Memorandum by Middlesbrough Council (LAG
1. Middlesbrough introduced its new experimental
political arrangement in May 1999. The model, based on the Cabinet/Leader
option, has therefore had the opportunity to develop in the light
of operational experience. The Council has now begun to undertake
appropriate consultation on the three democratic models.
2. Whilst the Middlesbrough model will be
described in some detail throughout this submission, the diagram
below highlights its main components.
3. As shown, Middlesbrough has established
a model based on a Cabinet which has a membership of ten Councillors
consisting of the Leader (its Chair), seven Commissioners with
portfolios (ie Education, Social Care, Resources, Environment,
Culture/Sport, Citizens Services and Regeneration); and two Commissioners
without portfolio. The membership is politically balanced with
eight Labour Members (ie the Leader and the seven Commissioners
with portfolios), one Liberal Democrat and one Conservative (ie
the two Commissioners without portfolio).
4. Cabinet meetings are held approximately
every two weeks and operate under extensive delegated powers excluding
the Policy Framework and those Regulatory functions anticipated
in the Act.
5. The Cabinet operates on a differentiated
cycle when meeting specifically to consider Education and Social
Services issues. On those occasions Cabinet is chaired by the
6. The current model also retains a number
of quasi-judicial bodies and consultative bodies with remits covering
the following issues: Better Governance for Older People; Corporate
Parenting; Democratic arrangements (see paragraph 41 below); Works
Council (ie employee consultation); Licensing, the Voluntary Sector;
Bereavement Services; Crime and Disorder; Diversity (ie examines
the needs of the diverse communities of Middlesbrough); and People
with Learning Disabilities. All these bodies include independent
persons within their memberships and although not possessing executive
powers, report directly to Cabinet on their findings.
7. In terms of the system it replaced, the
previous model consisted of 10 Standing Committees a majority
of which met six times a year. They all operated under limited
delegated powers and as such a significant proportion of their
decisions had to be forwarded on to Council for confirmation.
8. The framework below the Standing Committees
consisted of 76 Sub-Committees together with a number of other
bodies operating below those Sub-Committees. In all there was
a total of 130 Member bodies which compares with 50 such bodies
within the current model.
9. It is immediately obvious that in comparing
the two models, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number
of Member bodies with the new model being focused on a small politically
balanced Cabinet, meeting on a regular basis with extensive powers
which takes decisions which can be acted upon almost immediately
by the Officers.
10. Information Technology has also been
introduced which has helped to reduce the circulation of hard
copies of agenda and reports. This is particularly relevant for
Members as they have been provided with the necessary IT equipment
which can access and copy, all relevant agenda, reports and Minutes.
11. Other factors which have contributed
to improving efficiency include the Council's decision to establish
a separate Cabinet Office which provides dedicated support to
the Leader, the Cabinet acting as a whole and its individual Commissioners.
Through the work of that Office, a one year forward programme
is also in the process of being piloted Council-wide following
pilots in Social Services and Education. This forms part of a
further initiative to introduce action planning which will allow
Commissioners and Officers to "track" the implementation
of Cabinet decisions until such time as they have been fully implemented.
Taking both initiatives together, Commissioners will therefore
be involved in the whole process of policy development in terms
of involvement at its inception right through its development,
delivery and completion.
12. In addition, a new Democratic Support
Unit has also been established which provides a wide range of
services to Members which includes: support to the scrutiny process;
developing systems to deal with Members' information needs; developing
a "one-stop" shop facility; supporting Members in their
community representation role; Member Training and Development;
and traditional "Committee" support roles and the Mayoral
13. Finally Cabinet also hold regular informal
private meetings with the Chief Executive and Senior Officers
to discuss significant issues to formulate policy.
14. All Cabinet meetings are open to the
public and press and there has been a general reduction in items
which have to be considered in private.
15. The press receive the Cabinet agenda
and reports with all non-Cabinet Members receiving a hard copy
of the Cabinet agenda. Through an IT based system, copies of the
accompanying reports are also made available and can be printed
off from their home based systems. All other Members can also
attend Cabinet meetings and speak.
16. In order to represent wider interests
of the Council, The Mayor, the Counsellor Advocate (see paragraph
27 below) and the Chair of the Scrutiny Executive are invited
to all Cabinet meetings, receive all agendas and have speaking
rights but cannot vote.
17. Cabinet reports now include sections
detailing the reasons which support the report's recommendations
together with the options considered in addressing the issues.
The recommendations and the reasons are also contained in Cabinet
18. The Council has placed all agenda, reports
(other than confidential reports) and minutes on its website.
Any person can access and obtain copies of such documents.
19. Weekly "Borough Briefings"
receive wide circulation both within and outside the Council and
give, amongst other things, a synopsis of some of the more significant
issues considered at each meeting of Cabinet. Regular Press Releases
on such issues are also submitted to the media in advance of Cabinet
20. Transparency is also promoted through
Middlesbrough Council's "Prospectus", which sets out
details of the Council's Democratic Model and the organisational
priorities relevant to the seven Commissioners with portfolios.
