Memorandum by the Welsh Local Government
(i) The key proposal in the draft Bill is
that in clause 10 which would require all local authorities to
make proposals for executive arrangements; ie arrangements for
creating a specified executive with a specified range of functions.
(ii) The Association is on record for supporting
this basic proposal. When we responded to the consultation paper
in June 1998 we said:
"Particularly where there are strong party
systems, the transparency of party leadership created by a cabinet
system would have benefits."
(iii) Even at this stage the Association
noted that any proposal for a separate executive would need to
include robust proposals for mechanisms for open policy and performance
review which would be the primary responsibility of the Council
rather than the Executive. We said:
"However, much work needs to be done on
the parallel mechanisms which would allow the majority of councillors
to fulfil their scrutiny and representational roles. Much work
still needs to be done to define the powers, the checks and balances
implied by the phrase `scrutiny role'. Nothing will be gained
if local government were to develop strong, clear leadership,
if the responsiveness and accountability of that leadership were
not guaranteed. All elected members need a role in initiating
and developing policy and appraising policy proposals in advance
of decisions being taken. There must be public scrutiny of policy
proposals as well as public scrutiny of policy implementation".
(iv) Whilst the Association has supported
the case for creating a separate executive balanced by strong
policy and review functions held by the Council, we have always
pointed to the diverse circumstances within Welsh local government
and have promoted the case for maintaining diversity in the arrangements
that are developed:
"Also, in many councils in Wales both party
systems and leadership structures are weak. . . . There is a strong
case for innovation and experimentation. There is also a strong
case for maintaining diversity. The Association would not therefore
support a move towards a narrow range of approved arrangements."
(v) Since these statements were made Welsh
local government has been active in reflecting on its political
organisations and in developing options for the way forward. In
October 1998 the Secretary of State and the Leader of the Association
wrote to all local authorities advocating that local government
takes responsibility for its modernisation and taking steps on
this and all other aspects of the modernisation agenda. In November
1998 the Association published on advisory note which gave guidance
on ways forward for developing political structures. Several authorities
are already experimenting with new structures. All have programmes
for the review and development of their structures in advance
of primary legislation.
(vi) In responding to the draft Bill the
Association will consider whether its provisions meet the objectives
already set by the Association and whether it allows sufficient
flexibility for the National Assembly in partnership with Welsh
local government to learn from the innovation within Wales and
the circumstances of Wales.
1.1 It is vital that the development of
new political structures takes place within the far wider context
of the agenda for modernisation. Developments in the political
structures will need to be appraised for the contribution they
might make to the developing purposes of local authorities, changing
internal political structure is not an end itself.
1.2 Progress is being made on the development
of the framework for Best Value and the primary and secondary
legislative framework should be in place by the end of 1999. There
are opportunities for changes in political structures to support
the best value framework and these need to be identified and maximised;
"overview and scrutiny" arrangements need to be fashioned
so as to allow political direction in the best value review process
and scrutiny of the performance plans.
1.3 The WLGA believes that the foundation
for the effective modernisation of local government lies in their
role in community leadership; developing their ability to engage
with local people to share a vision for the community and lead
all participants in the community to work together in supporting
that vision. The opportunity must be taken to enlarge the scope
of this draft Bill so as to provide local authorities with the
duty to promote social, economic and environmental well-being
and with a power to act in support of that duty. It would be appropriate
to supplement this duty with a statutory basis for the development
of community plans. Unless the Bill is enlarged in this way, we
are in danger of providing form without substance, structure without
Traditional Ways Councils Work
1.4 The White Paper rehearses the Government's
critique of the Committee system. There is a danger of this critique
defining the wrong problems, ignoring some of the strengths of
existing arrangements, and therefore coming to the wrong conclusions.
1.5 The WLGA accepts that there is significant
scope for improvement in the current arrangements. The problem,
however, is not in "committees" as suchall organisations
have a division of labour, all establish specific groups for specific
1.6 The fundamental problem of our existing
arrangements may be that we ask too much of each of our committees.
We assume that each committee takes responsibility for setting
policy direction, making executive decisions in the context of
that policy, scrutinising performance in the implementation of
policy, reviewing the policy itself. Roles get confused and some
of the roles get marginalised. Member involvement in policy development
and in performance review has often been too limited. The potential
advantage of the proposals is that they could create opportunities
for members to expand their contribution in these areas. We should
aspire to a more open form of policy review and development which
actively involves more members and more of our partner organisations.
