Memorandum by Epsom and Ewell Borough
1.1 The Borough Council shares with the
Government much of its vision for modernising local government.
Before the Command Paper, "Local Leadership, Local Choice"
and the Draft Bill were published, the Council had already agreed
to introduce a new decision making structure immediately following
this May's local elections.
1.2 The key objectives of the new structure
To involve the community more in
A simpler structure that produces
More effective scrutiny of performance.
Maintenance of the highest standards
1.3 We do not agree with the Government
that these objectives can be met by taking policy and executive
decision making behind closed doors, whether by a directly elected
Mayor or an executive Cabinet meeting in private. The Council
is committed to policy being decided by a politically balanced
group of Councillors that meets in public. We are committed to
1.4 Ministers stress the importance of flexibility
in the development of new decision making arrangements, and the
Draft Bill provides the Secretary of State with the power to make
regulations that will recognise variations on the Government's
preferred structural models. We want to see a provision in the
Bill that recognises new structures such as ours, which embrace
the Government's wider objectives, but retain the fundamental
principle of open debate on decisions.
2. THE SORT
2.1 Epsom and Ewell Borough Council is relatively
small. It has a population of approximately 70,000, and is a small
urban area on the southwest fringes of London. It has had the
same boundaries since it received its Charter in the 1930's, and
since that date Residents' Association Councillors have been in
overall control. The current allocation of seats is 27 RA Councillors,
nine Liberal Democrats and three Labour Councillors. This is a
unique tradition in local government.
2.2 The Council has an established track
record as an innovative authority that is committed to providing
quality services, and being at the leading edge of best practice
in its management arrangements.
2.3 It has a performance management system
that has been a model for other Councils, in this country and
sometimes abroad. It has retained Charter Marks for the second
term for its Land Charges and Environmental Health Services. It
conducts a biennial residents' survey, and has an established
Residents' Panel (the Epsom and Ewell Exchange) that is regularly
surveyed for community views on service developments and assessing
needs. We also take roadshows and community meetings out into
the Borough, so that local Councillors can listen to the community
in the shopping centre, in the Church Hall, outside the Library,
2.4 The Council is an Associate Best Value
Pilot for the fundamental review of all of its services, and is
working with Surrey County Council, which is a Best Value Pilot,
for assessing community needs and delivery of services, using
Epsom and Ewell as a trial area.
2.5 The Council is committed to being at
the leading edge of the modernising agendacontinuous improvement
is central to its Vision and Mission.
3. OUR NEW
3.1 A chart of our new structure that was
implemented in May 1999 is attached as an Annexe.
3.2 We agree that the traditional service
committee structure based on professional and departmental boundaries
is out of date. We have replaced those committees with three new
Commissions, focused on the community's prime concern about social,
leisure and development issues. These Commissions are politically
balanced and each of the 13 Wards is represented. Their prime
role is policy and budget setting.
3.3 We agree that the traditional structure
does not always deliver speedy decisions necessary in the modern
world. Greater delegation to Officers, within a policy framework
set by Members, is integral to our structure.
3.4 We agree that the local community of
residents, businesses and the voluntary sector must be more closely
involved with the Council. Under each of our three Commissions,
we have introduced a set of Boards of Councillors and community/partner
organisation representatives. This is the focus for community
involvement in policy development and service review.
3.5 We agree that Councillors need more
support and the time to develop their Ward and representational
roles. Our new structure has reduced the number of evening Committee
meetings from 145 last year, to 85 in the current year (with the
exception of fortnightly Cabinet meetings for six of the 39 Councillors).
3.6 We have introduced a job description
for the role of Councillor. We are currently engaged in a skills
and training audit, to develop a training programme to help Councillors
to be more effective in all aspects of this job description.
3.7 We agree that there must be more effective
scrutiny arrangements to provide the opportunity for backbench
Members of the majority RA Group, and the opposition parties,
to review the effectiveness of the Council's policies in supporting
the Council's Vision, Mission and Guiding Principles, and the
delivery of best value services. We have established a Scrutiny
Committee reporting directly to the Council.
