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


Memorandum by Dr Josie Brooks, Southampton Institute

  I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome the opportunity to comment on the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill and the consultation document published with it. This was a positive step to ensure that the local government community is involved fully with the process of reforming local authorities' political decision making structures.

  I feel that the Government's intentions to restore public trust in local government and reduce apathy by local electors are excellent. A significant step towards these aspirations could be achieved by granting councils greater autonomy and freedom to meet the needs of their local communities. While councils are subject to Government intervention by inspectorates, auditory processes and Ministerial intervention; local citizens continue to receive a powerful signal that what is decided locally has little value or importance. It also implies that decisions by local elected representatives may be overturned by an appointed official, for example, from the Audit Commission.

  I also believe that local authorities should be trusted to spend local raised taxes. Specifically, the return of the right of local authorities to set and raise local business rates. I welcome the recent report by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee. I would like to draw your attention to the final paragraph in their report. Specifically, their conclusion which stated ". . . that without a more radical reform of local government finance system the aims of the White Paper, Modern Local Government, In Touch with the People, will not be achieved and will not contribute to an improvement in local accountability."


  1.1  By publishing a further consultation document and a Local Government bill in draft form, the Government has taken the most welcomed step of inviting stakeholders to comment on and respond to its proposals. This suggests that the Government is eager for stakeholders to "own" the project to modernise local government and ensure their commitment to reforming decision making in local authorities.

  1.2  The Government is proposing several significant changes in the way local government conducts its affairs. However, while stakeholders may agree that local government decision making processes are flawed, there is less agreement about possible solutions. One interpretation suggests that the Government proposals will reduce the number of people involved in local government decision making, which will result in the process being less relevant and democratic as decisions are "owned" by fewer people. These points and possible consequences are discussed in detail below.

  1.3  It is important to remember that there is differentiated system of local government in England. Although local government across the country shares many common features, different types of local authority, (ie unitary authorities, non metropolitan county councils, non metropolitan district councils, metropolitan districts and London boroughs) have their own traditions and there is considerable variation between the types of issues which they deal with. Such diversity is a strength of local government and any attempts to reform or modernise local authorities' decision making processes must strive to retain it.

  1.4  The Government's intention is to reform current arrangements to create a system of local government where decision making processes are efficient, transparent, accountable and which maintains high standards of conduct (DETR 1999 page 11). These are significant aspirations and are surely shared by all stakeholders. However, the current local government decision making processes have other characteristics and values, these points are discussed below.


  2.1  The draft local Government bill and the consultation document, "Local Leadership, local Choice", argue that the proposed changes to local government will make decision making in local government more efficient, transparent and accountable.

2.2  Will local government decision making be more efficient?

  Reducing the number of people involved in local government decision making will undoubtedly make the process quicker. However, the speed of decision making should not be the only judge of the efficacy of decision making, a further test is whether the outcomes are an accurate response to the requirements and needs of the locality. More rapid policy making does not necessarily make for better decisions. Indeed, by reducing the opportunities for local authorities decision makers to deliberate on other opinions may make policy less responsive than at present.

2.3  Will local government decision making be more transparent?

  The proposals to introduce an executive leadership into local councils will provide local electors a readily identifiable individual or small group of people who are the policy makers. However, this is a simplistic view of how decision making operates in large complex multi purpose organisations such as local authorities. Moreover, is it realistic or indeed, feasible for executive members to be responsible for all decisions taken in their name? It is also possible to argue that this will blur further the demarcation between policy and operational matters, which will risk executive members being over focused on operational matters. It risks promoting a "blame culture", rather than local authorities' managers and political leaders working in an environment which allows organisational learning.

