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


Memorandum by Nottingham City Council

  The following is the response of Nottingham City Council to the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill, following deliberation at a meeting of its Policy and Resources Committee held today.


  There are arguments for introducing an executive function within Councils to facilitate speedier action and promote greater efficiency. However, this Council believes that the three models proposed by the Government are prescriptive and may not necessarily promote greater openness nor address local circumstances. The opportunity should be taken, under the proposed further regulations, to enable other forms to be adopted. The Council notes that, under the proposals, the executive in Nottingham City Council's case would consist of eight members only. Again, this is too prescriptive; it should be a matter of local choice. The retention of a strategic role for all councillors is welcomed. However, the powerful role for all councillors envisaged by the paper must not be illusory.


  This Council welcomes the clarification of the role of such committees set out in "Local leadership, local choice" and in the draft bill. There should, however, be scope within the work of these committees for a less rigid division of members. The function of overview and scrutiny committees to inform and guide the work of the executive, as well as to monitor its activities, could provide an essential element in the revised political management structure, but should not depend upon an arbitrary and difficult division between "executive" and "scrutiny" roles.


  This Council is not in favour of an elected mayor, preferring that a consensual agenda is presented to the electorate and a collaborative approach, maintained by those entrusted with the mandate for the City's governance. It is considered that a petition of 5 per cent of local government electors is a low threshold for requiring the holding of a referendum.

  There is a clear difference between the duties of Nottingham's traditional civic and ceremonial Lord Mayor and the intended executive role of an elected mayor. It is not clear from the paper how this would be dealt with.


  It is noted that there is no intention to change current electoral cycles, excepting that the initial term of office for any elected mayor could be shorter in order to bring it into line with ordinary Council elections. The Council would not support the introduction of annual elections.


  The new ethical framework is to be welcomed in that it will clearly demonstrate the integrity of Council members and ensure that the high standards of probity do not slip. This Council has already established a Standards Committee and welcomes a formal statutory framework within which the Committee can operate. However, this framework should provide a clear authorisation to take the necessary action. The powers and sanctions available to the Standards Committee should therefore be specified.

  The task of deciding which allegations are more serious and therefore matters for the independent Standards Board rather than the Council's own Standards Committee is allotted under the bill to Ethical Standards Officers. Where the ESO refers a matter to the Standards Board, the Board may itself later refer it to the Standards Committee. The bill should specify criteria against which these decisions will be made.


  Reference is made in "Local leadership, local choice" to area committees playing an important role in advising a council's executive on such matters as community planning. It also sees value in their assisting the work of the overview and scrutiny committees. This Council welcomes the opportunity to continue under the new structure the excellent working relationships promoted by its existing area committees. However, the Council is concerned that the role of area committees will be undermined by the arbitrary distinction between "executive" and "scrutiny" roles which cannot adequately fit their work.


  Whilst welcoming many of the provisions in the draft bill, Nottingham City Council believes that it has fulfilled the aims of the bill in its activities on behalf of the people of Nottingham. This Council does put its people and communities first, it espouses openness and accountability and it has served and led the community through many years of tangible progress. The paper refers to a new duty to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area—this duty has been pursued with exceptional success over recent years, notwithstanding, in some situations, the existence of unnecessary legal constraints. The introduction of the new duty should be accompanied by the removal of those constraints.

18 May 1999

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