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


Memorandum by Professor John Stewart, University of Birmingham

  The publication of Local Leadership, Local Choice, containing the draft bill is to be welcomed, providing an opportunity to consider the full implications of the government's proposals. The emphasis on local choice is especially important, although some of the constraints are disappointing. This paper sets out three major main issues raised and then discusses some of the detailed points arising.


  The proposal are clearly linked to the governments recognition of the local authorities role in community leadership (para 1.2). It is to be regretted therefore that the draft bill does not contain the provisions set out in "Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People" for the new duty giving expression to that role and the promised powers. New political structures should be related to new roles. Rather than structures precede roles, they should follow from the roles.


  The emphasis previously given to the role of non-executive councillors in scrutiny has led to an emphasis on the separation between the executive and other councillor. It has also been unfortunate in suggesting a negative role. This paper goes some way to redress the balance. It does that by emphasising the role of the council in setting council policy, determining budgets and taking decisions on changes from strategy and the budget. Para 3.9 correctly emphasises that this involves all councillors—executive and non-executive "acting together".

  This recognition highlights a tension in the Governments proposal. There is an emphasis in the paper on separation of roles, with an implied desire to keep apart executive and non-executive councillors because the latter have to scrutinise the former. This means that the full implications of para 3.9 have not been taken on board.

  It is important to recognise that while non-executive councillors scrutinise the executive and hold it to account, they also can have an important role in supporting the executive. Certainly councillors from the same party as the executive will see themselves as having such a role and such support will be required. The executive will need support from other councillors, because if faces the danger of overload if it is to take over executive responsibilities, from committees, develop policies, propose strategies, provide community leadership and be involved in partnerships. That is being recognised in some of the transitional arrangements with the appointment of deputies, support groups of councillors and councillors as advisers. These possibilities are not discussed in Local Leadership, Local Choice. It is recognised that the executive may seek advice from an overview and scrutiny committee, but it is seen as advice from a separate body. The executive is likely to wish to work with council members in developing policy. Thus it might set up a group of councillors led by a cabinet member to develop policy in a particular area. An individual councillor could be invited to advise the cabinet on a particular topic. The executive might wish other councillors to sit upon cabinet committees.

  It is hoped that all such developments will be possible. It would be unfortunate if the emphasis on separation in Local Leadership, Local Choice discouraged such developments. It is important to recognise that councillors can have as important a role in supporting the executive as in scrutiny. After all as the paper recognises in determining policy all councillors "act together". It is hoped nothing in the legislation will prevent such a supporting role, but it would be helpful if the need for it was recognised.


  The emphasis on separation also affects the discussion of the role of decentralised structures in para 3.26 and 3.27. The paper sees them playing a role in advising the cabinet and in undertaking a scrutiny role, but does not apparently envisage them carrying out executive functions, perhaps because of the wish to maintain separation.

  Yet a number of authorities introducing a transitional model (as well as authorities with an existing area committee structure) see a value in such area committees having an executive role on local issues. This enhances the presentative role, enabling councillors to take action on some of the matters raised within them. It also relieves the cabinet of local issues which need not concern them, enabling them to devote more time to authority-wide issues and the development of policy.

  It is presumably for these reasons that executive models in Europe are often associated with decentralised structures. In Barcelona such structures are responsible for 20 per cent of the budget. In Oslo a cabinet and decentralised structures with budgetary responsibilities were seen as complementing each other. Many such examples could be quoted.

  Again while it is hoped legislation will not prevent decentralised structures with executive role, it would be helpful if their value was recognised.


Para 1.15

  An emphasis is placed on the mismatch between a councillors view of the importance of the representative role and time spent. What may be important is not merely the time spent but the ability to achieve action. New structures have to meet that need and many councillors are concerned about how that is achieved under new models.

Para 2.13

  The Government is taking powers to ensure fair conduct of a referendum, but the Government cannot be regarded as impartial on these issues. Should not these powers be given to an independent commission?

Para 3.14

  There is a fourth model of council (ie with a mayor appointed by the council) and council manager which is the standard city management model in the USA (some cities do have a directly elected mayor and council manager but that is a deviation from the original council manager plan). Should not this fourth model be included?

Figures 6-7

  Should not the model make clear the council (ie "all councillors act together") "decides" rather than "agrees" the policy framework and the budget.

Figure 8

  It is difficult to see how a directly elected mayor without executive responsibilities could play this role on a council on which he or she did not have a majority and such cases may be common with annual or biennial elections. In such cases the council managers would inevitably look to the majority leader for political "leadership" and to propose the policy framework.