2.4  Will accountability be enhanced?

  A core objective of the Government's proposals to modernise local government is to improve its accountability. However, accountability in local government is multi-dimensional. Modern local government is answerable to many different stakeholders and requires processes adapted to fit the specific circumstances of who is being held to account. Whether political, financial or managerial, the concept of accountability implies responsibility and obligations derived from the authority to act on the behalf of others. By reforming the decision making processes, the Government claim that the accountability of local authorities will be improved. Yet, the proposals to modernise accountability in local government may be criticised for undermining the traditional legitimacy of elected local government. Furthermore, it reduces accountability to merely being able to identify the individual decision makers, whilst ignoring policy implementors. It is anticipated that the new scrutiny arrangements will provide more explanation and background information, yet without safeguards this process could be circumvented by the actions of the majority group (see section 5).


  3.1  Central to the plans to reform local government is the assumption that the traditional system of decision making in local government is fundamentally flawed. The Government's criticism of decision making in local authorities was summarised thus; ". . . it is inefficient, opaque, and weakens local accountability" (DETR 1999 a p 8 para 1.8). Not only inefficient, the decision making process is also believed to be unnecessarily time consuming. It is also expensive to maintain and is wasteful of councillors' and officers' time and energy. The system is also believed to lack transparency as it is unclear where decisions are taken and by whom, which, it is suggested, weakens the accountability of public officials. These are significant criticisms of the traditional systems of decision making and require to be discussed fully.

3.2  Council committee meetings are inefficient

  On the surface this is a powerful critique of council committee meetings. Reports by Government commissions and organisations, such as the Maud Commission and the Audit Commission have been critical of the resources consumed by committee meetings, in particular, staff time engaged by writing reports and attending committees. It was also acknowledged that councillors were often overwhelmed by the volume of information they are required to deal with and the time taken by preparing for and attending council meetings. However, these claims rarely acknowledge that informed deliberation prior to decision making is an essential component of democratic practice. If local government is to retain its democratic credibility and it its decisions are to be an accurate response to the aspirations of the locality, the process of decision making should contain sufficient mechanisms and opportunities for different points of view to be expressed, heard and reflected upon by decision makers, other than at periodic elections. In local government, there are tensions between the benefits of effective and speedily decision making and ensuring that democratic practices are meaningful, for example, by ensuring there are sufficient mechanisms in place to inform fully all stakeholders before a decision is taken and they are provided with the opportunity to contribute and participate in the process. However, deliberative processes are expensive of staff and councillors' time, they may also be unwieldy and rarely provide quick responses but despite these weaknesses, deliberation in local government decision making process must be vigorously defended because of the importance of informed debate to democracy. Moreover, without informed debate there is considerable risk that decisions may be flawed and will require substantial revision once implementation difficulties become apparent.

3.3  Council Decision Making is Often in Private

  The previous paragraph suggested that the present system of council meetings should be defended as they provide a forum for deliberation, essential if decisions are to be made democratically. However, there is evidence to suggest that while the formal decision may rest with the council, its committees or sub committees, in practice, decisions are often brokered in private at meetings of the majority group, or by ad-hoc meetings of group leaders when no one party has an overall majority (DETR 1999 p 8, para 1.12). Yet, even if councillors meet privately to deliberate on council matters, it is in the context that documents and agendas are available to the public who may choose to lobby councillors before the actual decision is made. Even if some party councillors have reached a view prior to the relevant council committee meeting, their decision is in the context that they may have been lobbied before that meeting and are required to make their reasoning known at the point at which any decision is made. Lastly, there is evidence to suggest that group discipline is more robustly applied in Labour groups. Although the Labour party may take steps nationally to relax "whipping", there is evidence to suggest that informal arrangements will continue. At present, it could be argued that formal group whipping, in particular, by Labour councillors, may be unpalatable but it at least it is in a context of a formal process, which is less undemocratic than informal pressures and inducements.

  3.4  Whatever political decision making system in local government is finally decided upon, sectional interests will continue to seek to circumvent the process to maximise their share of resources. One example of this practice is elected members meeting privately or canvassing support from others to support their proposals. In some circumstances, politicians and even paid officials may "trade" their support with others to ensure their schemes are successful or their position is secured. If such practices are to be checked, council decision making, at least at the policy/members' level should be as open as possible and decision makers should be required to offer an explanation of their reasons at the point a decision is formally made. For these reasons, membership of all decision making committees should reflect the political composition of the authority, this will provide the safeguard that all interests, at least those represented on the council, are present at the point when a decision is formally made.

