Memorandum submitted by Professor Andre
E M McLean, for "Camden Town Speaks"
The Government has put out a plan for the next
10 years or more to alter the face of local government.
In addition Camden has put out a consultation
document (Make your Mark) about the new systems.
The main points are a mixture of good sense,
and lunacy. The plan that is being put into action promises improvements,
but will in fact, make many things worse, unless it is radically
It is up to us, local people, to make sure that
the plan is altered to meet our needs, not the ambitions of the
bureaucracy, or the personal views of a few councillors or the
financial plans of the the property developers.
The White Paper, main points. (Our comments)
(1) What is wrong with the present system?
Local Government does not involve people, sometimes
less than one in three vote, and far fewer are active. Councillors
are too old, too white, too male. There is no effective discussion
between people and councils. We do not know who really takes the
(A few councillors and officers of the council,
mainly the chairman of committees, know the details of proposed
actions, the rest must take it on trust that the committee papers
represent reality. The party whip is used to prevent revolt by
councillors whose constituents are badly affected. The committee
system means that mostly no one can be seen as responsible or
held accountable for serious errors, inefficiencies or even fraud.
Councillors outside the inner circle waste much time on committees
which they cannot influence, instead of talking to local people
and organisations. We have the disadvantages of the Executive
Mayor and cabinet system, without any of the possible advantages.)
(2) Some councils spend more money and get
less value than the better ones, and need to be brought into line.
A "best value" system of evaluating performance, policy,
and contracts, should be installed in place of compulsory competive
(CCT produces "cheaper" council services,
not better ones, but the old system, like council building departments,
can too easily become rotten and corrupt).
(3) Councillors spent vast amounts of time
on committees where they do not have real power of decision, and
one cannot decide who is really responsible for mistakes or misdeeds.
(4) Reorganise the Management systemvarious
incentives are offered to councils to change. The systems on offer
are all rather similar "Management" based schemes.
(a) The Mayor is directly elected, and can
then appoint a cabinet of councillors each responsible for the
policy leadership of a department, such as Education.
(b) The elected councillors elect a leader,
who then forms a cabinet.
(c) The Mayor is elected and there is a "Council
Manager" appointed as a paid executive, and supported by
(5) Councillors who are not in the inner
"Cabinet" are left on the "scrutiny committees"
with vague powers, to examine, criticise, and propose policies,
but with no responsibility for particular policies:
This separates the function of policy-making
from criticism in a totally unrealistic way, not related to real
management experience in business or government. It seems to be
a theoretical construct which will leave real power in the hands
of fewer and fewer people, with dangers of corruption and incompetence,
especially as the promised openness and transparency of local
government will become less than ever. The transition from backbench
to frontbench will become more difficult as the separation of
executive from critic develops, these professional critic councillors
will not develop team leadership skills, working to improve matters.
Policy will suffer from loss of input from the councillors most
in touch with the electorate, and the electors will be more than
ever out of touch with the council.
(6) Councils will be given greater spending
freedom and a duty to "Promote the Economic, Social, and
Environmental well being" of the Community. If they adopt
the new management style they may be termed "beacon"
councils and given more freedom to spend, and raise more council
(7) Councils are encouraged to hold a referendum
on these proposals, which of the alternatives do the electors
Some councillors have already expressed dissatisfaction
where the new system has been proposed or brought into actionsee
St Pancras Declaration in Ham and High July 9News P5.
Our Further Comments and Proposal
There will probably be a Referendum in Camden.
It needs to spell out the proposals.We do not wish to be asked
just if we would rather be boiled or fried!
We want a referendum that states clearly what
are the powers of the elected local councillors. It must ensure
that the electorate, through its councillors, retains reasonable
control of where the council is going, in its policy decisions,
and how it is performing.
If we retain the old committee system then we
need promises that it will be reformed. Councillors need shorter
committee papers, more time to examine detail, and support from
a secretariat in getting real information to bear onto policies.
Councillors need more involvement in policy making and execution
at an early stage of policy development.
If we are to go to a mayor and cabinet system,
we need assurances that the scrutiny committees will have real
power and be involved in policy formation, not just criticism
afterwards. It means that scrutiny must apply to all of the council
employees, at all levels, from heads of large departments, to
street cleaners, traffic wardens, teachers, housing managers,
and social services workers.
The scrutiny committees need power, rather like
a select committee in Parliament, to call for any document, for
evidence from any officer, to report to the full council to block
or put forward policy. The scrutiny panels must have a proper
secretariat, and thought needs to be given as to how this fits
into a career structure in local government. Will good service
to a scrutiny panel be death to a career?
Where the paid officers and council employees
do not give satisfaction, there must be a route whereby the local
people can voice their complaint, put forward solutions, and enforce
On balance, Camden Town Speaks, regards the
new proposals as an error. We find widespread public opposition
to the proposals. We think that an improved and revitalised committee
system, with a better secretariat, more information access and
more openness is what people need and want from their local council.
We reject the "Executive Cabinet" system as unsuitable
for local government, and advise members to vote against it if
it comes to referendum.
12 July 1999