Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - First Report


APPENDIX 16

Memorandum by Eastleigh Borough Council

  This submission covers two aspects of local government democratic management.

  (1)  (briefly) the need for new frameworks to focus on outcomes rather than process; and

  (2)  (more fully) suggesting how the draft Bill could be improved to enable a more effective local area focus to democratic management and decision arrangements.

SUMMARY OF EASTLEIGH'S PROPOSALS

Outcome

  A.  Part I of the Bill should begin with a concise statement of the outcome objectives of council democratic management arrangements, reflecting the following objectives:

    A.1  responsiveness to, and leadership of, local communities;

    A2  openness, transparency and accountability;

    A.3  better and better value in local services; and

    A.4  effective partnership with public sector and other agencies in responding to community needs.

The Local Dimension

  B.  The Bill should be amended so that councils have the discretion to devolve executive decisions on local services and issues to a local executive. The Bill would also need to ensure that secondary legislation or directive decisions devolved to the Secretary of State also reflect this principle.

  C.  A councillor on the "main" executive should be not precluded from being on such a local executive in the context of local decisions (other than any which might relate to scrutiny of the main executive).

DETAILED SUBMISSION

Introduction

  1.  Eastleigh Borough Council is committed to being a modern and effective Council. We carried out a major modernisation of the way we worked in 1996, and have established a national reputation as a result. We were one of the final five for "Council of the Year" in 1998 on the basis of our "Excellence through Partnership" approach, and were similarly short listed in two other LGC Award categories this year.

  2.  We hope that our proposals will help to strengthen the underlying intent of the Government's modernising objective.

  A schematic outline of a framework model reflecting proposals B and C is the Annex to this submission.[Not printed.]

The Approach—Outcome or Process?

  3.  The draft Bill and its related consultation paper are disappointingly "process" orientated, rather than focussing on "outcomes" or "impact". We would like to have seen much more on the outcome and impact context, and rather less prescription, or narrowing of discretion, around organisational process and frameworks.

  4.  The sort of outcomes we suggest should feature specifically in the Bill include:

    4.1  responsiveness to, and leadership of, local communities

    4.2  openness, transparency and accountability

    4.3  better and better value in local services

    4.4  effective partnership with public sector and other agencies in responding to community needs.

  5.  We believe these outcomes underpin the Government's approach, as it has moved from Green Papers, to White Paper and on to draft Bill. However, in moving forward, the focus on "What is to be achieved?" has blurred and instead we are getting—"this is how it will be done".

  6.  Proposal—Part 1 of the Bill should begin with a concise statement of the outcome objectives of council democratic management arrangements, reflecting the sort of points in paragraph 4.

Local Dimension

  7.  The Government's proposals have specifically recognised the relevance of a local area approach. It mentions that it expects to see a wide variety of local arrangements around both local area committees and neighbourhood forums. However, we do not see in either the draft Bill or the related "Local Leadership, Local Choice" consultation paper a real in depth understanding and appreciation of the scope of initiatives which some councils have developed, and what they have been able to achieve.

The Eastleigh Approach

  8.  For example, Eastleigh's approach is the outcome of a major modernisation review in 1995 and 1996. It was underpinned from the outset by outcome objectives on the broad lines of those in paragraph 4, along with the aim to be both more strategic in outlook and more local in action.

  9.  We have a democratic management structure with—

    9.1  A small, cross-party, Policy and Review Committee, responsible for all strategic and main policy decisions.

    9.2  Policy and Review Committee has three Sub-Committees—Resources, Best Value and Scrutiny, and Contract Services (a Management Sub-Committee is able to be called to deal with urgent business, but is rarely needed).

    9.3  Five Local Area Committees responsible for local services, most development control decisions and local community issues.

    9.4  Working Groups (councillors, staff and outside agencies) who brainstorm policy initiatives and help focus Council activity in cross-cutting work (such as Health, Environment, Community Safety, Anti-Poverty and Economic Development).

    9.5  A Standards Committee.

  10.  Local Area Committees have a wide ranging remit.

    10.1  An increasing proportion of the Council's budget has been devolved to them—currently £3.1 million net revenue (or 30 per cent of total net revenue budget) and 50 per cent of the capital budget.

    10.2  Each is, in effect, a "local executive" made up of the councillors for the particular area.

    10.3  Each meets at a community venue within its own local area.

    10.4  Each has freedom to operate within the broad framework of Council policy and the Committee's revenue and capital budgets.

