Memorandum by Councillor Paul Clein (LGA
I am the Executive Member for Education and
Lifelong Learning on Liverpool City Council. I am one of the 10
members of the Council's cabinet. You might think that in my oh
so powerful position I would be enthusiastic about the LGA 2000.
Actually, I think it is one of the most loathsome and dishonest
pieces of legislation I have seen during my 10 years as an elected
What was the claimed impetus for this legislation?
The stated reasons of the Government were modernisation (whatever
that is supposed to mean), increased accountability, streamlined
decision making, separation of executive and scrutiny functions,
revitalising public interest in local government and more making
it more efficient. The real reason in my view : a number of (mainly)
Labour Councils were tainted by corruption, notably Doncaster.
Many were effectively one party states and bastions of old Labour,
resisting the internal modernisation of the Labour party. The
Blair administration decided early on to continue the policy of
the previous Government to attenuate or remove the powers, duties
and influence of local government and centralise power. This process
is still ongoing. It was obviously felt that it would be easier
to deal with and control a small number of elected mayors whose
placement could be fixed centrally as has been done with so many
MPs and was attempted in London and the Welsh Assembly. Soleave
as little residual power at the margins as possible, have it exercised
by a small number of people in your (relative) control and sell
it as US style Mayors but without the depth of democratic controls,
freedom of information or range of powers that they have in the
US. Its the colonial model writ large, internal rather than external.
LGA 2000 is also based on a false premise. It
was sold on the basis that it would be comparable to the central
Government/Parliamentary system (as if that were a model of best
practice!!) with its separation of powers. The problem is that
central Government makes legislation starting from scratch, whereas
local government is increasingly becoming merely an agency for
implementation of central legislation in a tightening straitjacket.
We cannot even make by-laws without permission from central government,
permission which is hardly ever forthcoming. I can think of several
matters on which there is a broad consensus in favour in Liverpool,
eg greater controls of sale and availability of fireworks, where
central government has consistently made it clear they will not
allow local by-laws or materially alter national legislation.
But what of our new powers under LGA 2000, especially
the general power to promote the welfare of our citizens, I hear
you say. Fair enough, the possibility of surcharge has now been
removed although I would have had no problem with that remaining
in place if the same system had been applied to MPs and Government
ministers. Unfortunately the general power can only be exercised
if it does not conflict with preexisting legislation. That rules
most things out. For example, as conscientious corporate parents,
in order to encourage looked after children to strive for higher
educational standards, Liverpool City Council proposed having
funds set aside for LACs who achieved five or more A*C
at GCSE to help finance them through Higher Educationas
any parent would. We can't do it as these students are eligible
for student loans and the existing regulations do not allow anyone
to threaten the market share of the Student Loans Company. So
much for general powers.
LGA 2000 is a piece of legislation which is
obviously designed to be mediated solely through elected mayors.
The Leader and Cabinet model, the one most Councils seem to have
opted for, isn't that much different in the range of powers residing
with the leader as compared with those of an elected mayor except
that there is marginally more by way of checks and balances. The
Act is designed to push Local Authorities towards having an elected
mayor without having the guts to actually dictate it. Thus it
includes the means of forcing a referendum where having an elected
mayor is the obvious preferred option or having the Secretary
of State imposing a referendum if he or she is not satisfied that
the option of an elected mayor hasn't had a fair crack of the
As for revitalising interest in local government,
the public imagination has been distinctly underwhelmed by the
prospect of having elected mayors with referendum turnouts no
different from or often less than the norm (11.2 per cent recently
in Southwark, for example). The response to the exercise about
local governance in Liverpool which went to every household elicited
a rate of return of about 1 per cent. This compares to the response
rate of 26 per cent when we consulted on the same basis about
the future of the refuse collection service.
My 10 years of direct involvement in and experience
of local government has led me to believe that nearly every elected
member is motivated to a lesser or greater degree by altruistic
reasons, wanting to improve the quality of life for the community
in which they live. A small minority are there for kudos, somea
very fewfor the money, although that is changing. The impression
given by LGA 2000 is that most local authorities are riddled with
or likely to be tainted by corruption so there needs to be a prescriptive
framework of Standards bodies to root out the miscreants and bring
them to book. I doubt that elected members will seek to undermine
local Standards Committees in the manner Elizabeth Filkin was
dealt with by Parliament and the Government. Taken together with
the restrictions enshrined by various decisions of the Local Government
Ombudsman regarding declaration of interests, becoming an elected
member now means giving up a range of rights taken for granted
by everyone else, because it appears we can't be trusted with
anything very much any more.
It beggars belief that anyone with an IQ in
three figures would believe that lack of probity is less likely
when real decision making is reserved to far fewer people, and
in the case of the elected mayor, effectively, ultimately, to
one person. I find it entirely understandable that in country
after country where elected mayors have been the preferred local
governance model, time after time charges of and convictions for
corruption have been a regular occurrence. That's because its
easier to corrupt one person than to corrupt several, amazingly
enough. We hear a lot about the wondrousness of Rudy Guiliani
as a good reason for having an elected mayor (!!). Apart from
the fact that most of this is hype, we hear little or nothing
about his predecessors who almost bankrupted New York or about
elected mayors like Marion Barry in Washington DC convicted of
This does illustrate why elected mayors are
a popular concept with the media. Where the media have one political
power broker focal figure to deal with, it facilitates the reduction
of political discourse to a celebrity activityits sexier
mediawise. Dumbing down of politicsjust what is needed
now in local governance.