Similarly we should aspire to more rigorous performance review.
1.7 We need to recognise the strengths of
the traditional arrangements and work to ensure that these strengths
are not lost. Executive decisions are made in public, are placed
on the public record, are justified by reports and are capable
of public challenge in advance of the decisions being taken. Any
alternative arrangement would need to replicate these circumstances.
There are innovations in Welsh local authorities designed to achieve
this but, significantly, there are no provisions in the Bill which
would require public notice of executive decisions are any "check"
procedure in the executive decision making process. The Bill should
be amended to achieve this purpose.
1.8 The traditional committee cycle has
also had the advantage of establishing deadlines and targets for
work to be achieved. Directors may have used committee reports
as a management information system for themselves and colleagues.
It might not have been the most obvious or perhaps effective form
of management but if the cycle is lost alternative reporting systems
will need to be found.
2. LOCAL GOVERNANCE:
2.1 The WLGA strongly supports the requirement
that councils should develop their new structures and processes
in consultation, indeed in partnership, with local people.
2.2 However, there needs to be a recognition
of how complex the dialogue between the council and local people
will need to be. The White Paper seems at times to imagine some
sort of "tick" survey"Would you prefer a
mayor, a cabinet or a manager?". Such a form of consultation
would result in a justifiably high degree of indifference and
incomprehension among local people.
2.3 Dialogue with local people will need
to be structured, most likely around established groups such as
the voluntary sector forum, the business forum, user groups, political
parties. Some specific issues might be tested through focus groups
or citizens' panels. The dialogue is likely to be best structured
around issues such as: How do people best express grievances?
How can groups have an input into policy development? How can
poor performance be identified and checked? How can partnerships
be constructed? How can there be transparency in the maintenance
of ethical standards? The answers are more likely to be about
process and relationships than they are about structures.
2.4 As local authorities work through such
issues with local people, it will be appropriate at some stage
for the council to consult on a specified set of proposals.
Petition on Elected Mayor Option
2.5 The Association has supported a wide
choice on the form of executive. We note, and support, the provision
whereby the Assembly could add to the manner of executive should
further options be identified. The Association is pleased that
the directly elected mayor is included as an option, notwithstanding
the fact that hitherto Welsh councils have shown most interest
in collegiate rather than individual forms of executive leadership,
following a British tradition that has lasted continuously since
the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
2.6 We are therefore deeply concerned that
the Government's proposals provide for a bias particular to the
elected mayor model, ie it proposes that a petition of 5 per cent
of the electorate would trigger a referendum on this option. Why
is there a special procedure for this particular option? Why not
for any other? Experience would suggest that a small group of
committed people could gain 5 per cent of a particular population
to sign a petition in favour of most imaginable propositions.
The potential for a petition could disrupt an otherwise full and
considered consultation process, for example. Detailed participation
by a range of groups may have built up a consensus around some
novel innovation based on a cabinet model, only for all preparations
to be disrupted by a petition requiring a referendum on the mayor
2.7 It is noted that the Bill is drafted
provides the Assembly with choice over whether to provide an order
for the petition procedure. The Association will seek to persuade
the Assembly that there should be a level playing field in the
exercise of local choice over the executive options available
and that it should not move to provide an order for the petition
Enhancing Local Choice through the National Assembly
We interpret clause 2(5) as empowering the National
Assembly to add to the menu of choices over the form of local
authority executives. The Association asks that this interpretation
is confirmed as correct as it would provide the necessary flexibility
for future developments. Already the innovations in Welsh local
government are testing the limits of the options provided in the
draft Bill. There is a view in some "hung" councils
that delegation of executive responsibilities to individual members
is untenable and the model being developed limits delegations
to the cabinet collectively or to officers. In another council
there is a model which merges the executive responsibilities of
the leader and executive appointed by the council with the civic
responsibilities of the mayor.
3. STRONG LEADERSHIP
3.1 Defining a full and effective role for
councillors who may not be part of the Executive is the key to
the success of any new arrangements. Unless this is achieved there
is the danger of unchecked executive government, a closed and
exclusive policy process and inadequate scrutiny of performance.
Few would claim that present arrangements cannot be improved;
but care must be taken, for few should claim that it is not possible
to make the current arrangements worse.