Para 3.14

  The stress on councillors playing a consultative role in key policy preparation is important but it does show the value of developing mechanism for councillors to support the executive in policy preparation.

  It is also important to recognise that while the councillors representative role involves to their neighbourhood, it can involve wider interests and concerns, for the authority as a whole.

Para 3.17

  The reference to co-opted member having full voting rights, seems to run counter to the previous para, or does it merely refer to the representatives of the churches and of parent governors?

Para 3.19

  Overview and scrutiny committees are given a variety of tasks. At times the paper seems to imply that the same committees should carry out all these tasks and that apart from decentralised structures and committees for quasi-judicial functions, these would be the only committees. It is hoped this is not the Government's views. Council may want different bodies for the tasks set out in 3.19, since they may require different ways of working. They may want to set time-limited task groups. Other forms may be required. There is for example no reference in Local Leadership, Local Choice to the public forums described in Modern Local Government, In Touch with the People. Maximum flexibility by authorities should be encouraged.

  The list of activities of overview and scrutiny committees does not refer to review for best value, in which one would expect an overview and scrutiny committee to play a role.

Para 3.30

  While an emphasis is laid on the direct mandate of the mayor, it has to be recognised that the council also has a direct mandate, and with annual and biannual elections it can be a more recent mandate.

Figure 12

  It is clearly envisaged that the executive will meet in private. I am not clear where this is provided for in the proposed legislation.

Para 3.35

  Where in the legislation is the third category (permitted by the legislation not to be the responsibility of the executive) provided for. It could be very important. It is important that this category is wide enough to allow significant local choice.

Para 3.36

  While executives are limited to 10 or less, it is assumed deputies can be appointed for executive members. Is this allowed for in the legislation? In very large majority groups a restriction to 10 could add to intra-group tensions. In unitary authority of only 45 councillors, a cabinet of six is very small.

Para 3.39 and 3.40

  The emphasis is placed upon the leader as if he or she is expected to play the same role as a directly elected major. The leader and cabinet model should not be regarded as a quasi-mayoral model but developed in its own right. There is a danger in seeing leadership in individual terms. The complexities of community governance may benefit from styles of leadership concerned to build teams and consensus. The emphasis on a "strong form of leadership" could suggest a rather old-fashioned approach.

Para 3.49-3.53

  While the election of mayors is provided for, there is not discussion of exceptional procedures for removal of the mayor, even though the right of recall is being considered in Lewisham. Should not such procedures (which are widely found, in mayoral systems) be allowed for in the legislation.

Para 3.59

  The provisions about reasons being provided in records of decision are important, but are likely to cause great difficulty in practice. There is a need for discussion of these issues.

  Should there be provision for publication of executive agendas, so that representations can be made prior to decisions.

Para 3.66

  Provisions for vetoes are unusual outside the USA. Is it not better to make clear where responsibility lies rather than to have divided responsibility. The council (ie all councillors acting together) would have responsibility for policy and the budget, the executive has responsibility for execution and proposing policy and the budgets. Vetoes can maximise conflicts and instability. Fortunately the Government leave this issue to local choice.

Para 3.59

  Presumably these provisions about recording decision would also apply to a council manager. Is this correct?

Para 3.80

  The abolition of the attendance allowance does not appear to be included in the legislation. Is this correct and if so, why not.

Clause 3

  There is a danger that over-specification in regulations could limit local choice.

  It would be helpful for DETR to produce draft regulations to show their intention.

Clause 7

  The emphasis is on the scrutiny role of Oversight and Scrutiny Committees. Is policy development adequately covered?

Clause 10

  Does not the requirement to prepare proposals contradict para 2.17 which envisages on authority continuing with traditional arrangement, although subject to a requirement for a referendum.

Clause 16

  Should not the guidance be restricted to the items listed in 2 (a-d).

  It would be helpful if the government indicated their intentions on timing.

Clause 21

  Will the provisions for mayoral elections cover the number of nominations or introduce deposits, to discourage frivolous candidates.


Form of Government in the United States by John Stewart

  In the United States there are a variety of systems of government in local authorities. The Form of Government survey regularly conducted by the National League of Cities and the International City Management Association shows the following results for the three main forms.