As Chair of the Education Committee on Liverpool
City Council in 1998-99, I was responsible for policy development
and scrutiny. The view I took after six years in opposition was
that scrutinyregarding which I was assiduous in oppositionwould
now be even more assiduous because the buck now stopped with me.
That has not changed under the cabinet system. I am the first
line of scrutiny of that part of the officer corps for which I
have direct political responsibility and I am also assiduous in
scrutinising those policy decisions for which I take a share of
I would suppose the system of select committees
which we now have in Liverpool does not differ markedly from other
Councils in modus operandi except in number and portfolio mix.
Separation of powers if it is to work properly actually requires
two separate officer groups, one which serves the executive and
a smaller one which serves the needs of the select committees.
In my view this will not happen on any great scale because the
finance is not there in chronically tight Council budgets which
year on year are more and more prescriptively dictated by central
Government, especially in education which comprises around half
of most Council's budgets. When I talk to colleagues of all parties
from other Councils, the general consensus is that scrutiny is
not working anywhere near well under LGA 2000.
What I find particularly annoying is that the
system which we devised in Liverpool in advance of the enactment
of LGA 2000as we were encouraged to do by central Governmentworked
far better than the present system. That was not just my opinion.
OFSTED's reinspection of the LEA in September 2000 concluded that
scrutiny in education was "working well". It isn't working
as well now in my view. Our own system still allowed the full
City Council to make decisions on matters which were not solely
in the restricted list of strategic plans which are now the only
significant matters reserved to full Council.
I am also sceptical of the scrutiny of outside
agencies which is supposedly envisaged as forming a part of select
committee responsibilities to an increasing degree in future.
Apart from anything else I have yet to see any indication that
local authorities will be given any meaningful powers to take
remedial action should any shortcomings be identified by the scrutiny
process. Perhaps this is not so dissimilar from Parliamentary
select committees after all.
Where is the vaunted increase in accountability?
A register of key decisions has to be produced three months in
advance, although God knows why as it is impossible for those
Councillors who are not in the cabinet to actually stop anything
happening, only to introduce a short term delay. This may have
introduced more transparency but it actually has no real purpose.
It could be argued that it actually introduces a degree of prescriptive
paralysis into the system having to plan nearly all significant
decision making so far in advance. To draw an educational analogy,
the main problem with the (prescriptive) National Curriculum is
not what is in it but what is not in it and for which there is
subsequently insufficient time to do justice.
The idea that having a single figurean
elected mayorwith the level of power envisaged increases
accountability is wrong-headed. With a four year term of office,
accountability will only be truly apparent in the fourth year
of office. At least with the Leader and cabinet model, election
by thirds does maintain a degree of electoral accountability absent
with the elected mayor model.
The main effect of LGA 2000 so far as elected
members are concerned has been to marginalise all of them to a
lesser or greater degree. This is especially so where there is
an elected mayor but hardly less so with the leader and cabinet
model. (I do not know of any LA which has been stupid enough to
adopt the city manager model which was obviously only included
to make it appear as though there was a range of choices instead
of just twoelected mayor or not). Those who are not members
of an Executive only have real decision making powers in relation
to a lesser or greater number of strategic plans, depending on
whatever residual decision making was left with the full Council
in the new constitution. Having to have everything enacted through
a cabinet or elected mayor decision makes it effectively impossible
for a backbench Councillor to achieve anything much, even on a
ward level, to which he or she can lay claim. I can think of nothing
more likely to demotivate the vast bulk of elected members more
Peter Mandelson said in 1997 that local government
as we knew it was dead. At the time it was taken to be an exaggeration.
It wasn't. This is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy due to
this legislation. Every Councillor with whom I have discussed
this legislation dislikes it to a lesser or greater degree, most
of them are thoroughly disillusioned with the new system and deem
it fatally flawed. No doubt this will be interpreted as being
due to a mass refusal on the part of elected members to accept
reality and adapt to modernisation rather than the actuality that
this is a badly defective piece of legislation.
I believe this Act is designed deliberately
to introduce disillusion and prepare the ground for an eventual
significant reduction in numbers of elected members. The introduction
of salary structures is obviously intended to change the profile
of elected membersin effect to professionalise themand
pave the way for full time Councillors, probably on the basis
of one member per ward. Superficially this has the attraction
of potentially widening the range of backgrounds for Councillors
away from the traditional middle class white male norm. Unfortunately
it will also change the main motivation away from the more altruistic
end of the spectrum to the more financial.
The Government has made it clear that the salami
tactic of slicing away local authority powers is to continue unabated.
Only yesterday (February 25) the Guardian reported that the Government
is set to relaunch/reinvigorate the move towards elected mayors.
I am as committed as any elected member I know.
I have worked my socks off as an elected member in opposition
and in administration. At the moment, my feeling is that when
my term of office ends in 2004, if the remaining goals I have
set myself are achieved, I will not be seeking reelection. I just
wish that the Governmentsignatory to the Maastricht Treaty
with its commitment to subsidiarity would have the honesty
to stop messing around, impose elected mayors and kill off local
government if that is what they really want to do. Preferably,
admit that this is a bad Act, articulate a truly renewed commitment
to local government and make major changes to LGA 2000 ASAP.
Councillor Paul Clein
Executive Member for Education and Lifelong
Liverpool City Council
27 February 2002