    10.5  Each determines local services on a yearly, on-going, basis.

    10.6  Each reflects the political balance of the local councillors for the particular area, rather than the control or balance at Council level.

  11.  Eastleigh is just one example of this sort of approach, there are other councils with broadly similar concepts.

Local Executives

  12.  The impact of the draft Bill in its current form would seem to require many local decisions currently taken by the local councillors, in their local area, at public meetings (with a substantial public interest and attendance levels) to be taken back into a central executive. We feel strongly that this would be a retrograde step if we were compelled to take it, and one that would be contrary to the interests of responsiveness, openness, transparency and accountability.

  13.  Proposal—The Bill should be amended so that councils have the discretion to devolve executive decisions on local services and issues to a local executive or executive area committee. The Bill would also need to ensure that secondary legislative or directive decisions devolved to the Secretary of State also reflect this principle.

  14.  Giving councils such a choice—

    14.1  Would not undermine the principle of a central executive—as executive decisions needed other than at local level would be for such an executive. (Whilst we have some other concerns about aspects of the central executive models, we recognise that the Government is committed to the principle).

    14.2  Could also address much of the concern felt by many about the future role of councillors not part of the "main" executive. (We do not see the proposed role in the same "powerful" terms as the consultation paper). It could give them a clear, pro-active role in a range of local decisions which a council preferred to see taken by the representatives of a particular area, rather than by an Elected Mayor or one or more in a Cabinet, who might have no local connection with the area concerned.

    14.3  Has the potential to give councillors in a political group not "in power" at council-wide level, the opportunity to have the power to take local decisions at local area level where the political balance were different. This has the potential to give such councillors a role as stakeholders in a council's democratic executive decision process, in a way which better reflects the ballot box decisions of electors in a local area. (For example, although one political party in Eastleigh has 29 councillors and the other two parties a total of 15, it does not have a majority on two of the five Local Area Committees).

    14.4  Would fit well with councils which chose to deal with development control and/or other quasi-judicial or licensing matters at local area level.

    14.5  Would help give a local focus to scrutiny of the central executive.

    14.6  Would be consistent with the principles of openness, transparency and accountability in the Government's proposals, and indeed would be likely to enhance those principles in the eyes of local communities/electorate.

  15.  The Annex to this submission is a schematic outline of a model reflecting this approach—

    —  The model is based on the White Paper Figure 3 Model (Leader with Cabinet). Changes to that Figure 3 Model are in italics.

    —  The Local Executive may comprise some or all of the councillors representing particular locality (and possible councillors representing a different locality?).

    —  Council should have wide discretion to decide the split between delegated powers of Leader/Cabinet and those of Local Executives.

    —  Local Executives shown as accountable to Council rather than to Leader/Cabinet. (Although for some there might be an issue where should there be discretion for accountability to be to Leader/Cabinet if it were the local choice).

    —  Leader and councillors in the Cabinet may also be in a Local Executive (including as Leader of a Local Executive). This would enable a council to have a Cabinet including some or all of the Local Executive Leaders.

  16.  A broadly similar model could also be developed, building from the Elected Mayor/Cabinet model—although this is not one we would favour.

  17.  Whether or not the proposal in paragraph 4 is reflected in the Bill, consideration needs to be given to the position, in the context of a local executive, of a councillor who is part of the central executive.

  18.  Proposal—A councillor on the "main" executive should not be precluded from being on such a local executive in the context of local decisions (other than any which might relate to scrutiny of the main executive).

  19.  This proposal would avoid the exclusion from decisions on local matters (including development control, other quasi-judicial or licencing) of Cabinet councillors—and would thus reflect the national parliamentary, model where Prime Minister and Ministers can still act as local MPs.

  20.  It would also enable a council to adopt an approach to its Cabinet (or central executive) of including some or all of its Local Executive Leaders, to strengthen the "strategic/local" linkages.

CONCLUSION

  21.  The Eastleigh proposals do not undermine the Government's commitment to the principles of an Executive Mayor or Cabinet model. Rather they seek better to integrate that executive model with a locally devolved approach, to give councils wider choice in their detailed proposals in the best interests of achieving the sort of outcomes outlined in proposal A and paragraph 4.

  22.  Eastleigh has already offered its experience of modernising with a local area focus to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to assist the Government with the refining of their proposals.

  23.  We are very appreciative of the opportunity to make this submission to the Joint Select Committee, and hope that it will be of assistance in its deliberations.

June 1999


 
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