Total, all cities:
1981 1996
No% No%
Council-Manager1,893 45.52,01355.8
Mayor-Council2,14851.7 1,53042.4
Commission 1162.8 651.8

  It shows that the Council-Manager system has replaced the mayor-council system as the most common approach. Proportion of council-manager structures found in the categories of cities of between 50,000 and 499,000 (ie the size of most British authorities) is even higher at 60 per cent or over. The council manager approach is included in the three options set out in Local Leadership, Local Choice but has not received much attention from local authorities.


  The lack of interest is probably due in part to it being linked to the directly elected mayor. It is not necessarily so linked in the United States. The seventh edition of the model city charter (setting the constitution for government in a city) issued by the National Civic League sets out the formal basis for the council management structure for adoption by authorities. It allows for two alternative ways of appointing the mayor—direct election or appointment by the council. In neither instance is the mayor a political executive, but is a political leader 62.1 per cent of council-manager cities have a directly elected mayor but 37.9 per cent have a mayor appointed by the council.

  The introduction to the model city charter argues that the role of the mayor is "quite different from that of the elected chief executive in the system that separates executive and legislative powers. Rather, the mayor in the council-manager form is the chief legislator, the leader of the policy-making team. This mayor can be a `strong' mayor who, not having to overcome the offsetting powers of the council or not being bogged down with the details of managing the city's staff, can focus on facilitative leadership".

  There are particular reasons why a directly elected mayor would be less appropriate in a United Kingdom version of the council management structure.

  The council-manager structure in the United States has been associated with non-partisan elections. In a party-dominated system as in the United Kingdom it could be difficult for a directly elected mayor to exercise political leadership if he or she does not have a majority on the council and that is quite likely with elections by thirds. The council manager would inevitably look to the leader of the majority group for political leadership rather than to the mayor who has in a council management system no separate executive authority. These different arguments are the reason given for the alternative ways of appointing the mayor.

  In the Model Charter it is recognised that direct election gives the mayor a citywide popular support basis for leadership. But the "disadvantage of this method is the possibility that the mayor will be at variance with the council majority on some important issues".

  For this reason "In many other cities, it is felt that local policy leadership can best function through a cohesive team of council members which chooses its leader as mayor".

  There is a need for an option in the new legislation for a council a manager structure without a directly elected mayor as allowed for in the Model Charter—indeed that was the only approach provided for in the original charter.


  There is, apart from the issue of the directly elected mayor considerable confusion about the council-manager system, which has also prevented it receiving much attention. It is not appreciated that the council management system is based on the authority of the council. William Hemsell the Executive Director of the International City Management Association has stressed that "the council manager form provides a system in which there is no separation of powers" and that "all power is concentrated in the council. An appointed manager constantly must be aware that the powers of the local government belong to the council. Any authority or responsibility assigned to the manager by the council or by the citizens can be removed at any time, for any reason". The charter emphasises "that all of the powers that can be exercised by the city rest in the popularly elected council". It argues that the city manager should recognise that "responsibility for policy execution rests with members".

  Renner and De Santis in their useful study of Municipal Form of Government: Issues and Trends draw a distinction between mayor-council and council-manager systems in terms of the separation of powers. They argue that the mayor-council system "is the only form of city government with an element of separation of powers that is typical in American Federal and statement governments. The chief executive is elected separately from the city council and exercises some distinctive executive authority (although the precise contours of that authority vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction). Alternatively, the council-manager plan vests all authority in a popularly elected council, which in turn hires an appointed executive".

  The council-manager is in the words of the charter "continuously responsible to the city council". He or she carries out their decisions often on matters not merely of policy but of policy execution. What the council manager has is a clear responsibility for running the administration including the appointment, suspension and removal of staff and the model charter contains prohibitions on by the interference council or councillors in administration.


  The council in order to meet their responsibilities meets frequently—and this is also true of mayor-council systems, for even their councils have considerable responsibilities. Just over two thirds of all councils of all types meet twice a month (69.1 per cent) and that includes all sizes of authority. In larger authorities they may meet more frequently. Weekly council meetings are held in 71.4 per cent of the 500,000 to 1,000,000 population jurisdiction and in 56.0 per cent of the 250,000-499,999 population jurisdictions. In addition there are standing committees to handle legislative matters in all the largest jurisdictions (500,000 and over) and in 92 per cent of the 250,000-4999,999 and 63 per cent of the 100,000-249,999.

  Some of the business is conducted in ordinances. The model charter requires that "those acts of the city council shall be by ordinance which:

    1.  Adopt or amend an administrative code or establish, alter or abolish any city department, office or agency.

    2.  Provide for a fine or other penalty or establish a rule or regulation for violation of which a fine or other penalty is imposed.

