Memorandum by East Staffordshire Borough
Council (LAG 19)|
1. THE EAST
(a) The Background
At the outset it is important to recognise that
East Staffordshire Borough Council believes passionately in unitary
local government. We submitted detailed and costed proposals to
the Local Government Commission for the creation on a unitary
authority as we considered this was by far the best way of delivering
local government services. Alas, this view was not shared by the
Local Government Commission. As a consequence the status quo prevailed
and the two-tier structure continues to operate in this part of
East Staffordshire Borough Council was one of
the first Local Authorities in the country to embrace the need
for change. The new structure was introduced with all party support
following the local elections in May 1999.
East Staffordshire wanted to continue to be
strong and effective by giving people greater opportunities and
building a fairer society. By adopting the Government's agenda
for the change the Authority is now better able to meet the needs
of local people, business and the voluntary sector and fulfil
its role in leading the community.
This paper details the changes made in East
Staffordshire Borough Council and the impact it has had on Councillors,
Officers and the local electorate.
(b) The Changes Made
The Labour controlled Council decided to adopt
the model of a Leader and Cabinet.
The Leader has five Deputy Leaders each taking
responsibility for a group of services. They also have certain
corporate responsibilities included in their portfolios.
The Cabinet, which is politically balanced,
is known as the Executive Committee and comprises nine Membersthe
Leader (Chairman), the five Deputy Leaders and three Members of
the Conservative Opposition Group. The Leader and Deputy Leaders
comprise an informal inner Cabinet which meets weekly.
There are currently five service departments,
each with a Chief Officer, corresponding with the service responsibilities
of the Deputy Leaders. There is extensive delegation to Deputy
Leaders and Chief Officers.
With effect from 1 April 2001 the functions
currently undertaken by Neighbourhood Services will be re-distributed
to other departments of the Council. Accordingly, from that date
the number of service departments will reduce from five to four.
There are five shadow Deputy Leaders from the
Conservative Opposition Group for each of the service areas.
The quasi-judicial CommitteesPlanning
Applications, Licensing and Benefits Review Board continue to
Under the new structure much more is driven
from the centre, ie Policy, Scrutiny and Best Value and Community
involvement. To reflect this in the management structure the Chief
Executive has three Assistant Chief Executives, one for Policy
and Corporate Affairs, one for Community Affairs and one to manage
the Scrutiny and Best Value system.
There are five Scrutiny panels, one for each
Deputy Leader/Department. They consist of eight backbench Members
and they are politically balanced. One of the chairmen is Leader
of the Conservative Opposition Group and the other four Chairmen
are Labour Members. One of the Vice-chairman is also from the
The Scrutiny Panels have three distinct main
to monitor delegated decisions;
to carry out Best Value Service Reviews.
The panels are supported by officers seconded
to the Assistant Chief Executive (Scrutiny and Best Value).
The following supporting papers are attached:
Appendix Adiagram showing the new structure;
Appendix Bresponsibilities of the Leader
and five Deputy Leaders.
2. THE CHANGESPRELIMINARY
(a) The Executive Role
The separation of the executive role had led
to improved efficiency, transparency and accountability.
The Executive of nine Members is able to act
quickly, responsively and accurately to meet the needs and aspirations
of the community. In our view the system is more transparent because
it is clear to the public who is responsible the implementation
of decisions. Any major policy decisions are referred to full
Council for approval.
Accountability is inherent in the system and
enables people to measure the actions of the Executive against
policies on which the Council was elected.
There has been some criticism of the Executive
and its role. We feel that much of this is due to the fundamental
changes made to the political structure and the changing role
of individual Members. Paragraph 2(c) explains how we are dealing
with this at East Staffordshire.
(b) The Leader and Five Deputy Leaders
The creation of the five Deputy Leaders has
been vital in making it clear to the public who is politically
responsible for each service. The Deputy Leaders are in virtual
daily contact with the five Heads of Service running the departments.
This enables them to keep abreast of developments and ensures
that the policy decisions of Council are properly implemented.
Decisions taken by the Leader and Deputy Leaders are reported
to the appropriate Scrutiny Panel on a quarterly basis.
Each Deputy Leader submits an annual report
to Council on the work of the service over the past year and plans
and targets for the next twelve months.
The Leader of the Council is primarily responsible
to the Executive Committee and Council for ensuring the Deputy
Leaders and Heads of Service are performing their service and
corporate responsibilities efficiently.
(c) Non Executive Members
Nationally up to 75 per cent of Councillors
are non-executive Members. It is therefore of supreme importance
that the redefined role of the "backbencher" is made
to work under what is reasonably permissive legislation.
We consider that in large measure it is for
each individual local Council to ensure that non-executive Members
enjoy the "new, enhanced and more rewarding role" envisaged
for them in the legislation. Unless local authorities take this
seriously some "backbenchers" will become disenchanted
as they perceive their role being diminished.
Providing Members with the information and facilities
they need to be more effective is a pre-requisite to the changing
Agenda. They must have an appropriate level of support in their
enhanced role as representatives and leaders of their communities.
The benefits of streamlining the political and
management structure have been considerable. Rather than attending
large numbers of generally unproductive meetings, Members are
able to devote more time to effective management of the Council
and successful policy implementation. They are also able to work
through the political structure by participating in Group meetings.
In East Staffordshire we have both a Leaders Advisory Group and
a Leader of the Opposition Advisory Group. These Groups give all
Members the opportunity to discuss and debate issues before they
are presented to the Executive Committee and, if necessary, Council.