The Prospectus itself is a document produced for the Community
of Middlesborough informing them of how the Council works and
how it is working to improve the social, economic and environmental
well being of the Town and its Citizens and will be the starting
point for our Community Strategy.
21. The main mechanism by which the Cabinet
is held to account is through the Council's Scrutiny Process,
further details of which are detailed at paragraph 32 below.
22. Individual Commissioners are also held
accountable through a number of other mechanisms which include:
all Cabinet reports identifying the relevant Commissioner who
is also asked by the Chair of Cabinet at the meeting to comment
on that report; ongoing work which will see a greater linkage
between relevant Commissioners and the various objectives contained
in this Council's Best Value Performance Plan; the development
of the one year forward work programme and action plan which again
will identify the relevant Commissioner(s); and the submission
to each Council meeting of Commissioner reports detailing some
of the significant issues in which they have been involved and
upon which they can be questioned.
23. When the Cabinet meets to consider Education
and Social Services issues, they include a number of co-opted
members who receive all agenda papers and have full speaking rights.
Three of the co-optees on the Cabinet, when dealing with education
issues, also have voting rights as required by the Act.
24. The Council's Standards Committee, which
is chaired by an independent person can also hold Councillors
or Officers to account as required by Part III of the Act.
25. Some Councillors have identified what
they see as a diminution of their role particularly in relation
to formal involvement in the decision making process. Under the
Committee system, Ward Councillors could initiate and lead debate
which might have had local implications of importance to their
constituents. The links between the representative and scrutiny
roles of Councillors outside the Executive envisaged by the Act
have not been exploited. Information is another matter of concern.
Due to the streamlined nature of the Cabinet model, decisions
can be taken more quickly than under the Committee system. Several
Councillors are reporting real difficulty in accessing information
and keeping a pace with the business of Council. Locally, at least,
investment in Member Services and new technology will start to
address this issue over the following year. Nevertheless, some
Councillors do not find new technology easy and further training
and development is required. However, it has now been fully acknowledged
that the Executive model requires Councillors outside the Executive
to be more proactive in seeking information.
26. Another aspect of the new arrangement
has been to make some Councillors feel more isolated with far
less contact with other Group Members and Councillors in general.
Nevertheless, some Councillors have welcomed the reduction of
time spent in formal Committee processes, and see this in a positive
light as this has cleared time for more work with constituents
at a Ward level, one of the key objectives of the legislation.
27. In response to this changing role of
Members, the Council designated the position of Counsellor Advocate,
which is believed to be unique in local government. The Counsellor
has an influential role and is fully involved in ensuring the
effective operation of the Executive and scrutiny functions of
the Council and that individual Members are equipped to undertake
their enhanced roles in the community. As such, he acts as guardian
and advisor for the interests and needs of individual Members
and maintains an oversight of the relationship between Cabinet
and individual Councillors. As previously mentioned, the Counsellor
sits on both Cabinet and Scrutiny Executive.
28. There was also a recognition for a co-ordinated
Member Development Programme which would help facilitate the new
roles expected of Members under the Modernising Agenda. Officers
are addressing the issue and have liaised with the Improvement
and Development Agency (IDeA) on putting such a programme together.
29. Concerns have also been expressed that
in terms of the Scrutiny Process, there needs to be a dedicated
resource to ensure adequate support is given to Members in this
role with Officers possessing the appropriate skills to administer
and manage the process. The lack of dedicated Officer support
has led to greater senior management involvement in the scrutiny
process and some Members question this on the grounds of managerial
effectiveness and potential conflicts of interest of the Officers.
30. For those Officers not directly involved
in the working of the democratic model, the new arrangements for
decision making are viewed as being more simplistic and efficient
in terms of the speed of decision making and having to feed reports,
in most circumstances, into one body to get a decision. Difficulties
have however been encountered in respect of their role in Scrutiny.
31. At this stage it is difficult to assess
the impact of the experimental arrangements on the local electorate.
It is anticipated that the position will become clearer through
the extensive consultation exercises currently being undertaken
by the Middlesbrough Democracy Commission on the three possible
models (see paragraph 41 below). What can however be said is that
through the current consultative fora, devolved working arrangements,
the scrutiny process and the better use of IT especially in relation
to the Council's website, the opportunities to be involved in
the democratic process has improved.
32. The Middlesbrough Scrutiny process is
managed by the Scrutiny Executive whose main functions are those
prescribed for Scrutiny bodies in the Act. In addition, its other
roles are to set the work programmes for nine Scrutiny Panels
(who have remits relating to Education, Environment, Housing,
Leisure, Public Access to Services, Quality Protects, Registrars
and Home Office, Resources and Social Care) and to consider and
make recommendations on their findings to Cabinet. Both the Scrutiny
Executive and its Panels have politically balanced memberships
consisting mainly of eight Members (six Labour, One Liberal Democrat,
one Conservative) and are open to members of the public and press.
