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

Examination of Witness (Questions 700 - 703)



Ms Moran

  700. You mentioned earlier on the issue of increasing participative democracy and the importance of doing that. If there was one change in the Bill as currently drafted that you would like to see or one addition to the Bill that you would like to see, what would it be to increase participative democracy?

  A. I am going to give a disappointing answer because I do not think you should legislate for participative democracy. There are limits to what you can do by legislation. If you legislate that you have to participate in this and participate in that, it could become a meaningless formality in the situation. I think there are one or two points where things could be clarified. There is some uncertainty about the right of a local authority to hold a referendum and the Government in its original legislation, in the first White Paper[2], I may be wrong, but I think it said it was going to clarify that.

Sir Paul Beresford

  701. Since I am the last one I think the rest of Committee would echo me in thanking you for your evidence, particularly for the fact that it has been succinct and to the point which has not always been the case. The core of your evidence comes from the very first question onwards in the opinion of the Committee. You have explained, as we have picked up from other evidence, that there is enormous variety in England now. Much of it is meeting many of the problems that the White Paper has set out to address and what the Bill has set out to do. Should we look at the three possible alternatives and add a fourth or more? In which case what should they be, how should they be? Should we really say do we need the Bill at all?

  A. My view is that you need the Bill. I would have preferred it to have been an enabling Bill to encourage experiments and what was in fact in the original Hunt Bill. If we have a Bill I would have wanted to add two, possibly three options. I would want to add a council manager option just to clarify the position there because the present Bill is very confused. It says the executive will be the mayor and the council manager and then it says the council manager will have the executive powers so there is a contradiction in the Bill at the moment. The second thing is I would want a model to allow an executive like Somerset and such things. Thirdly, I would want either a model or a restraint on the intervention restraining the Secretary of State from intervening in an authority where the committee system met certain criteria. In other words, it was not subject to the faults identified in the paper as being the reason for changing it, but it would be up to the local authority to have demonstrated it was meeting those criteria.

  Mr Pike: Is there anything, Professor Stewart, you feel we should have asked you but we have not asked you?

Mr Stringer

  702. May I follow up with a quick point on the basis you have just answered really that there should be enabling legislation so that local government should consult and choose its own forms? Does that not really completely disagree with the Government's analysis and the reasons it is bringing this legislation forward? It says that local government is if not in a malaise is poorly for whatever reasons—we all know the history of the last 20 years—and that it is incapable of reinvigorating itself. Do I take it from your answer to Sir Paul that you basically disagree with that?

  A. I disagree to a degree with that. I think that local government has shown a tremendous capacity to innovate and change over the last five to ten years and it goes totally unrecognised. Part of the demoralisation in local government is that the people in local government say, "We have been changing and nobody recognises we have been changing." Not everywhere, I know that. That is the first reason I disagree to a degree. I think there is a momentum for change taking place in local government. But my more fundamental reason—and this might mean I might give a different answer to Sir Paul in five or six years' time—is that most of the arguments for and against these new models are finely-balanced. If you take the elected mayor model, there will be very good mayors, there will be inadequate mayors. There is no evidence that it affects turnout. There is some evidence that it tends to lead to concentration of certain types of activities and neglect of certain social problems and issues. If one moved to a situation where, for example, every authority or every large authority had an elected mayor in a situation where the arguments are in my view finely-balanced, we could be taking huge risks in the situation. That is why I believe it was right to a) allow experiments and b) allow a wide variety of experiments and then later on see if we have learnt enough from that to your recommending more responsibility for some of them. I think there will always be a need for a considerable diversity because of the great diversity of local government itself.

Mr Pike

  703. To come back to the question I asked, do you have a compelling urge to say to us anything more now or have you had the ability to put all your points?

  A. I think I have had the opportunity to put most of my points. I made a note of some detailed points and I will leave that note behind.

  Mr Pike: Thank you very much. Can I on behalf of the Committee thank you very much. It has been an interesting session. We are grateful to you for giving us your time. I declare the meeting closed.

2   I would add Legislation should also allow councils to delegate functions to area committees or neighbourhood councils with representatives of local communities with voting rights as well as councillors. Back

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