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


APPENDIX 50

Memorandum by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council

  These comments have been set out under the chapter headings used in the "Local Leadership, Local Choice" document. A summary of Tameside MBC's recommendations are shown on the following page.

  The "Local Leadership, Local Choice" document also includes a checklist of things that Councils should be doing now. Using this checklist, our submission shows what is being done in Tameside. This is in the form of a table for easy reference.

  The Council has been approached by a large number of local authorities, interested in learning about our modernisation programme, particularly our District Assemblies. We are gladly sharing information and experiences as part of helping modernise local government.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Chapter 1:  Modernisation and New Forms of Local Governance

  If we are to offer real choice to local people, some greater flexibility is needed than the draft Bill currently provides for. This reflects the views of those we have consulted during our Local Democracy Roadshow, our District Assemblies and our Citizens Panel.

Chapter 2:  Local governance: local choice

  We therefore recommend the Bill be amended to provide for Councils to hold a referendum on the "Cabinet with a Leader" option. This would be entirely consistent with the statement at 2.7 that "a range of options for new forms of governance needs to be presented to local people".

Chapter 3:  Strong leadership for communities, powerful roles for all councillors

  Membership of education scrutiny committees

  The Bill presents an opportunity to reform church representation. We recommend that this opportunity should be taken.

Role of scrutiny committees

  The paper "Local leadership, local choice" proposes a different role for scrutiny committees to that set out in the draft Bill and the explanatory note on clause 7. We agree with the role as set out in Clause 7 of the draft Bill and the accompanying explanation, ie holding the executive to account. We disagree fundamentally with the concept of scrutiny committees as policy-making elements of the new governance set out in the paper "Local leadership, local choice".

Decentralised structures

  We recommend that arrangements and membership be a matter for local choice, recognising that members of the executive continue to have a responsibility to be accountable to their constituents.

Size of Executive Cabinets

  The membership limit for the Cabinet of 15 per cent "rounded down" is arbitrary. We recommend the requirements of paragraph 3.36 be removed.

Records of Decisions by Individual Cabinet Executives

  We recommend a recording system and public record keeping (as set out in the submission).

Potential disputes between Directly Elected Mayor and Council

  We recommend that there is a requirement for a constitution to specify a definitive disputes process, including timescales, for any model involving directly elected mayors.

Eligibility criteria for Mayor candidates

  We recommend these matters be specified.

Members allowances

  We recommend the concept of a "members contract" should be explored as a basis for defining the terms on which allowances and remuneration is paid.

 CHAPTER 1

Modernisation and New Forms of Local Governance

  1.  We agree that local government should be at the heart of a modern Britain but that this cannot be in the form we are now. Our consultations with local people and partners confirm the need to continue to change.

  2.  We started our modernisation programme two years ago. As a result, Tameside can no longer be described as a typical local authority, with all the criticisms attributed to traditional decision-making processes. Sub committees were disbanded in 1997, committee meetings were cut by 40 per cent in 1998 and a further 20 per cent earlier this year. We stopped paying councillors based on the number of meetings they attended as long ago as 1995. Our councillors spend considerably less time on committee work compared to the national figures given in your report. We have left the committee system behind insofar as we are able without new legislation. We are modernising the way we do business.

  3.  We have already dismantled much of the traditional "structure" which the Government wishes to see changed. Our emerging form of local governance has many of the elements the draft Bill seeks to introduce.

  4.  Much of the current malaise in local government lies not only in the way that Councils conduct business, but also the climate in which they have had to operate. Eighteen years of continual attack on credibility, resources and roles are as much to do with election turnout as committee structures and the role of individual councillors. Now that period is behind us, we can move forward. If we are to offer real choice to local people, some greater flexibility is needed than the draft Bill currently provides for. This reflects the views of those we have consulted during our Local Democracy Roadshow, our District Assemblies and our Citizens Panel.

CHAPTER 2

Local governance: local choice

  1.  We welcome the Government's comments about consultation with the local community. Like Lewisham, the example of good practice you use to illustrate the points, we have asked local people their views on the type of local governance they wish to see. We will continue this debate and dialogue, with the benefit now of the Bill's proposals.

  2.  We understand the focus on the directly elected mayor as a key option. However, we feel it important to give local people the opportunity to take the initiative in relation to the other forms mentioned. For instance, we see no reason why there should not be provision for local people to petition their council for a referendum on whether a new form of local governance involving a Cabinet with a leader should be adopted. As it stands, local people will only be able to petition for a referendum involving two of the three options presented by the Government, namely;

    —  directly elected mayor with cabinet;

    —  directly elected mayor and council manager.

