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


Memorandum by Peterborough City Council

  Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the above draft Bill. Unfortunately, due to the period of consultation overlapping with elections to the City Council, it has not been possible to present you with a Member agreed response to the draft bill. However, because of the fundamental nature of the draft legislation, I felt it was appropriate to provide you with some officer observations which I hope you will be able to take into account.

  (NB. The references below relate to the chapters in the "Local Leadership, Local Choice" paper which accompanied the draft Bill).

General Comment

  The opportunity to comment on the draft Bill is very much appreciated and it is hoped that the practice of publishing draft bills for consultation can be extended in the future to other pieces of draft legislation relating to local government. The draft Bill is welcomed as it provides important and much needed opportunities for local government to modernise its decision-making structures and practices, and to strengthen local democracy.



  There is an impression that the decision-making models in the draft Bill are more relevant to majority controlled councils than hung councils like Peterborough, which present their own specific challenges when addressing the executive and representative split. It is suggested that the draft Bill should include other models that might have more relevance to the decision-making processes of hung Councils.

  Whilst the arguments for change are strong, there is a need to be able to evaluate the new structures and test their effectiveness, with the possibility of being able to change to an alternative model more appropriate to local conditions and experience in future years. Perhaps there is a role for the Improvement and Development Agency in such evaluation on behalf of local authorities and the Government.

Policy formulation (page 21)

  The draft Bill does not include provision for a shadow cabinet which might also have a role in presenting policy ideas to the Executive.

Chairing the council (page 26)

  There is likely to be some concern locally about the loss of a ceremonial mayor in the event of an elected mayor for Peterborough. The profile of a ceremonial mayor is important in maintaining local civic pride and is an asset widely appreciated by community groups and voluntary organisations in particular in publicising their causes. A high profile political mayor may not be best placed to provide an appropriate ceremonial role.

Meetings and access to information (page 36)

  Clarification is required as regards the access to information requirements. These requirements will continue to apply to full council, its committees and sub-committees, and to scrutiny committees, but not to the Executive. The latter will only be required to publish its decisions once they have been made and indeed these decisions could be made in private. This would appear to reduce the rights of the public and reduce the openness of local government.

The role of officers (page 40)

  Local Leadership, Local Choice acknowledges that since officers will be required to serve both the executive and other councillors in their roles they "will therefore be required to maintain their political neutrality". This statement is to be welcomed, although there is some concern that the model of local governance identifying an elected mayor and a council manager could leave that officer position vulnerable in practice.


Standards committees (page 44)

  There is concern that the proposals for both a national Standards Board and Standards Committees for all principal authorities are both bureaucratic and confusing. A clearer process is required, particularly in relation to the criteria to be used for referring cases to the Board and the sanctions available to Standards Committees when considering cases referred to them by the Board. It is also unclear how malicious and unsubstantiated claims will be dealt with. On a practical point, given the experience of other councils, recruiting Members to sit on the Standards Committee could prove to be problematic where Members would be sitting in judgement on their peers.

Standards board (page 46)

  The paper highlights that it is uncertain how many complaints the Standards Board is likely to have to deal with. Consequently, it is imperative that the Board is well resourced and that a backlog of cases is not allowed to build which would affect public confidence in the system. Also, the idea that the number of complaints will eventually decline is open to challenge—in most other spheres, complaints continue to rise. Indeed, a continuing increase can be an indicator of a successful complaints system, contrary to the suggestion in Local Leadership, Local Choice.

  Because of the range of regulatory agencies in existence—such as the District Audit and the Ombudsman—it will be important that councils and members of the public in particular are clear about the process which should be used to make a complaint. The Standards Board should ensure that providing this clarity is one of its duties.

  I would be grateful if these comments could be taken into consideration during the discussions on the draft bill. If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

21 May 1999

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