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


APPENDIX 54

Memorandum by Ashfield District Council

LOCAL GOVERNMENT (ORGANISATION AND STANDARDS) BILL

  Members welcome the recognition that Councils, in partnership with others, have a vital role to play in improving the quality of people's lives. This Council certainly expects to play its full part in providing the vision and leadership for the communities of Ashfield, as well as delivering high quality services to local people. In order to achieve this vision, Members would urge the Government to find Parliamentary time at the earliest possible opportunity to introduce legislation establishing a duty for Councils to promote the economic, social and environmental well being of their area.

  The draft Bill itself, in some parts, is felt to be unnecessarily prescriptive and will probably inhibit the development of alternative Executive models over time. Clause 2(5) does allow for the Secretary of State, by regulation, to prescribe alternative Executive models. Clause 2(7) however appears to place in primary legislation the maximum size of the Executive.

  The Executive model involving an elected mayor is not felt to be easily applicable outside of large conurbations or to Districts such as Ashfield where community allegiance is most pronounced at a much more local level. Whilst applauding the community's right to determine the most appropriate model, Members are entirely confident that any form of governance that placed personality above community service would therefore not find favour.

  The reason for the prescription of a maximum size for the Executive is understood (but only partially supported) although the detail of calculation at 15 per cent rounded down is felt to be insufficiently flexible. It does not allow for the wide variation, nationally, in the number of Councillors representing similar sized population. This Council currently comprises 33 Members representing approximately 86,000 electors. A ratio of 2,606/1 as compared to a national average of 1,803/1. It would appear that the draft legislation will effectively "penalise" authorities such as Ashfield that are highly "efficient" in these terms by restricting the Executive to just three Members (15 per cent of 33, rounded down to the next odd number). Amending the proposed legislation to allow rounding to the nearest odd number (five in Ashfield's case) would appear to achieve the Government's intention, without such penalty.

  Further, given the diversity of duties and arrangement of portfolios implicit within the planned duty to promote the economic, social and environmental well being of the area, my Members do not believe that a cabinet of three is sufficiently representative or workable and would urge a minimum of five members.

  The separation of roles is understood and accepted and the impartiality of the Chair welcomed as is the flexibility in determining the membership of Overview Committees, including the possibility of non-voting co-opted Members.

  Members also welcome the recognition that regulatory functions will not be permitted to become the responsibility of an Executive and trust that regulations clarifying the precise functions will be published without delay.

  In relation to record keeping and access to information, Members support the move towards freedom of information legislation and support the planned record keeping for significant decisions. They see considerable difficulties, however, in expecting individual members of the Executive needing to prepare detailed and comprehensive records of decisions made on day to day matters. They would ask that further thought is given to ensuring that an additional bureaucrary is not developed unnecessarily.

  My Members would urge that Parliamentary time is found as soon as possible to introduce the draft legislation (as amended following consultation) and that interim arrangements under current legislation do not continue for any length of time. They are however, minded to make progress in advance of legislation and intend to include simulation of the new Executive and Scrutiny roles in the programme of training for the new Council later this month. The experience from this exercise will be disseminated to interested local and national bodies.

30 April 1999


 
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