  3.5  It has been suggested that there has been an increase in party discipline that reduces the freedom and independence of councillors. It for these reasons, at least formally, council decisions should be made in public and in forums where political parties are represented proportionally to their relative strength on the authority. To act otherwise would reduce deliberation and the opportunity for other opinions to be considered. Indeed to do otherwise would lead to council decision makers becoming complacent and out of touch (DETR 1998 p 43 para 4.25).

  3.6  It has been suggested that new requirements for local authorities to consult with their constituents will help make council decisions more responsive. However, within the draft bill there is not a recommendation which insists that councils consult prior to decisions being made. Indeed, it is implied that politically astute councillors will consult frequently if they wish to retain office at the next election. However, the significance of local issues at local elections is questionable. Unfortunately, local elections are often seen by national parties, the media and by the public as an opportunity to make a judgement on the performance and popularity of the national government and rarely are local issues of such significance that are able to challenge the nationalisation of local politics. Consultation by the incumbent administration will canvass opinions in the context of existing policy and it could be argued that such consultation risks merely asking the question to which the answer is already known.

3.7  Council decision making lack clarity and accountability

  A further criticism of the present system is that it is opaque and lacks transparency. The Government argues that as councillors often make decisions outside formal council meetings, there are few opportunities for opposition or backbench members to influence the decision making process. It is also suggested that current arrangements lack clarity about responsibility for decisions taken, which in turn, so it is argued, clouds accountability as constituents are unsure who is taking decisions on their behalf and at what point such decisions are being made. However, it may be robustly argued that few organisations only have a single individual who alone makes policy or operational decisions. In practice, managers and key individuals working within a broad policy framework engage in many decisions and debates, striving for a consensus and a decision which is owned by as many of the relevant stakeholders as possible. Such an consensual approach is essential if policies are to be implemented successfully and potential difficulties identified and resolved prior to being operationalise. By proposing that an individual or a small group of decision makers alone are responsible does not adequately reflect mature decision making processes in complex organisations. Moreover, it may contribute to a "blame culture" which prevents organisations learning and developing from their experiences.


  4.1  In order to provide leadership and clarity to political decision making in local government, it is proposed that councils will have a clearly identifiable executive. Also suggested is that within the new arrangements all councillors have a new powerful role. It is also encouraging that the Government has urged local authorities to consult with their constituents before deciding which model is the most suitable for their council.

  Broadly, there are only three models to choose from:

    1.  a directly elected mayor with a cabinet;

    2.  a cabinet with an indirectly elected leader; and

    3.  a directly elected mayor and council manager.

  Although, it is helpful that the Government has indicated that within this framework there will be some flexibility to how local authorities should implement these models. However, it is regrettable that the Government has ruled out that present arrangements may not be continued. Such centralisation is heavy handed and is a factor in creating distrust between central and local government.

  4.2  It could be argued that seemingly the Government's preference is not suitable for some localities. The executive mayor model is most suitable for urban areas or localities which are spatially identifiable. In practice, however, few local authorities have such clearly defined spatial boundaries well known to the constituents and neighbouring areas. This risks blurring further the public's awareness of their council's activities. For rural and mixed rural/urban areas covering large areas councils represent many communities and this aspect may be lost by the election of an executive mayor. In the case of large rural areas; in particular, non metropolitan county councils, some areas may be over represented in executive cabinets, leaving some localities marginalised from the decision making process.

  4.3  Yet, the case for local authorities to have an executive leadership seems to be compelling. It also appears to provide opportunities to make council business more efficient, transparent and accountable. However, there are aspects of these proposals that may produce a quite different outcome than anticipated by the Government.

