Memorandum by SOLACE
The Society of Local Authority Chief Executive
and Senior Managers (SOLACE) is the representative body of chief
executives and senior managers of every principal council in the
United Kingdom. Chief executives are the heads of the paid service
of the councils, variously accountable for the performance of
council management and administration to the council leadership,
the whole council, the council's auditors, and the general law.
SOLACE exists to promote effective Local Government
and to provide support and professional development to its members.
2. This response to the consultation paper
should be seen in the context that local government generally,
and SOLACE in particular, accept much of the analysis which has
led to the proposed changes.
3. Whilst wishing for more freedom in the
choice of political executive model by an individual Council,
the position of SOLACE is to attempt to identify how it might
help the process of change.
In examining the new roles of members and officers
it is important to place this proposed legislation in the context
of the government's overall programme. There is a danger that
the separation of the proposals into different Bills and legislative
time-frames will lead to a fragmentation of the agenda. It is
important that the new structures of decision-making are put within
the framework of a constitutional purpose for local government
of community leadership.
5. The proposals in the White Paper rightly
emphasise the importance of developing the Political leadership
role of elected Members both in terms of Community leadership
and in terms of effective leadership of the decision making machinery
inside Local Authorities. These improvements will be beneficial
as long as recognition is given to the important but different
area of Managerial leadership. The White Paper does not clearly
distinguish between the roles of Members and Officers in these
two areas, and it could be a cause of some difficulty if the roles
became confused. Whilst it could to some extent be argued at the
moment that there is an element of ambiguity in the definition
of the roles, the articulation of their distinctness is crucial
if we are to progress to a system where more decision making capability
is delegated to a few individuals, outside of a formal Committee
system, and ensure there are adequate checks and balances in the
6. There is a need and an opportunity, either
through Regulation, Statutory guidance or Primary legislation(perhaps
a specific mention in clause 16 of the Bill)to spell out
the roles more clearly. It is the role of political leadership
to express and form ideas and objectives. It is then the role
of Managerial leadership to implement those ideas and objectives.
The primary focus of Political leadership should be outwards,
engaging the Community, reflecting the views of the Community
into the Council, whilst Managers manage the service delivery
machinery internally, with the staff management issues that entails,
carrying out the wishes of Politicians in involving Local people
in consultative arrangements and in service delivery decisions.
Managers give advice on Policy options, often giving technical
professional advice. Politicians make choices and advocate for
courses of action chosen. The danger of confusion of the roles
is that Politicians' efforts get spread too thinly, if they are
trying to manage the internal machinery as well as lead, they
become less strategic and risk losing touch with the electorate
if they end up spending more time facing inwards rather than outwards,
and if Officers confuse their Managerial role with the role of
the Politician they risk losing their Political impartiality.
7. The new models will in many respects
be fundamentally different from the present system and will introduce
new tensions and pressures within Councils. The role of the Head
of the Paid Service (hereafter referred to as Chief Executive)
will be fundamental in these developments. It is clear, however,
that the role will be a different one in the future, as will be
the case with other senior officers.
8. The principal purpose of this paper is
to explore how the opportunity should be taken to redefine the
role of Chief Executive and of other senior officers to enhance
the likelihood of success of the new models and avoid the pitfalls
which the new systems inevitably contain.
9. THE CHIEF
The last national consideration of the role
of Chief Executive was in the context of the Local Government
and Housing Act 1989 which required Councils to designate an officer
as Head of the Paid Service and define certain limited functions
for that post. Other than this, the post is in many ways defined
similarly to the terms used in the Bains' report of 1972, although
the job itself has changed dramatically in that period.
Essentially the job of Chief Executive has four
providing and securing advice to
the Council on strategy and policy;
managerial leadership of the organisation;
acting in an executive capacity by
making decision or ensuring a system is in place for other officers
to make decisions, as authorised by the Council; and
delivering probity, value for money
and continuous improvement.
Many Chief Executives have also found themselves
in the present structure playing important roles in developing
the external relationships of their Councils, including partnernships
and developing community governance. In many respects this role
has developed because the role of Councillors in community leadership
has not been as strong as it could or should have been. It is
our aspiration that this should change.
In the past fifteen to twenty years, the management
role has had to contain major responsibilities for organisation
development, leadership and communication in a period which has
seen many rapid changes. The next few years will be no exception
to this pattern and the importance of clear managerial leadership
to the large workforces employed by local authorities cannot be
The new political systems involve separation
of a political executive from the assembly. In reality, the situation
will not be as clear cut as this because a council will continue
to be a single political organisation. Furthermore, the assembly
side is increasingly likely to contain an area committee structure
which will in fact make decisions, although these decisions will
be relatively minor in nature and typically within overall policies
established by the executive.
The division will however, have implications
for the roles of officers and the Chief Executive in particular.
It is accepted that in all models the Council will still employ
a Chief Executive to be overall manager of a council's workforce.