  3.  We support the Government view that "traditional ways of working" are not part of the future. Local people have confirmed that view when we have consulted them. The success of our District Assemblies is evidence of this. They were introduced a year ago in each of our main towns and more Tameside people have attended them in one cycle of meetings than a year's worth of committees. The message is very clear.

  4.  We see no reason why a referendum could not be held on the "Cabinet with a leader" model. Unfortunately, this appears to be a "default" option. We are also concerned that a majority of local people agree with a move to "Cabinet with a Leader" option, only for a smaller number of electors to then petition for a directly elected mayor. This would appear to require the majority to vote down the directly elected mayor proposal but without being able to demonstrate its support through the referendum for the "Cabinet with a leader" option.

  5.  As the proposals stand, it appears that a referendum on other options only comes into play after the Secretary of State has intervened to require a referendum. We see there to be scope for the Council to hold a referendum before moving to a new form of local governance. In this way, it gives a real legitimacy to its proposals. We therefore recommend the Bill be amended to provide for Councils to hold a referendum on the "Cabinet with a Leader" option. This would be entirely consistent with the statement at 2.7 that "a range of options for new forms of governance needs to be presented to local people"

CHAPTER 3

Strong leadership for communities, powerful roles for all councillors

  6.  We support the idea of greater transparency in decision-making and a clear division between executive and scrutiny functions. We have already separated out these functions, establishing a Cabinet and a set of scrutiny committees, with dual membership prohibited. The proposals will therefore give legislative force to the Tameside changes—we welcome such a legal framework.

  7.  The requirement to place the regulatory responsibilities (planning, licensing and appeals) apart from the executive has already been implemented in Tameside. Our Speakers Panel is responsible for these functions. Members of the executive cannot be members of the Speakers Panel. The Speakers Panel has delegated powers from the full Council.

  8.  We agree with the proposals regarding the chairing of the Council.

  9.  We largely agree with the proposals regarding overview and scrutiny committees. Tameside has already set up three scrutiny panels and is drawing on the knowledge and expertise of the Borough's Members of Parliament and their involvement in Select Committee work. Membership of our panels provide for opposition group members to chair such panels. Other membership requirements set out in 3.16 are entirely consistent with Tameside's approach. However, there are two key points which we recommend are reconsidered;

    (i)  church representation on overview and scrutiny committees;

    (ii)  policy-making role of the scrutiny function.

  10.  We are concerned at the basis on which church representatives are able to participate. Currently, there is little democratic accountability, with representatives being selected by whatever process churches choose to adopt. This is neither transparent to the public nor does it involve the public in any form. The Bill presents an opportunity to reform church representation. We recommend that this opportunity should be taken.

  The current representation requirement does not reflect the religious make-up of the community but is based on provision. The education scrutiny function should not be concerned with a "provider" perspective but more with strategic policy and resource issues. This is consistent with the Government's approach and legislation on education.

  11.  The paper "Local leadership, local choice" proposes a different role for scrutiny committees to that set out in the draft Bill and the explanatory note on Clause 7. We agree with the role as set out in Clause 7 of the draft Bill and the accompanying explanation ie holding the executive to account. We disagree fundamentally with the concept of scrutiny committees as policy-making elements of the new governance set out in the paper "Local leadership, local choice".

  We note that even within the paper there are inconsistencies. Figure 6 and 7 provide for councillors outside the executive to make "new" policy proposals to the Mayor/Leader and Cabinet—there is no reference to Council. This is inconsistent with later paragraphs on overview and scrutiny committee proposals. Figure 8 is different again, with the word "new" omitted but with the scope to propose changes to whoever they choose.

  The example used at 3.21 envisages a scrutiny committee considering its own recommendations on policy and budgets, rather than examining policies and budgets of the executive. The scope for it to become an "alternative executive" would be inappropriate, leading to public confusion as to where the policy-making responsibility lies, and a fundamental problem of who then can scrutinise policy proposed by the scrutiny committee and accepted by the Council. We see this as a fundamental flaw. Scrutiny committee should be modelled on the parliamentary Select Committees ie holding the executive to account, not becoming part of the executive itself.

  11.  We welcome the indications in respect of decentralised structures. These are at the heart of Tameside's approach. We have District Assemblies which have delegated powers to decide many aspects of local service delivery. The District Assemblies also have an important role to play in our community planning process. They are a key part of the powerful role envisaged for non-executive councillors.

  Members of the Executive Cabinet serve on these and we see no conflict in responsibilities. Paragraphs 3.26 and 3.27 are not explicit on the position of executive members being members of such structures. We recommend that arrangements and membership be a matter for local choice, recognising that members of the executive continue to have a responsibility to be accountable to their constituents.