4.4  Will executive mayors make councils more responsive and in touch with all opinions?

  This paper has argued that local government derives a source of its legitimacy from its democratic practices, specifically, its deliberative processes. Effective democratic local government mediates different opinions and ensures that there are opportunities for decision takers to deliberate on all views before coming to a conclusion. By replacing the present system which encourages deliberative decision making with an executive system, that reduces or even by-passes the deliberative process, may produce faster outcomes. It is uncertain, however, whether the quality of the decision making, however measured, will be enhanced. Unless there is compulsory consultation, decision makers will not be required to consider alternatives before setting a policy. This will encourage reckless decision making, requiring amendments to ill-considered policies.

4.5  Will executive mayors help build effective partnerships?

  Since its election, the Government has encouraged those involved in local governance to work in partnership. According to the philosophy of partnership different interests are brought together in a common purpose. Local authorities, it is suggested, have a special role bringing together other agencies and service providers to work together in partnership. The partnership strategy also emphasises the rewards of bringing stakeholders together to inform and influence decision makers. Yet, executive decision making, which emphasises speedier decision making may become counter productive to local authorities developing effective partnerships as there will be fewer opportunities for other partners to reflect and deliberate on proposed strategies. Effective partnership working depends on trust and mutuality, quite different from the image of a strong leader imposing his or her will on others as implied in the model of strong council leadership.

4.6  Who will own policy decisions?

  At present all councillors are involved in the decision making process and although there is considerable variation in practice in local authorities, backbench members do contribute to the making of council decisions. According to the consultation document decisions will be made by the executive mayor or am indirectly elected leader with or without other cabinet members. In practice, this suggests that at least 85 per cent of elected councillors will not have any responsibility for making council policy (see paragraph 3.10). Although, so-called back bench members will have opportunities at the scrutiny and overview process to make their views known, this will not be binding on the executive and may be after the decision has been made and implemented. Decision making by a small executive implies that new policies are at risk of being imposed and not "owned" by the majority of elected members.

4.7  Will policy making be more responsive?

  A criticism made by the Government of current decision making arrangements in local government is that the process if often lengthy, unresponsive and may not meet the needs and aspirations of the locality. However, if the proposals in the draft local government bill are implemented, there is a real risk that relations between an elected mayor of one party and the assembly dominated by a different party may be routinely politicised and increase the risk of policy making becoming grid-locked. Presumably, to overcome such difficulties, negotiating meetings, outside the new decision making process will dominate all other business. Such a situation does not suggest openness and enhanced accountability.

4.8  How will party politics be affected?

  The position of a directly elected mayor of a major conurbation will be a highly valued prize for the major parties and will have some significance nationally. This implies that the candidatures will be vigorously contested. The position of a directly elected mayor with executive functions will risk the position being personalised. After all, strong leaders have run local authorities in the past; for example, Ken Livingstone, Derek Hatton, Dame Shirley Porter, this risks reducing the competition to little more than a "beauty contest". However, there is evidence to suggest that national political parties will attempt to ensure that "safe" candidates are chosen to minimise the risk of embarrassment to their party. Furthermore, candidates for the mayoralty will undoubtedly seek out endorsements from local community groups, business leaders and other organisations. This risks politicising civil society. Lastly, as executive mayors will be elected every four years, this suggests that policy making will be suspended for the duration of the election and some months before the competition as party managers and candidates work to secure their nominations. Prior to the election candidates, particularly incumbents seeking re-appointment, will manage the policy making process to seek to garner as many votes as possible, rather than deal with possibly unpopular policy decisions.

4.9  Will the executive mayor be a civic entrepreneur?

  The case for the civic entrepreneur promoting the interests of his/her constituents, working in partnership with other organisations, providing a vision for the locality is very strong. However, this ideal, when applied to our system of local government contains elements which appear undemocratic. How can we be sure that the vision argued for by the civic entrepreneur is shared by the whole locality? How are different visions dealt with? Does this model offer scope for difference and diversity? How are such leaders assessed by others, in particular those who are politically, socially or economically different from the leader or are from groups which are often excluded from decision making?