Some people have suggested that this may not be a sensible approach
and that it is better to accept the inherent conflicts and appoint
separate functional heads of the executive and assembly organisations.
SOLACE does not support this view and believes the aim should
be to retain as much as possible the vision of a single organisation
working with its community and that this is better achieved under
a single Chief Executive. It is, however, necessary to develop
the role of the Chief Executive to attempt to assist in resolving
It would appear that a critical success factor
in Local Authorities is a positive relationship between Leader
and Chief Executive, where there is a mutual understanding of
roles and respect. Under all the new political models, there will
be a single principal politician and this again would suggest
the need for the officer structure to be headed by a single individual
to replicate this critical success factor to provide an independent
view necessary to protect all interests and to encourage corporate
working to eliminate departmentalism which can arise if there
is no single managerial leader.
10. ISSUES WITHIN
Set out below are some areas of concern which
are arising in relation to the new forms of political structure
and which may in part be addressed by consideration of the role
of the Chief Executive and other senior officers.
(a) Decision Making. The new executive arrangements
will permit decision making in private, by single party groups
and by individual members. These are radical changes which require
checks and balances which are in part provided for by the scrutiny
(b) Recording of Decisions. The Committee
system is a very clear way of recording decisions and systems
of officer delegation are generally laid down in Council Standing
Orders and Terms of Reference. Decision-making in different environments
will require new approaches to recording decisions to ensure that
appropriate audit trails are available to check on decisions and
(c) Availability of Advice. It is axiomatic
that decisions should be made upon the best advice available,
although that advice does not necessarily have to be followed.
Under the current system, advice is contained in committee reports
and background papers are listed. The new system will require
continuation of such advice and not only to the cabinet and/or
controlling political parties.
(d) Staffing Matters. These essentially form
a sub set of decision-making but, given the large number of staff
employed in local government, staffing matters deserve particular
attention. It is vital that the new systems retain the public
service traditions of appointment on merit, equality of opportunity
and, hopefully, an acceptance that staff on occasions have to
make tough decisions and should not be subject to reprisals.
(e) Political Neutrality. The new systems
have the potential to increase the party politicisation of officers.
It is accepted that political advisers could be a useful part
of the system but the essential neutrality of the core management
and workforce should remain. It is not of course to say that the
Chief Executive does not need considerable political acumen.
(f) Scrutiny Matters. Scrutiny will inevitably
be used, probably by opposition parties, as a political weapon.
Such action should not degenerate into mere political theatre
and there needs to be some process for arbitration concerning
matters of scrutiny, which could include pursuing individuals
within the organisation for personal reasons. The scrutiny function
also needs adequate support and to be aware of what decisions
have been made and how they have been made and where they have
(g) Availability of Information. One of the
benefits of the committee system is that it has contained within
it large amounts of information which members have been able to
use to keep up to date with developments within the council. Provision
will need to be made in the new arrangements for members to be
similarly kept up to date with developments within an individual
council and local government generally.
(h) Standards and Ethics. A Standards Committee
could also become subject to abuse, again possibly by Opposition
parties, to bring before it trivial or inappropriate matters.
There will need to be some interpretation and judgment involved
in pursuing issues to a Standards Committee which ensure that
it becomes and remains an effective device.
SOLACE believes that the framework for the role
of Chief Executive outlined in Section 10 above still remains
robust and relevant but that certain, more detailed aspects of
the job need to be defined as part of the creation of new political
executives. The following points are put forward as matters for
The Chief Executive should remain
the single overall manager of a local authority.
Chief Executives and other senior
officers should remain politically neutral, whilst being politically
The Chief Executive should be responsible
for delivering to the Mayor or Cabinet and the assembly, a system
of professional advice on all relevant topics and that where such
advice relates to decision making, then it should be on the record.
It is, however, accepted that informal advice will necessarily
be given to majority parties and/or cabinets; this has long been
a feature of a Local Government system and should remain.
The Chief Executive should be responsible
for ensuring there is a system for clear delegation of decision
which has been decided upon by the Council and that decisions
which require recording are so recorded in a form which will enable
public and other scrutiny and that there is access to appropriate
A mechanism for appointing Chief
Executives should be approved by the whole council and the whole
council would need to invoke the procedure for the dismissal of
a Chief Executive.
The Council should similarly determine
procedures for appointment of the directors or other senior managers
of the council but all other staffing matters, including appointments,
development discipline and dismissal, should be vested in the
The Chief Executive should be able
to attend any meeting of the council and should have access to
all documentation. If there is a need to know issue in relation
to, say, confidential information, the monitoring officer should
The Chief Executive should be charged
with ensuring that there are within a council, adequate systems
for dissemination of relevant information to all members of the
The principal role in relation to
community leadership and governance lies with elected Councillors,
but Chief Executive should support that role through their professional
advice and by assisting directly in forging those external partnerships
within the Council's framework of policies.