  12.  We do not see the need to specify a maximum size of the executive, more so since the Government does not intend to define a minimum. We think it right that Councils or mayors should have the freedom to decide. After all, there is no such stricture at national government level on which much of this model is based. The membership limit for the Cabinet of 15 per cent "rounded down" is arbitrary. We recommend the requirements of paragraph 3.36 be removed.

  13.  We agree that "checks and balances" are important in any new form of local governance. However, the proposals for recording decisions and resolving differences (paragraphs 3.64 and 3.69) appear cumbersome and involve the monitoring officer in a process of recording and communication which itself could be questioned. Who could "monitor" this activity? We see no reason why the Council should not be made to publish the basis on which individual executive members will make decisions and the timescale within which they must place on the record details of the decision they have taken. Paragraph 3.64 gives no indication of when the individual member should create the record and make it available.

  14.  In Tameside, we are developing a "cabinet diary" approach by which each cabinet deputy (member of the executive cabinet) keeps a record of their meetings and recommendations made at them. This diary is the public record, available for inspection and scrutiny, and is also designed for the protection of individual cabinet deputies. It is the cabinet deputy's responsibility to keep this up to date. A list of all individual executive members' decisions could be published at the end of each week and placed on deposit for inspection and scrutiny. The Cabinet has the responsibility for ensuring that a proper process is in place. The Monitoring Officer has the responsibility for ensuring this procedure is followed and timescales met. In Tameside, this will be forwarded to the Chairs of the Speakers Panel, the Monitoring Officer, Cabinet members and, potentially, Chairs of Scrutiny Panels. The list would also be open for public inspection and published on the Council's website. We recommend this form of approach.

  15.  Paragraph 3.69 is also confusing and omits important details regarding a key constitutional point at the heart of the Government's proposals. If the Mayor requires the Council to approve key proposals but the Council meets and decides otherwise, the Mayor does not have the effective veto. The Council does. It is suggested the Mayor can delay implementation of the Council's decision and seek another Council meeting to reconsider the matter. However, there is no timescale envisaged, merely a "short time". Who would call the next meeting of the Council? The imperative is with the Mayor. Is the Mayor to be vested with the power to requisition a Council meeting? If the Mayor is at odds with the Council and the Council again votes down the Mayor's key proposals, what happens next? The Council may decide a different course of action but what if the Mayor refuses to implement. The Council cannot remove the Mayor from office. It might make for good theatre but not effective, efficient local governance. Who has the democratic mandate? The Mayor may have been voted in (not necessarily by a majority of the electorate) but subsequent annual elections to the Council may reflect the public's changes in political allegiance or direction. We note that Clause 13 of the draft Bill provides for the Mayor to complete the term of office regardless of any public referendum to move away from such arrangements. The potential for disruption is considerable.

  We recommend that there is a requirement for a constitution to specify a definitive disputes process, including timescales, for any model involving directly elected mayors.

  This is particularly important in respect of budget setting, as statutory requirements to set a budget and Council Tax levy demand a specified timescale.

  16.  We also think it important for there to be clarity about who can stand for office as a directly elected mayor. Are the same rules that apply to councillors to be used? There is no reference to the important issue of who is eligible. It will also be important to specify the basis on which a Mayor could be removed from office. Are the same rules that apply to councillors to be used? We recommend these matters be specified.

  17.  We agree with the proposals regarding support for councillors, the role of officers and the basis on which constitutions can be changed. In relation to members allowance and remuneration, we have already set up an independent panel comprising a nationally respected local government figure and two regional figures from the business world. The panel's recommendations were made in the form set out in paragraph 3.81. They have been adopted by the Council. We agree that allowances should not be based on attendance—this has been the case in Tameside since 1995. However, in order to guard against a public perception that councillors receive their allowance, regardless of the level of their involvement in the Council's affairs, there should be provision to remove financial support (in full or in part) from those councillors who fail to meet minimum requirements. We recommend the concept of a "members contract" should be explored as a basis for defining the terms on which allowances and remuneration is paid.

  18.  Tameside has already begun the process of officers supporting the new functions of the executive and scrutiny. We would be very happy to share our experience of developing these new roles with other authorities. A number have contacted us already.

CHAPTER FOUR

High standards of conduct

  19.  We agree with the proposals. In Tameside we have already put in place all the key components which the Government wishes to see adopted. These include:

    —  Independent Standards Bench—comprising respected figures in the region wholly independent of the Council—one of the first in the UK.