3.2 There is much in the White Paper which
mirrors the Association's view of the roles for non-executive
engaging in an open and inclusive
review of council policies, often using the best value revue methodology,
and developing proposals for policy development;
providing a check of executive decisions,
where appropriate in advance of such decisions being taken;
providing well-supported representation
of constituency interests;
engaging in partnerships with a wide
range of community interests;
determining the policy frameworks
of the local authority;
providing continuous and rigorous
scrutiny of the performance of the local authority in the achievement
of its objectives and targets, using the best value methodology.
3.3 Many local authorities in Wales are
currently developing innovative and diverse structures and processes
which would enable councillors to fulfil these roles. Common,
but not uniform, themes in these innovations are:
Groups which take responsibility
for policy review and development are usually established with
the expectation that they would undertaken their work through
dialogue with interested groups in the community. For instance,
a review of educational policy would include the participation
of interested education groupschildren, parents, governors,
churches etc. This pattern of inclusivity would be extended to
all policy areas. Sometimes such groups have a standing remit
for continuous review of specified policy areas. Sometimes they
are working on a task and finish basis.
Groups which take responsibility
for performance review, often informed by the Best Value performance
Groups which specialise in the concern
of geographical areas with terms of reference which might include
monitoring performance, evaluating policy impact, policy execution.
Committees which have particular
quasi-judicial responsibilities, eg development control, licensing.
3.4 The draft Bill perhaps has the advantage
that it does not prohibit or over-prescribe such extensive structures
and processes. However, just one clause referring to one or more
overview and scrutiny committee(s) gives the appearance of under-valuing
the wide range of fundamental roles to be exercised outside of
the executive. The phrase "overview and scrutiny" does
not capture the wide range of important roles that will be performed
by councillors; as such the phrase encourages the suspicion that
the roles of councillors are to be diminished by the proposals.
3.5 The drafting of the Bill might be more
balanced if it referred to:
Executive arrangements (with an option
menu which included cabinet, mayor, manager);
Arrangements for policy review and
Arrangements for performance review
3.6 The duty on the authority might be to
submit proposals for each set of arrangements. There need be no
specific reference to an "overview and scrutiny" committee
which appears to be a more limited definition of the non-executive
role than might be intended.
Bridges between the Executive and the Council
3.7 The designation of an executive clarifies
responsibility. For the purposes of scrutinising performance and
monitoring ethical standards, it might be sensible for some groups
in the council to exclude members of the executive. However, for
many purposes particularly in the policy process, there need to
be bridges and shared responsibility between the executive and
the council. The Association is convinced that an open and inclusive
policy process needs the active involvement of all councillors
as a channel to encourage continuous dialogue with all interests
in the community. There are parts of the Bill and White Paper
which seem to assume a closed policy process exclusive to the
executive itself, replicating the worst excesses of the Whitehall
model. In the Association's model of an open policy process there
needs to be dialogue and bridges between the executive and the
council to ensure that the experience and expertise of the executive
is fed into the policy process.
3.8 The blanket exclusion of all executive
members from all structures other than the executive is therefore
not justified. If there is a group charged with a specific task
of reviewing some aspect of education policy; should there be
no local choice on whether the relevant executive member is part
of the group? It is significant to note that the Government of
Wales Act specifically requires that the Assembly's relevant executive
member is a member of the subject committee in the National Assembly.
The contradiction between the Government of Wales Act and this
Local Government Bill indicates a deep ambivalence in Government
thinking: there is uncertainty as to whether the Government wants
a closed politics based on strong, exclusive executives or an
open policy process that includes the executive, the council and
the public. The contradiction would be resolved in a positive
manner if Clause 7(2)(a) were deleted from the Bill.
The Role of the Executive
3.9 The White Paper does not make sufficiently
clear that the primary role of the executive is to ensure the
execution of Council policy and to be clearly accountable to the
Council for so doing.
3.10 The roles in preparing plans and strategies,
ensuring best value, constructing partnerships across the community
will be shared between the executive and the Council. The inter-relationship
is quite well expressed in the flow-chart on page 35; but the
text of the White Paper accords a pre-eminence to the executive
which would be destructive to the necessary checks and balances
that the new arrangements would require.
3.11 Clause 2(7) provides for a maximum
number of executive members as 10 or 15 per cent of the Council
whichever is the smaller. Many Welsh authorities now have experience
of designing executives and their experience suggests that this
clause is too restrictive. In some of the smaller councils it
would result in an executive of six members which may be considered
too small for the range of responsibilities in a unitary authority.