The role of the monitoring officer needs to
be considered and developed, particularly if it is suggested that
the monitoring officer could be responsible for determining whether
or not matters are appropriate for Scrutiny or Standards Committee
consideration, to prevent frivolous abuse of these procedures.
Given the potential difficulties which could
arise with decision making, and many decisions have financial
consequences, it is possible that the role of the Section 151
Officer will also require consideration and development. Specifically,
it should be a requirement that there is a system to ensure that
all decisions that have financial consequences have been brought
to the attention of the officer or his properly identified staff.
It is suggested that the protection from dismissal
provisions applying to the Chief Executive should be extended
to Monitoring Officers and Section 151 Officers.
Councils will need to ensure that the roles
and, particularly, the decision making powers of directors or
other senior managers are carefully laid down in their own internal
procedures and the requirement for such a scheme to be in place
has been mentioned under the role of Chief Executive above. A
particular area of concern may be where decisions are delegated
to officers in consultation with individual members, or where
individual members are making decisions after some form of discussion
with or advice from directors.
13. MAYORS, CABINETS
As mentioned above, SOLACE would prefer increased
flexibility about the forms of political executive and does wish
to question the considerable emphasis on the elected mayor model.
It is felt that there is a lack of understanding of the American
system which does seem to underlie some debate in this country.
There is a continuing decline in support in the United States
for the directly elected executive mayor in favour of the council
manager approach. Furthermore, it is perhaps unfortunate that
in the White Paper and Bill, the Council Manager approach is linked
exclusively to an elected mayor.
Our understanding both of the Council Manager
structure in the United States and the New Zealand system, suggests
that the form can sit very comfortably with the traditional system
or cabinet model.
The success of the Government's proposals depends
very significantly on developing clear roles and responsibilities
for the key actors in Local Government. This applies not just
to the roles of executive versus non executive member, but also
and most crucially to the roles and responsibilities of Members
and of Officers. If Councillors are to develop their powerful
new roles of community leadership and of governance, and a focusing
on policy and strategy and of accountability to the electorate,
then that needs to be underlined by emphasising that such roles
are not compatible with detailed involvement in organisational
matters and operational decision making. Alongside these new roles
for Councillors, complementary roles for Officers need to be spelt
out. The Government has indicated under paragraph 3.7 of the White
Paper that for all of the models it proposes it should be the
job of the Chief Executive and Chief Officers to "implement
policy and secure service delivery for the executive". If
that is to happen effectively and efficiently, and in a way which
helps to keep Councillors focused on developing new and demanding
responsibility of community leadership and governance, it needs
to be fully supported either through the primary legislation,
through regulation or through binding guidance.
The respective roles of the Executive and the
"backbench" councillors, have been the subject of much
comment and concern. The draft legislation envisages a very fierce
separation between them, prohibiting members of the executive
from being on scrutiny etc. committees. This is too prescriptive.
In Wales the National Assembly, as approved by Parliament, provides
for Executive Members also to be members of subject committees
having policy and scrutiny remits. Parliament operates on the
same basis. Why then should this artificial division be created?
It will tend to reinforce the idea of two classes of membership.
15. We have noted in paragraph 10 above
that the Chief Executive should be responsible to the authority
as a whole and in our judgement that should include a responsibility
to ensure that adequate support is provided for non-executive
The new system will require new skills for both
members and officers. It is our view that developing these skills
will take timecertainly more than the life of one council.
There will be a responsibility on Chief Executives and senior
officers to adapt their roles to the new construct, and to enable
members to do the same. Support for members during this period
and assistance in managing the process from chief executives will
be very important and explicit acknowledgement of this responsibility
should be made.
17. THE ETHICAL
The points made in this paper re-emphasise the
importance of the ethics provisions being developed in the context
of the new models and not the existing ones. However, some greater
clarity in the law will be essential. The form of the proposed
new offence of abuse of public office will be important, particularly
in the context of the recent Court of Appeal decision in the Westminster
18. The White Paper refers to a series of
documentsCodes of Conduct, Whistleblowing Procedures and
protocols. Examples already exist. However, their form and precision
will need to be re-examined in the light of, on the one hand the
possibilities of disqualification under the new ethics provisions
and the new forms of councillor now proposed, and on the other
the rationale of the Westminster decision.
19. It is suggested that the draft legislation
should include provisions to enable authorities to settle ombudsman
complaints locally (a current debate about councils powers to
do so) and also to give the Standards Committee power to deal
with complaints referred to it by the Standards Board.
The cultural and practical changes required
for the successful implementation of these changes are considerable.
SOLACE believes that redefining the role of the Chief Executive
will be a vital factor in that success. Although there has been
a degree of acknowledgement of this in the process so far, SOLACE
believes that it is of such importance that changes should be
referred to on the face of the Bill or in accompanying statutory
instruments. Simply incorporating the existing responsibilities
is not enough.
24 May 1999