Officers attend these Meetings to present reports and then retire
whilst the politicians discuss and decide how they wish to proceed.
In addition to the foregoing, the authority
produces Councillors' News Updates which are circulated to all
Members. They are also included on Council Agendas to give any
Member the opportunity of asking questions of the Leader or five
Members do, of course, have access to the Leader
and Deputy Leaders at all times to gain information or to question
decisions and it is important that this channel of communication
This Authority would endorse much of the work
of the LGA Task Group on their review of the role of non-elected
Members in the new structure. Their report entitled "Real
Role for Members" highlights the key role for "backbenchers"
in the new structure.
(d) Local Authority Officers
East Staffordshire has a highly efficient, imaginative
and politically neutral officer service. To coincide with the
new political structure the Borough Council simultaneously reorganised
its officer structure. A radical approach was adopted to better
equip the authority for the challenges that lie ahead.
Officers acting with the Leader and five Deputy
Leaders are given extensive delegation of executive decisions
The role of Officers has been enhanced by the
new arrangements in that they are able to make decisions quicklyif
necessary following consultation with Membersand move forward
on implementation. This new streamlined approach has given Officers
real opportunities to press ahead with policy implementation in
a less cumbersome and certainly less unwieldy environment.
3. THE SCRUTINY
Scrutiny Panels have an explicit duty to review
and question the decisions and performance of the Executive, the
policies and direction of the Council, proposing changes and submitting
policy proposals to the Executive. The Scrutiny Panels are currently
engaged in a four year rolling programme of service reviews which
as been agreed by the Council.
The five panels in East Staffordshire have a
crucial role in ensuring openness and accountability.
Panels review and question the Leader, Deputy
Leaders and Officers on decisions they have taken, their performance
and the policies and direction of the Council.
The Chairman of each Scrutiny Panel submits
an annual report to Council on the work of the Panel. This report
is submitted to the same Council Meeting as the annual report
from the Deputy Leader responsible for the same service. As a
result Council Meetings are now more thematic based on a subject
(ie one of the Services) which aids understanding of the process.
4. MEMBERS' ALLOWANCES
An independent panel has review allowances currently
paid to Members. With effect from 1 April 2001 the following payments
will be made:
|Basic Allowance (All Members)||2,500
|Leader of the Council||10,000
|Leader of the Opposition||4,000
|Leader of the Minority Group||1,000
|Deputy Leaders (Five)||5,000
|Chairs of Scrutiny Panels (Five)||4,000
|Chair of Licensing Panel||3,000
|Chair of Planning Applications Committee
These new allowances are designed to reflect the responsibilities
and commitments of individual Members. They also assume that there
is an element of altruism on the part of those who seek and accept
appointments in Local Government.
5. THE LOCAL
It is too early to say whether the changes will in themselves
bring about a renewal of local democracy. However, in an attempt
to increase voting numbers the necessary sanction has been given
for the forthcoming County Council election in East Staffordshire
to proceed entirely by way of a postal vote.
Alongside the new political and management structures it
is important that the necessary forums exist to promote the fullest
public participation and consultation. East Staffordshire has,
for over five years, developed WASPs (Ward Action Service Plans),
Community Forums, Borough wide Forums, User Groups and Customer
Circles. We have a positive approach to involving the public in
these initiatives. It is folly to sit back, wait and expect the
public to come to us.
The WASP initiative has provided a real opportunity for the
public to engage in the consultation process. Ward meetings are
held at which residents are invited to feed in their views on
what they would like to see happen in their areas. Priorities
are formulated and these are taken into account when preparing
the Council's budgets. This process together with the other consultative
arrangements are precursors to the development of the Community
The Authority is responsible for developing, in consultation
with the local community, a community strategy for promoting the
social, economic and environmental well-being of their area. The
Community Plan is the key document setting out the Council's targets
and priorities for the Plan period (2000-03).
The Best Value Performance Plan is the vehicle for assessing
delivery performance on the Community Plan strategies.
The process we have adopted in East Staffordshire encourages
more accountability and openness and enables the public to engage
more easily with the political processes of the Local Authority.
6. THE LOCAL
The Local Government Act 2000 has generated significant change
in local government. The freedom and flexibilities on offer provide
local government with real opportunities for pushing ahead with
the modernisation agenda.
East Staffordshire has not experienced any difficulties in
implementing the provisions of the Act. Some areas of the guidance
have, however, not contributed to achieving the goals.
Overall the political changes have contributed
to greater efficiency, transparency and accountability in local
The new political and Officer structure has worked
well in East Staffordshire because the participants have been
enthusiastic and have been given some flexibility in how it will
The new system of cabinet government does speed
up decision taking on a day to day basis;
The setting and prioritising of corporate aims
and objectives is essential within the new system;
New management arrangements cannot be viewed in
isolation from the rest of the modernisation agendadelegation
to individuals can bring about a conservative and protectionist
attitude in some areas. Conversely, it brings a new open minded
approach in other areas;
Despite our earnest endeavours to brief local
press fully on the changes they have nevertheless found some difficulty
in understanding and reporting the new system;
The new system is resource intensive and puts
great pressure on a small number of elected Members;
All Members and Officers benefit from discussion
and training relating to their new roles;
It takes time and patience for "backbenchers"
to get used to their new roles in Scrutiny and in Ward level representation
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