Other larger councils have considered that in their case the balance
between 10 executive members and 70 non-executive members is inappropriate.
The Bill should be amended to read "The Secretary of State
(National Assembly) may by order specify the maximum number of
members of a local authority executive". This would allow
experience to inform whether prescription is necessary and inform
judgment on any formula.
The Role of Officers
3.12 There has been insufficient analysis
of the impact of the reform proposals on the roles and structures
for officers and the text on page 44 does not begin to identify
the agenda of unresolved issues. To simply state that "Council
officers will be required to serve both the executive and other
councillors in their several roles" conceals the complexity
of the emerging relationships.
3.13 There will be close working relationship
between the Political Executive and the professional management
team of the local authority. Is it possible to define where one
role ends and the other beginsboth roles require a responsibility
to executive council policy? There will be a close working relationship
and a clear accountability of officer to member. If that is so,
where is the officer resource to support the policy review and
performance review which is the political responsibility of those
councillors who are outwith the executive?
3.14 If we end up over-separating the political
roles of the executive and the review mechanisms, there is every
danger that we will replicate that separation in the officer structures:
one part responsible for execution, another competing part responsible
for policy and performance review. This is not a description of
an open, dynamic, learning organisation where all are responsible
for self-evaluation and improving performance. The National Assembly
may have been led into a trap as attempts have been made to resolve
this issue in the Welsh Office. Over 100 civil servants have been
given the role of supporting the Assembly on the assumption that
the remaining 2,000 civil servants will support the Executive.
This is the Westminster model in which backbench MPs are supported
by the staff of the Houses of Parliament. Local government will
not be able to afford the inefficiency of this model and the adversarial
relationships that it assumes would inhibit the learning culture
to which local government aspires.
3.15 There is a lot more work to be done
in defining officer roles.
4. HIGH STANDARDS
4.1 The Association gives the highest priority
to these proposals. It aspires to a clear code of conduct adhered
to by all members and officers, with fully transparent means of
checking adherence and stern sanctions for any breach. We believe
that integrity and commitment to public service are pervasive
characteristics of local government but we acknowledge that every
case of misconduct potentially discredits the whole and we are
committed to working for systems that consistently maintain public
Codes of Conduct
4.2 Members and officers nominated by the
Association are working with the Welsh Office and regulatory bodies
to examine codes of conduct to ensure clarity high standards.
4.3 Welsh local authorities are committed
to adopting a common code for Wales, subject only to amendments
which would be required to refer to any particular structures
that they have adopted.
4.4 The draft Bill distinguishes between
principles of conduct and a code of conduct which is consistent
with the principles. Care will need to be taken to ensure that
there is one single document, the code, which can be referred
to in informing conduct. There is a danger of the distinction
leading to confusion. The principles as currently drafted are
a sound statement of values that the Association would support;
they are not precise enough to form a code of conduct and should
not in themselves form part of the code. It might well be clearer
if legislation referred just to a code issued by the National
Assembly after consultation. To place both the principles and
the code on a statutory basis could lead to the one document being
quoted against the other when specific cases of conduct were being
4.5 The Association remains of the view
that local Standards Committees should have a greater role in
policing the system. One approach would be for the Government
to reconsider the ability of local committees to be able to consider
complaints in the first instance. Any concerns about impartiality
could be addressed by a requirement to have a majority of non-councillor
members on standards committees.
4.6 Most Welsh authorities are in the process
of establishing Standards Committees. There is diversity in form
but all are larger committees than the minimum provided for in
the Billthree members at least one of whom should not be
a council member. In the context of Welsh unitary authorities
it would be worth clarifying that the National Assembly is likely
to require a larger number of independent members than the one
provided for in the Bill.
4.7 We have rehearsed the argument that
the automatic exclusion of executive members from the policy review
groups is not justified. We might now present the argument in
reverse and argue that the inclusion of an executive member on
the Standards Committee may not be justified.
4.8 The Bill provides for a Standards Commission
of Ethical Standards Officers to investigate allegations of misconduct
against councillors; an Adjudication Board to consider the evidence
and pass judgment with a right of appeal to a High Court.
4.9 The Welsh Office White Paper makes the
proposal that the work of the Standards Commission could be done
by the staff of Commissioner for Local Administration. The Association
supports this proposal. It would be an efficient use of resources.
More importantly, it would provide a unified point of contact
for members of the public who should not be expected to understand
the sometimes fine distinctions between maladministration and