Memorandum by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough
1. I am writing to submit written evidence
to the Joint Committee on behalf of this authority.
Need for the Bill
2. The authority supports the Bill and has
already moved to one of the model political structures set out
in the draft Billthe Cabinet with Leader modelwhich
has been in operation since 4 February 1999.
3. We particularly welcome the Government's
publication of a Bill in draft form and have taken the opportunity
to make detailed comments, based on our local experience, to the
4. The White Paper "Modern Local Government
In Touch with the People", published by the DETR
in July last year, included provision for a proposed new duty
on local authorities to promote the social, economic and environmental
well-being of local communities. The authority considers that
this issue is central to the modernisation agenda and that the
new duty should be included in the final form of the latest Bill.
Model Political Structures
5. The details relating to the Cabinet with
Leader option as set out in the Draft Bill accord very closely
with the new structure adopted in Barnsley.
6. One issue of concern is that the Draft
Bill does not appear to make provision for deputies for members
of the Cabinet. In our own arrangements, we have a Cabinet of
nine members (including the Leader), each with a deputy. The authority
considers that this is an important and necessary part of the
new structure, with deputies being required to cover the unavoidable
occasions when a member of the Cabinet is unable to attend a meeting
and also to provide general support in the work of a Cabinet member
within his or her particular portfolio. The Government should
not under-estimate the considerable demands placed on "executive"
members within the new forms of local governance, and the consequent
need for some support.
7. The authority welcomes the emphasis placed
in the Draft Bill and its associated consultation paper, on local
flexibility within the three models. It is important that this
flexibility is retained in the final form of the legislation and
in any subsequent regulations issued by the Secretary of State.
For example, there has to be scope for flexibility in the arrangements
adopted by individual authorities to meet the requirements in
the Draft Bill for "overview and scrutiny committees".
In our own case, the authority has chosen to meet these requirements
by means of (i) six permanent Scrutiny Commissions which, amongst
other functions, scrutinise the recommendations and decisions
of Cabinet and the delivery of Council services and policies generally;
and (ii) policy workshops, which are convened as necessary to
review or develop areas of Council policy and make recommendations
to the Cabinet and Council.
Referendum Procedure and Consultation
8. We endorse the emphasis given in the
consultation paper and Draft Bill to the importance of the process
of developing a new political structure being driven by the views
of local people and stakeholders. This has been, and will continue
to be, central to our own change process in Barnsley. We will
continue an open dialogue with local people and organisations.
9. There must, however, be an appreciation
of the need for this consultation to be meaningful, recognising
the complexity of the requirements. The process must be systematic
10. Our own consultation exercises locally
have confirmed that there is, unfortunately, a significant lack
of understanding of, and engagement with, local government and
local democracy. It is this issue which drives the agenda for
change. Against this background, however, it is questionable whether
a "one off" consultation exercise based on a proposed
new "constitution" for a local council will produce
11. This authority's approach has been to
undertake surveys of public opinion including focus groups
based around wide ranging issues of local governance,
to identify the requirements and principles which should be central
to the process of developing a new political structure and ways
of working; in order to deliver the improvements in accountability
and responsiveness which local people are seeking. The process
of consultation, dialogue and response will be an ongoing one,
including as part of the evaluation of the authority's new political
structure during its first twelve months of operation.
12. Another point drawn from our own experience
is that local people may not regard the form of executive within
a proposed "constitution" as being the only, or indeed
the main, issue. In Barnsley, the public and other stakeholders
were, and are, concerned significantly with the mechanisms through
which the Council is made more accountable and responsive to the
needs and preferences of local areas within the Borough.
13. The Draft Bill appears to be based on
the premise that all authorities are currently running traditional
committee structures and have yet to commence the process of modernisation.
This is very far from being the case, as experience in my own
authority demonstrates. Further consideration should be given
to how the consultation and other requirements of the Bill will
relate to authorities who are already well advanced in the modernisation
process, and can demonstrate that they have engaged effectively
with local opinion. This is a particularly important issue given
the exhortation in the earlier White Paper for authorities to
be proactive in advance of legislation.
30 June 1999