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


Memorandum from the Labour Campaign for Open Local Government

  We represent the Labour Campaign for Open, Local Government and seek to make representations to your Committee. We enclose a press release for your information.

  As an organisation of Labour councillors, mostly backbenchers although it does include senior councillors such as Cllr John Mills of Camden we recognise your experience in local government, and trust you will consider all points of view when drawing up your Committee report. We also note that your Committee includes many distinguished former local politicians. Our concerns about the draft Bill have ramifications across all parties and, not least, for the general public.

  We would therefore value the opportunity to give oral evidence to and answer questions from your Committee on the proposed political management structures of local government.

  We believe that we can offer interesting and unique insights as backbenchers with some experience of the structures already adopted in certain London local authorities, notably Lewisham, Hammersmith and Fulham and Haringey.

  We also should like to place on record our five basic principles. We value the opportunity to speak and answer questions on these, because we are very concerned that the debate hitherto has been confined to a remarkably small number of individuals and organisations and with little general publicity. The majority of councillors will always be backbenchers, and in this draft Bill they are effectively being patronised or treated as an afterthought. Certainly there will be few who will speak on backbenchers' behalf at your Committee.

  While it values the role of all councillors, the enclosed press release expresses our concerns about the potential erosion of democracy. It rejects the prescriptive impetus of the proposed Bill, and advocates an open and less adversarial approach with devolved consultation and decision-making processes, coupled with forward-looking use of inter-active IT to widen community participation. We have therefore set up a working party to examine ways to improve the current committee system.

  Crucially, we reject the "behind closed doors" culture of the executive/scrutiny model, and are determined that the public and the press must have genuine access to live decision-making.

  On a wider note, LCOLG believes that the public is being stealthily deprived of its democratic rights and safeguards in this new managerial approach, and we would welcome the opportunity to put our case.


  "The Labour Campaign for Open, Local Government was launched on 29 May 1999 in Camden Town Hall by mainstream Labour Councillors concerned that the government's far-reaching proposals in the White Paper known as the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill will constitute an elitist style of managerialism leading to Tammany Hall politics in our Council chambers.

  The government's ill-considered plans will mean, in effect, a denial for the majority of elected Councillors to contribute positively to the decision-making of their authority, a denial of real opportunity for the public and the press to observe or participate in the process and a denial of many of the principles of a broad-based and representative local democracy.

  The launch was attended by Councillors from local authorities which have already introduced forms of so-called "Democratic Renewal". Hitherto, the debate has been dominated by academics, assorted spin-doctors and the most ambitious of local politicians.

  LCOLG has the new agenda. Although the present committee system of local government is not perfect, it believes there should be a proper examination of how it can be improved before any undemocratic alternatives are imposed. It has agreed five basic principles:

    —  All Councillors have a fundamental role in local democracy. The proposed Executive/Scrutiny split is divisive, impractical and also expensive. Councillors should be trained, informed and knowledgeable, genuinely able to represent their constituencies, to contribute to the executive function and to scrutinise the process. Backbenchers must not be marginalised as voting fodder or as cheerleaders.

    —  The authoritarianism of this prescriptive White Paper should be rejected to permit each local authority, by means of a referendum if necessary, to seek its own most appropriate and democratic system of local governance.

    —  A less adversarial and more consultative and participatory process, including the involvement of opposition members, should emerge, sharing decision-making with co-optees and local forums with real powers and the use of new technology.

    —  All final decisions should be made in public and in front of the press.

    —  The abolition of the committee system, with its democratic checks and balances, which will lead to a Godfather culture with potential for cronyism and patronage, should be reconsidered.

  The Labour Campaign for Open Local Government believes that directly elected Mayors are a gimmick, rather than a solution. Other proposals, such as city managers are laughable. Instead, it is committed to a reformed, progressive committee system where decisions are made in public.

  Now evaluating these principles, LCOLG will connect with similar campaigns across the country, it will use the press to pursue its objectives and will attend the House of Commons Select Committee to argue its case.

  LCOLG believes that the public is stealthily being deprived of its democratic rights and safeguards. Our government must reconsider its plans."

17 June 1999

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