  4.10  It appears that the Government's first preference is for directly elected mayors operating with an executive cabinet. However, local government practitioners seem more at ease with the second model, the executive cabinet with an indirectly elected leader. This is the system which is most similar to current practice and is in the tradition of local government in the United Kingdom. According to the consultation document published with the draft local government bill, councils are recommended to adopt a cabinet which is restricted in size to 15 per cent of the membership of the council or 10 members, whichever is the smaller number. Whether to support an executive mayor or an indirectly elected leader, the case for a cabinet with executive functions is justified as providing more efficient decision making which has greater transparency than at present, which would improve accountability, as local electors would be aware of who was making decisions on their behalf.

  4.11  As in the case of executive mayors, the introduction of executive cabinets would reduce the opportunity for reflective deliberative decision making. Ownership of decisions would be significantly reduced to a small minority of elected members and there is a real risk that executive cabinet members, executive mayors and indirectly elected leaders would become isolated from other councillors. These issues are also discussed in the section which discusses the new scrutiny committees and the role of councillors (sections 5 and 6).

  4.12  The proposals do not allow for deputies to share the responsibilities of executive cabinet members or to take over in the case of unforeseen events. It may be argued that under current arrangements the post of vice chair of a committee provides an opportunity for inexperience members to gain expertise and is a training opportunity for newer members. However, this opportunity will not be available in the future if the Government's proposals are unamended.

  4.13  Lastly, it would also be advisable for guidelines for authorities to develop officer/members protocol which makes clear what constitutes an executive decision making meeting and who should be present to make such a meeting valid.


  5.1  Several of the concerns discussed earlier may be are addressed by the recommendation that the new arrangements will include the introduction of new arrangements for policy decisions to be monitored and scrutinised by the non executive members of the authority. Overview and scrutiny committees will be an important check on the Executive. Indeed, it may be argued that without the checks provided by these committees, significant issues of probity would be left unresolved. This point is acknowledged by the consultation paper.

  5.2  It is expected that non-executive councillors will have a new enhanced role in scrutiny policy making and implementation. This is a departure from current practice, as traditionally scrutiny is carried out in committee/council meetings, at the point any decision is made. Because of internal group discipline and inter party competition, scrutiny is at present a function of opposition councillors.

  5.3  However, if the scrutiny panels are to be effective, party loyalties would have to be first disengaged. Even if party discipline was relaxed, ambitious councillors who aspire to become a "cabinet" member or an indirectly elected leader, might find that their actions whilst a member of a scrutiny committee may impede their further advancement.

  5.4  If scrutiny is to be effective under this or any other system, sanctions are required. Ultimately, without checks and balances on the power of executives, these systems are open to abuse. Yet to give backbench councillors the power to veto budget decision and policy frameworks will undermine the executive's authority. Unless scrutiny committees are given power to veto, they will be reviewing policy after it has been formulated, unlike the present committee system, where it is possible to challenge decisions before they are formally ratified by the council.

  5.5  Quite rightly, there are no guidelines on the actual size, structure and the flow of business of scrutiny arrangements. This suggests that local authorities will be free to make local arrangements and this should be welcomed. Several possibilities include councils establishing one committee with powers to co-opt other members and to set up time limited task groups to investigate specific policy areas. An alternative would be to set up several scrutiny committees which would "shadow" the cabinet members' portfolios.

  5.6  The draft bill or the supporting paper is silent however on the recommended number of scrutiny committees or indeed, how frequently they should meet. It is welcomed that proportionality rules will apply. Nevertheless, without some safeguards majority groups could attempt to influence the scrutiny process. Unscrupulous majority groups could restrict the number, size or even the agendas of scrutiny committees, thus limiting their effectiveness. Similarly, policy reviews could also be restricted if the council's majority party believed it could be politically embarrassing.