The Scrutiny Executive also has two Vice-Chairs one from each
of the opposition parties.
33. Scrutiny has introduced a completely
new approach for both Members and Officers in the way in which
the Council examines issues and as such it is going through constant
change and development. When, for example, a Scrutiny Panel undertakes
a Review, systems have had to be introduced which ensure that
all the key stakeholders are identified and involved in that Review,
professional advice is sought wherever and whenever necessary,
and expert witnesses from local and national organisations are
also involved whenever appropriate. The process has however, allowed
for a greater opportunity to undertake a more detailed analysis
of subject areas without the constraints normally imposed by previous
Committee working practices and cycles.
34. The annual formulation of work programmes
for the Scrutiny Panels has also provided an opportunity for the
inclusion of topics for review from a number of sources including
suggestions from Members of Council. It is also intended that
future programmes will link directly to the priorities of the
Council through such documents as the one year forward work programme
and the Best Value Performance Plan.
35. The system, however, is not without
its problems and one of the main areas of concern already mentioned
has been the need to provide appropriate, ongoing, comprehensive
training for both Members and Officers to enable them to adapt
to their new roles, especially in relation to the planning of
reviews, detailed questioning and the analysis of information
submitted. Further work also needs to be undertaken to better
define the Scrutiny role in terms of Best Value and Best Value
Reviews and the need for the provision of general guidance on
the methodology and scope for Scrutiny exercises to ensure that
they are undertaken effectively and consistently. The need to
ensure that the Scrutiny Executive is kept informed of how recommendations,
contained with any approved review, were being implemented by
the Officers also needed to be strengthened.
36. A significant community based consultative
framework already exists in Middlesbrough in the form of 25 Community
Councils (CC) and two Parish Councils. With regard to the CC's,
membership consists entirely of local residents. Each CC receives
grant from the Council; meets on a regular basis; and receives
reports from both Ward Councillors and Council Officers on matters
of local importance. The CC's can make recommendations on the
delivery of Council services and have been recently consulted
on such issues as the Council's Best Value Performance Plan and
the issues surrounding the Council's decision to enter into a
Public Private Partnership with Hyder Business Services.
37. Furthermore, there are proposals to
"cluster" Community Councils (ie based on areas of Middlesbrough)
as a possible framework for community consultation.
ACT 2000 (PART
38. Some difficulties experienced in operating
Middlesbrough's experimental arrangements include non-executive
Councillors adapting to their new roles within the model especially
in relation to their roles within the Scrutiny process. Other
(i) the need to ensure that there are robust
and proactive systems to ensure that Councillors receive relevant
information especially in relation to Cabinet;
(ii) promoting Cabinet as the main decision
making body of the Authority and changing the perception that
it is not simply just another "Committee" together with
enhancing the fact that its Executive Members are more than ever,
accountable for their decisions taken at Cabinet and the functions
contained within their respective portfolios; and
(iii) providing appropriate professional
guidance and support to both Members and Officers involved in
the Scrutiny process.
39. The first point to be made is that the
Guidance Packs together with the "New Council Constitutions"
are very comprehensive, generally clear and avoid "grey areas".
The use of "ticks" in the left margin helps concentrate
the mind on the statutory side of the Guidance and are particularly
welcome. The fact that the "New Council Constitutions"
has been prepared by a Team which included Officers with a Local
Government background is also welcomed as the Constitutions embody
a local authority perspective and avoids the Guidance being too
theoretical and impractical at a local level.
40. The Council has agreed to take guidance
from extensive consultation with its Citizens on the three models.
There is support from some senior Members for the elected Mayor
Model. The Council will not however make a determination on a
preferred model prior to the consultation exercise and therefore
it has not expressed a preference for any of the three models
at this time.
41. In terms of that consultation, Middlesbrough's
Democracy Commission, a body consisting of Business, Community
and Young Person's representatives, the Chair of the Scrutiny
Executive and the Counsellor Advocate will form the mechanism
through which that consultation takes place. The Commission will
review the Council's experimental arrangements and evaluate the
three options. The Commission will produce an initial report,
available to all households, to inform the consultation process.
The Council's decision in May/June 2001 will then be based on
the results of the Commission's report and consultation.
42. All households will be encouraged to
contribute to the consultation and will receive a summary of the
Commission's report, with a questionnaire to return. There will
also be an electronic version on Middlesbrough's website. Focus
Groups will be held with older people, people with disabilities,
young people and non-English speakers and a detailed survey will
be sent to all Members of Middlesbrough's Citizen's Panel. There
will be discussions at meetings of Middlesbrough Partnership and
with the Youth Parliament and Older Peoples' Forum. The results
of the consultation will be considered by the Democracy Commission
before being fed through to the full Council.
43. For the purpose of this submission,
the advantages and disadvantages of having an elected Mayor are
well known and it is not intended to comment further on this issue.