    —  "Whistleblowing" policy covering members and officers.

    —  "Code of Conduct for Employees".

    —  Members signing to agree to abide by the "National Code of Local Government Code".

  20.  We consider the Standards Committee should have a majority of independent members. In Tameside, it is wholly comprised of independent members. Support for Tameside's Standards Bench is provided by the Monitoring Officer, Chief Executive and Director of Finance.

  21.  We consider it will be important for the public to understand the relative roles of the Standards Board, Local Government Ombudsman and the District Auditor. It is important that the relationships between these are well understood by local people who might be wishing to lodge a complaint. Equally, the role of the national Standards Board and the local Standards Committee will need proper publicity.

What "Local leadership, local choice" says we should do What we are doing in Tameside
Start open dialogue with local people and other stakeholders about shape and styple of their local governance Major Programme of open dialogue
Local Democracy Roadshow:

Series of presentations to stakeholders and other interested parties about the Local Government Bill and Tameside's current change programme.

Includes specific sessions for business representatives and local chamber of commerce, tenants federation, voluntary organisations and community groups.

Citizens Panel:

Tameside's 2,000 strong panel asked specific questions about the shape and style of governance they wish to see. Panel findings shared with all panel members, stakeholders and publicised—locally through press releases, Council newspaper and nationally in Municipal Journal. Also to feature on Council's website.

District Assemblies:

Our eight assemblies, based on the towns of Tameside, have substantial public representation on them and there is a public forum element at each meeting. Our overall approach to modernisation has been presented to all of them.

Council Website:

www.tameside.gov.uk will shortly enable people to comment on the Council's modernisation programme. It will also contain regular updates on the programme, as will the Council's newspaper Tameside Citizen, delivered quarterly to every home and business in Tameside.

Reduce the number of committeesCommittees cut by 40 per cent in 1998, and a further 20 per cent in January 1999. Rest of committees due to be wound up by April 2000, subject to legislation.
Reduce the number of members of those committees Committee membership reduced. For example, the committee dealing with quasi-legal matters such as planning cut from 22 to 12.
Reduce or abolish attendance allowances Abolished in 1995
Introduce prototype cabinetsIntroduced January 1999


Introduce overview and scrutiny panels Scrutiny panels introduced January 1999. Currently undertaking innovative training involving Borough MPs
Re-evaluate "whistleblowing" procedures New "whistleblowing" policy for members and officers introduced in January 1999
Introduce standard committee with independent members Standards Bench established January 1999, comprising independent members only. One of first in UK
Review members code of conductReviewed as part of whistleblowing policy
Reviewed member/officer protocolsReviewed as part of whistleblowing policy
Introduce independent committee to advise on councillor allowances Independent panel established February 1999—reported May 1999—adopted by Council
Refocus efforts of councillors on becoming the engine for public participation in decision taking —  District Assemblies established in May 1998, with councillors and the public meeting regularly in each of Tameside's towns to discuss and decide local matters. Decision taking role to be enhanced May 1999 with further delegation of services and budgets. Also to be involved in community plan process

—  Campaign to increase public awareness of who their local councillors are and how to contact them—councillor display boards in supermarkets, GP surgeries, leisure centres, libraries and public buildings. Campaign running since 1997.

—  Increased member leadership and involvement in partnership arrangements with the public and community groups, including area/town centre regeneration programmes and service trusts. Carers Council and Older People's Consortium established.

—  Local Democracy Roadshow started in January 1999—programme of member discussions with stakeholders and public
Arrangements for training both newly elected and serving councillors Members Training and Development Programme reviewed, including survey of all members. New programme to be introduced in May 1999, including revised induction programme for new members. Innovative training programme for members and officers involved in scrutiny panels. Training evaluation and members training records to be introduced from May 1999


Consider how people will be involved in decisions about future shape and style of their local governance

Enable local people to tell their council
Local people are being consulted about how they wish to be involved through:

—  Local Democracy Roadshow

—  District Assemblies

—  Citizen's Panel

—  Tameside Citizen

—  Website—interactive facilities

Councils should draw up proposals for a move to a new constitution, including:

—  definition of roles and delegations

—  standing orders

—  timetable for implementation

—  any necessary transitional arrangements

Programme set out in January 1999 with key milestones

—  Warrants of Office introduced for Cabinet Deputies, setting out role, responsibilities and delegations

—  Council's Terms of Reference revised in January 1999 and further changes in May 1999

—  Timetable for implementation approved in January 1999 based on new legislation being enacted in 2000

—  Transitional arrangements for 1999-2000 put in place

16 June 1999





 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 11 August 1999