  5.7  To address the concerns raised in the previous paragraphs, (5.5 and 5.6), it would be difficult to justify that cabinet/executive councillors should be entitled to participate in setting the constitution, standing orders and membership of these committees. Indeed, legislation should include provisions that ensure the Councils' Standing Orders should prohibit executive councillors deliberating on the constitution, standing orders, size and number of scrutiny committees. This should be a matter for non executive councillors only. It is also important that if the scrutiny process is to be sufficiently robust and effective. Party officials should be encouraged to relax group discipline for non executive councillors who are scrutiny committee members.

  5.8  By suggesting that scrutiny committees should have responsible for policy overview, the Government is acknowledging that local authorities are often involved in long-term projects. As it is unclear in the Government's documents, at which point in the policy making process scrutiny would commence. In Southampton, for example, there are a number of large long term projects are being undertaken with local authority involvement. To be meaningful, scrutiny should be continuous throughout the projects' lifetime. However, for sensitive projects, it could be claimed that investigations by a scrutiny committee may jeopardise the project's success. Often such projects are in partnership with other organisations and it may be argued that other organisations involved in joint working arrangements may resist scrutiny by councillors.

  5.9  Indeed, to take a local example of the difficulties in the Government's proposals, the application by the local Premier Division football club to build a new stadium in Southampton would not be subject to scrutiny as it is a planning decision. Yet there are strong arguments that such a decision should be scrutinised because of issues of community safety, economic development and leisure provision. It is unclear whether such an investigation would be allowed under the Government proposals.

  5.10  The proposal to formalise scrutiny outside the actual decision making process risks encouraging partisan action by some councillors. Without responsibilities to the decision making and implementation process, disengaged (and minority party) backbench members may find plenty of opportunity to politicise policies that could be detrimental to their successful development and implementation.

  5.11  The recommendations on how decisions made by the executive members are to be recorded and maintained are to be supported. By insisting that whenever a decision is made by the executive, there is a duty for that decision to be recorded and with any supporting documentation to be available for public inspection. Failure to do so will, if the draft bill is enacted, become a criminal offence (DETR 1999 p 37 para 37). Yet, if the part of the plans to reform local government are to reduce the time officers commit to producing reports and recording decisions, this ambition may not be met if the Government's recommendations on decision recording are implemented. If officers and members are to avoid prosecution, meticulous recording will be necessary but will also be very time consuming. Robust guidelines are required as there may be disagreement between the decision maker and recorder of what was actually decided. It may be helpful if a national standard for recording decisions could be developed, that would include how to note factors which may have been pertinent to the decision.

  5.12  If scrutiny and policy development committees are to be effective, there ought to be a set percentage of the authority's budget allocated for officer time, preparation of reports and, if necessary, to commission independent research. Moreover, there is a case to suggest that there ought to be designated officers to support scrutiny. Yet to provide designated officer support to service overview and scrutiny committees would significantly revise the position of council officers. The convention in local government is that officers are impartial and provide advice on professional and technical matters to all councillors. However, if these committees are to be effective, protocols will need to be developed to define the role and responsibilities of council officers and their role in overview and scrutiny.

  5.13  Presently, there is a statutory requirement for councils to publish papers and agendas ahead of the actual meetings. Under the new arrangements, it is uncertain whether the authority will be required to make documents publicly available ahead of any meeting where decisions will be made. For the public, the publication and the subsequent publicity which such documents attract, is an important factor in ensuring the council remains in touch with its constituents. It would be advisable for guidelines to be made on at which point background documents become available to the public, separate from any action taken by the overview and scrutiny committees.


  6.1  At present councillors have three dimensions to their role; as representative; politician and as corporate manager. It may be argued that each aspect of the councillor's role informs and complements the other elements. According to the Government's proposals, most councillors will no longer be required to have corporate management responsibilities. It is possible to argue that at a stroke, the councillor's role as a representative will be devalued. Shorn of corporate responsibilities, back bench councillors will begin to lose their strategic understanding. While it would be beholden on executive members to brief backbench members on strategic matters, this is not a realistic replacement for the information that becomes available by being involved in policy making on a day to day basis. Under the new arrangements proposed by the Government, backbench members may have more time to consult with their constituents but they will be without a formal point where they engage with the policy making process at the point decisions are taken.