    3.  Levy taxes.

    4.  Grant, renew or extend a franchise.

    5.  Regulate the rate charged for its services by a public utility.

    6.  Authorise the borrowing of money.

    7.  Convey or lease or authorise the conveyance or lease of any lands of the city.

    8.  Regulate land use and development.

    9.  Amend or repeal any ordinance previously adopted".

  Other parts of the charter also require ordinance for "adoption of codes of technical regulations", (eg building and sanitary codes) "appropriation and revenue ordinances" "supplemental and emergency appropriations and reduction of appropriations" and "creation of a charger commission or proposal of charter amendments". Other acts of the council "may be done either by ordinance or resolution".

  The charter suggests that ordinances submitted to a particular meetings are then subject to a public hearing after publication of the ordinance. After the hearing the council will amend, reject or approve the ordinance at a subsequent meeting.

  Ordinances can be used for what would be regarded as relatively local matters. Thus in one authority with a council-management structure, for which I have obtained minutes, an ordinance was approved relating to the speed limit on a particular street. Other parts of the business covered the issues as "award of a two-year mowing contract". Such detailed agendas are however also found in executive mayor systems. At a council meeting one large authority, ordnance on no parking signs on two streets were among the 50 or more items on the agenda. There ordinances have a first reading, are referred to committees and then come before the council with any amendments made in committees.

  What would be unlikely to be acceptable in the United Kingdom would be the small number of councillors. The Charter recommends a council of five to nine councillors although it is stressed "In determining the size of the council, consideration should be given to the diversity of population elements to be represented as well as to the size of the city" and because of this there is a tendency for council size to grow, while still remaining very small by UK standards.

  Executive mayors versus council manager one writer argues:

  There is much debate about the merits of executive mayors as opposed to council managers. One writer argues:

    1.  "Mayor-dominant forms are more conflict prone with increased partisanship—and special-interest brokerage.

    2.  Governmental workforces and expenditures are typically larger, proportionately in mayor-dominant governments.

    3.  Departmental actions tend to be quasi-autonomous, with reduced co-ordination and collaboration, in strong-mayor systems". (Chester Newland—the Future of Council-manager Government in ICMA Ideal and Practice in Council Manager Government)

  but these findings were disputed by others.

  The International City Management Association argue:

  "The council-manager form encourages open communication between citizens and their government. Under this form, each member of the governing body has an equal voice in policy development and administrative oversight. This gives neighbourhoods and diverse groups a greater opportunity to influence policy.

  Under the "strong mayor" form, political power is concentrated in the mayor, which means that other members of the elected body relinquish at least some of their policy-making power and influence. This loss of decision-making power among council members can have a chilling effect on the voices of neighbourhoods and city residents.

  Under the council-manager form of government, involvement of the entire elected body ensures a more balanced approach to community decision making, so that all interests can be expressed and heard—not just those that are well funded. Under the "strong mayor" form, however, it's easier for special interests to use money and political power to influence a single elected official, rather than having to secure a majority of the city council's support for their agenda".

  but they are naturally advocates of the approach.

  Advocates of mayor-council systems argue in favour of strong political leadership, to which the reply is made by ICMA that it does not always produce it and that such leadership is found in council-manager systems, and may be more likely if that leadership is freed from administrative responsibilities.

  Distinctions between council-manager and mayor council systems are not always clear-cut. Within each system there is a variety of practice and Renner and DeSantis argue that research is difficult because these categories over-simplify and point out "cities have adopted a myriad of structural arrangement that cannot easily be considered part of one mode."

  To an extent what is happening is convergence between the systems. Strong political leadership is to be found in council manager systems, while there has been a growing tendency for chief administrative officers to be appointed in mayor-council systems. In all systems there is a necessity to carry the council for even in strong mayor systems the council has significant power, even if the mayor has veto powers as is the case in 56 per cent of such authorities. A vote does not normally allow the mayor to over-ride the council.

  There remains differences in so far as the council-mayor system is based on a separation of powers not recognised in the council manager system (whether with a directly elected mayor or not) and formal differences influence practice. Thus as the appendix to the model charter says the veto power "has no place in a council manager government because it distorts the basic principle of the form—that the council is assigned all powers of the city". It is that principle that has not been fully appreciated in local authorities in the United Kingdom.


  The council manager system merits more attention than it has received in discussion. It can involve a directly elected mayor, but in the USA it does not need to do so. There is a need for a fourth option based on a council with leader and a council manager.

July 1999

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