3.8 We agree that we must maintain the highest
standard of conduct of Members and Officers. Members of a new
Standards Committee are currently reviewing how the Council should
appoint an independent person from the community to join them.
We believe that this new Committee will be more effective if it
is given the task of investigating, at first instance, complaints
about the conduct of Members. It will, as presently proposed,
be extremely limited in its remit.
3.9 We agree that there must be a think
tank role, where the Council works with the key local public and
private sector partners to develop and maintain a community plan.
We have established a Borough Strategy Group, and have started
discussions with our partners on how best to develop the community
plan. This process would be considerably assisted if provision
was now made in the Bill for local authorities to have a general
power to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being
of their area.
4. THE PIVOTAL
POLICY & RESOURCES
4.1 At this point we do disagree with the
Government's approach. We have retained the executive corporate
policy making role in an open and politically balanced Policy
and Resources Committee.
4.2 We have established a Cabinet of six
leading Members of the majority RA group, who meet fortnightly
with the Chief Officers. The Cabinet is responsible for:
Ensuring the effective implementation
Recommending policy to Policy and
Securing the effective management
of the Council's resources.
Co-ordinating the work of the Commissions
to secure a speedy and corporate decision making process.
5 WHY WE
5.1 The following are quotes from the Government's
"Local Leadership, Local Choice" command paper:
"the greatest weakness of the
Committee system is that ...... major decisions are in reality
often taken outside of it".
"there is evidence of .... a
concentration of decision making powers in small groups outside
the formal arenas".
"the traditional committee system,
designed to provide an open and public framework for decision
taking, has grown into an opaque system with the real action off
5.2 Whilst this may be true for some Councils,
it is not true of this Council. Openness of debate in decision
taking is at the core of what the Council stands for. This value
if shared by RA, Liberal Democrat, and Labour Groups, and we urge
the Government to protect this value.
5.3 We understand the Government's determination
to identify the individuals who must be accountable for decision
taking, but we reject the suggestion that structures which currently
combine openness and effectiveness should be driven out.
5.4 The model we are currently piloting
has its roots in the unique independent political history of this
Borough, but we are clear from discussion with other small/medium
size Councils that it is more relevant to them than the Government
models which derive solely from a large authority, highly politicised
6 WHAT ARE
6.1 We are seeking a provision in the Bill
that recognises structures, such as ours, that build on the best
and valued traditions of open and transparent local government.
We agree that local people should be consulted on the sort of
decision making structure that their Council should operate, and
we will, using our new structure, involve and consult the community
in its continued evolution.
6.2 We are prepared to put our new structure
to the test of a referendum, but we want it to be there as an
equal option with the Government's current preferred models. We
want it recognised as a valid and effective local mechanism for
the delivery of the Government's objectives for better and modern
6.3 Finally, we refer to one more practical
difficulty of the current and proposed regime. We have established
Boards that will have external representatives joining them. However
the Draft Bill does not give us the opportunity to give these
community and partner organisations a vote in the decision making.
There are many complex issues involved in taking this further
step of direct involvement, but we want to see the Government
making legislative provision for it now.
7.1 We urge this Joint Committee to include
in its comments that the Draft Bill should recognise:
(a) The improved Committee Structure model
as an equal alternative to the three options currently identified.
In this alternative the Head of the Paid Service would need to
remain the executive, and it would be for the Council to determine
(under Clause 3(1)(b)) which functions should be delegated and
which reserved to Councillors.
(b) The need for local authorities to have
a general power to promote the economic, social and environmental
well-being of its area.
(c) The need to extend voting rights within
the Council structure to representatives of community organisations
and service partners.
(d) The advantage of local Standards Committees
having the role of investigating, at first instance, complaints
into the conduct of Councillors.
5 July 1999
NEW COUNCIL STRUCTURE EFFECTIVE MAY 1999