Memorandum by Burnley Borough Council
This Council is very much committed to improving
the way it works and finds much to commend in the Government's
Our principal concerns are:
1. That the choices the draft Bill offers
for new structures are unnecessarily limited;
2. That all the three options for structures
involve an executive/scrutiny split and yet there is no evidence
that such a split, in local government, is more effective than
the current system;
3. That the draft Bill does not contain any
reference to a duty and corresponding power to promote the economic,
social and environmental well being of the area. We believe that
it ought to do so. We commend the views of the L.G.I.U. as expressed
in their paper, "Turning Community Leadership into Reality".
The enclosures are:
1. Comments and queries on Chapter One to
Four of the consultation paper;
2. Details of improvements made and planned
in Burnley as a demonstration of our positive attitude to change.
What is Wrong with the Current System?
These chapters summarise the criticisms of the
present Committee system as follows:
1. It is inefficient: too much paper; too
much Member time spent in Committees; wasteful of Officer time;
slow and cumbersome.
2. Lack of accountability: real decisions
taken outside the Committee system (ie in Group) so public don't
know who has taken them.
3. Decision-making not open: public cannot
see who is in favour and who against; excluded from meetings at
which real decisions taken.
This Council agrees that these are the problems
with the Committee system as currently operated in many Councils.
The Paper proposes, as a solution to those problems,
three possible models for new structures, each of which feature
a split between an executive and scrutiny functions.
The L.G.A. and others have commented that this
choice of three is too restrictive. There is possibly a more basic
issue, however, which we have discussed in Burnley and that is:
Will any of the proposed structures solve the
problems listed above, and would it be possible to solve those
problems without having an Executive/scrutiny split?
Looking at each problem in turn:
(a) Will the New System Involve Less Paper?
It is difficult to see how. There will still
need to be agendas, reports and Minutes of Council meetings, meetings
of the Executive, meetings of the Scrutiny Committees, and meetings
of any other Committees and Sub-Committees (eg Planning and Licensing).
It would be possible to reduce the amount of paper if:
(i) there was increased usage of I.T.;
(ii) more decisions were delegated to Officers
and did not require either formal or informal reporting;
(iii) Members were happy to simply ratify
a schedule of decisions (along the lines of a trial recently agreed
All of these improvements can be achieved under
the existing system.
(b) Will the New System Involve Less Demands
on Member Time?
Only if the paper is reduced as discussed above
and if the overall number and frequency of meetings is reduced.
Both of these can be achieved under the current
(c) Will the New System be Less Wasteful
of Officer Time?
This can be achieved under the current system.
(d) Will the New System be Less Slow and
If the Executive meets frequently and is prepared
to take decisions speedily (ie without lengthy consultation) decisions
could be taken more quickly.
This could be achieved under the current system
if there were more frequent meetings, although the agendas would
need to be shorter (reduced paperwork/increased delegation as
Ultimately speedy decision-making depends on
having very clear policies and priorities and on trust both between
Members and Officers, and Members and other Members.
2. Lack of Accountability
This will not change under the new system unless
the way in which Groups operate changes. In the absence of such
change it is likely that all the Executive decisions will, in
reality, be taken in advance by the leading Group.
3. Decision-Making Not Open
As in (2) above this depends on the operation
of the Group.
The proposed new structures in themselves will
not make decision-making more open. Indeed, it may make them less
so as the proposal is that meetings of the Executive should be
held in private. Although the decisions will be public and will
be subject to scrutiny this does not help the public to know who
was of what opinion, how thoroughly the issues were discussed,
and whether or not all the relevant factors and no irrelevant
factors were taken into account.
Burnley Borough Council would wish to see an
improved form of the Committee system as a specific fourthoption
when consulting the public about which form of governance they
prefer. The response from the Local Government Association (page
11) sets out characteristics of an improved model of the Committee
system and we agree with this suggestion.
We are committed to improving the system at
Burnley and have gone some way towards it (see note of Improvements
Made and Planned at document (2)).
Figure 6 on page 21 shows the proposed roles
of the Cabinet, etc. It is interesting that one of the roles of
Councillors outside the Executive is to "represent electorate".
This particular role is missing from the list of roles ascribed
to the Cabinet.
Will members of the Cabinet not, therefore,
represent the electorate? Will the people who elected them be
aware of this? The same comment applies to figure 7.
Paragraph 3.18 says that a Council's new constitution
could not empower any overview and scrutiny Committee to take
decisions and exercise responsibilities on behalf of the full
This seems to be unnecessarily restrictive.
Although the Paper says that all Members of the Council will have
powerful roles, in practice both Members and the public will perceive
that the only real power lies in the hands of those who take the
decisions. On the one hand, restricting decision-making power
to a small number of Members aids accountability but, on the other
hand, the electorate will perceive that the vast majority of the
people they elect have no real power.
Paragraph 3.59 (access to information) says
that, "once a decision is taken by an individual, the record
of that decision and ... any papers ... must be made public and
available to all Councillors".
Will this apply to all decisions, including
the very routine ones currently delegated to Officers? If so,
the paperwork and bureaucracy involved will be horrendous.
Paragraph 3.59 says that political advice to
the Executive remains private but paragraph 3.63 says that professional
advice will be public.
Is this sensible? What about the current exemption
on legal advice?
Paragraph 3.64 says that failure to make a proper
record of a decision or to make it available will be a criminal
It does not seem appropriate to make this a
criminal offence. It ought to be dealt with either through the
disciplinary process if it is an Officer at fault, or via the
Standards Committee/Standards Board if a Member is at fault, or
via the Ombudsman or via Judicial Review.
Paragraph 3.69 (power of veto) says the Mayor
can delay a decision of the full Council or a Committee of Councillors
outside the Executive for a short time.
What about Officer decisions?CHAPTER
Paragraph 4.27 says that if an alleged breach of
the Code of Conduct is brought to the attention of the Monitoring
Officer or Standards Committee, they must refer it to the Standards
Board for consideration.
Does this apply even to minor breaches? This
could result in a very heavy caseload for the Board and unnecessary
Paragraph 4.36 says there will be a right of
appeal to the High Court against a panel decision.
Will the Member still serve pending appeal?
N.B. There is no reference in the Bill to
any sanctions being available to a Standards Committee. It is
vital that the Standards Committee is to have the power to impose
sanctions if the public are to have faith in it.
7 July 1999