for a petition to trigger a referendum.

The bill should require a referendum to be held on any proposal to move away from an elected mayor system to another executive structure not involving an elected mayor. (Para 87)

Separation of powers

We recommend that following consultation with local government representatives, the Government should draw up joint practice notes to minimise confusion between executive action and policy framework, and that such guidelines should be available before the bill is brought before Parliament. (Para 92)

The executive

The size of executive should be set on the face of the bill at not fewer than 6 and not more than 10, leaving the authority to decide on its preferred size having regard to functions and allocation of portfolios. Deputies or substitute members should be specifically disallowed. (Para 101)

The current uncertainty over what will constitute executive functions is unsatisfactory. There is a strong case for placing the criteria to be observed by the Secretary of State in framing any regulations on the face of the bill. Our list of types of functions which ought not to be discharged by the executive would include development control, statutory regulatory duties (like licensing, housing and environmental health regulatory duties) and quasi-judicial functions. The Secretary of State should by regulation be enabled to amend the list. (Para 104)

It is possible that new executive arrangements will heighten potential tensions between the strategic planning and development control functions. Government guidelines should therefore provide that local authorities operating under new structures provide in their constitutions working arrangements which ensure that effective exchange of information takes place. (Para 107)

A framework of principles governing the recording of decisions of the executive should be inserted on the face of the bill, including: the prior consultation of officers; recording by officers; and the availability of factual and analytical material supporting each decision. Material recorded should, in the case of planning decisions, include records of any contact, whether formal or informal, between applicants or their agents and officers or councillors. In the interests of openness, such decisions and material should be published. (Para 113)

Council Officers

We recommend that the arrangements for appointment of a Council Manager be clarified. (Para 115)

Contracts of employment of the head of paid service and all officers of the authority should be with the Council; but nothing should prevent specialisation in service of executive or council, nor career mobility between the two. We further recommend that a review of the effect of the bill on the employment of local government officers be carried out five years after the commencement of any Act. (Para 122)

While a detailed definition of the role and function of a Chief Executive is unnecessary, we recommend that either in a schedule or by regulations the core functions of a Chief Executive be set out, so as to include:

—  overall management responsibility;

  • the provision of professional advice to all parties in the decision-making process (executive, scrutiny and other committees of the Council);
  • political neutrality;
  • responsibility for a system of record keeping for all executive decisions; and
  • service to the whole council. (Para 126)

We recommend that the Government give guidance about the tasks and duties of the Council Manager and nature of the relationship between the Council Manager and Mayor. To the extent that the Manager assumes the responsibilities of Chief Executive, the preceding recommendations should apply. (Para 127)

We recommend that the provisions in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which protect the head of paid service from dismissal should be extended to cover monitoring officers and section 151 officers. (Para 130)

Councillors

The Committee recommends that any eventual Act and the regulations or guidance governing its implementation should ensure that local authorities adopt constitutions that offer the powerful roles for non-executive councillors described in the best case scenarios in Annex 2. We believe that this will be made more likely if the recommendations we make elsewhere in this report on decision-making, information and scrutiny committees are adopted. (Para 142)

We recommend that guidelines be published setting out the full range of possible duties of councillors not on the executive and fulfilling a community role; together with ways in which they may be enabled better to fulfil them. (Para 144)


 
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