  6.2  At present, all councillors represent their constituents interests in the decision making process. As councillors will continue to be elected by the present arrangements, presumably, all elected members will retain this responsibility to their constituents, at least only because of the very practical reasons of aspiring to win future elections. However, a new enhanced representative role for non-executive councillors would suggest that as well as continuing the traditional problem solving role, councillors will be encouraged to set up consultative forums and other arenas to consult with constituents. Yet, this type of activity by elected representatives should not supplant the council, as a corporate body, carrying out consultation. Indeed, there should be clear boundaries between the activities of the authority and councillors, particularly at election time.

  6.3  If non-executive councillors are expected to have a new enhanced representative role, it follows that if their activities are to be meaningful, processes should be developed to enable representatives to present their findings to the executive members and other decision makers. If this process is to be valued, the executive should be obliged to comment on the content of these forms of representation and whether or not they were incorporated into their decision making.

  6.4  As the role of non-executive members is to undergo significant change, it is only sensible that some thought should be given to their training and development requirements. For example, the process of scrutiny and how policy review should be managed. It has been suggested that executive and non executive councillors' job specifications ought to be developed. Information on the successes and indeed, failure to meet their objectives should be reported at the end of each year or prior to election. I would imagine that for this reason, this suggestion would not be acceptable to some councillors. However, if councillors are eager to improve their accountability, a significant step towards meeting this aim would be for them to tell the public whether they have met their objectives.

  6.5  At present there are few incentives for councillors to attend council activities, other than peer pressure and the legal requirement to attend a council meeting at least once in a six-month period. Locally, councillors are paid an allowance which is not tied to performance, attendance or any other criteria (other than their statutory obligation). Indeed, some councillors have argued privately that since the attendance allowance was replaced, regular attendance at committee meetings by some councillors has become noticeably erratic. Ideally, I think councillors, should be paid according to what they do and not be in receipt of an allowance which is paid regardless of how much or how little they do. While there are significant difficulties with the payment of attendance allowances, steps should be taken to ensure that payment is somehow related to output. Presently councillors decide themselves on their level of allowance and the criteria by which it should be paid. Although members are encouraged to take independent advice the recommendations are not binding. I would welcome central Government intervention on this point!

  6.6  If the role of councillors is to be enhanced and developed, Government should consider introducing a statutory right to time off work for public duties, with would be a step towards removing a significant barrier to those who are interested in becoming a councillor yet have difficulty in obtaining sufficient time off work. More training and development could also help make councillors more effective.


  7.1  Lastly, it is most welcomed that the Government plans to replace the National Code of Local Government Code with legislation. By requiring all local authorities to adopt a code of conduct, which councillors would agree as a condition of their term of office is an important step towards improving standards in public life. Each council will also be required to establish a Standards Committee that will offer guidance on the implementation of the ethical framework. While the detail of these proposals may appear to be draconian and heavy-handed, they are important steps in improving the accountability of local government elected and unelected officials.

  7.2  Some councillors and officers have expressed some reservations about Standard Committees and the new Standard Board. It has been suggested that they would be unhelpful and be a bureaucratic response to allegations of wrong-doing. Indeed, they may encourage frivolous complaints, however, when allegations of wrongdoing are made, it is important that councils take steps to investigate them. I would argue that the public takes such allegations very seriously and the apparent failure of councils to investigate promptly has contributed to public apathy and cynicism.

  7.3  It is for the reasons given in the last paragraph that I would urge that the Government includes in its proposals a procedure that would allow executive mayors to be suspended or removed from office if there are allegations of wrong-doing. Without such a check on the power of an executive mayor, localities would have not a mechanism to deal with impropriety other than at the next election. This is unsatisfactory and the draft legislation should be amended.

20 May 1999

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