Memorandum by Hampshire County Council
Hampshire County Council has taken a keen interest
in the Government's proposals for new political structures for
local government. It fully considered the proposals in "Modern
Local GovernmentIn Touch with the People" in September
1998 and those contained in "Local Leadership, Local Choice"
in April 1999.
The County Council's views on these proposals
have been forwarded to the Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions and I enclose a copy of the most recent report.
It is fair to say that the Council raises serious concerns which
can be summarised as follows:
1. Placing substantial powers in the hands
of one person or in a small executive is dangerous in that it
can lead to corruption and this is exacerbated by allowing decisions
to be made outside the public gaze.
2. Committees at Hampshire County Council
work well and there is cross party support for the open and transparent
way that they operate. Opposition parties do influence decisions
and the public are allowed to bring deputations. Influence from
these sources is therefore brought to bear before decisions are
made. This will be lost with the new proposals.
3. The option of an elected Mayor, which
is heavily promoted by the Government, is based on urban/city
governance and will not work effectively in a large rural County
such as Hampshire with a population of 1.1 million and an area
of 360,000 hectares.
4. The power of an elected Mayor to veto
the decision of Councillors taken in full Council runs counter
to the principles of democracy.
5. The representational/scrutiny role for
most members is viewed by all political parties as one which will
make it more difficult to recruit Councillors.
6. The options proposed, based as they are
on urban/city government, are too narrow and need to be broadened,
especially in the case of rural County Councils.
I should add that there are other aspects of
"Local Leadership, Local Choice" which the County Council
is much in favour of, such as consultation with the community
and higher ethical standards. The Council is not therefore against
change, but any change should clearly be for the better. The narrow
changes being proposed for democratic structures simply do not
achieve that and would work against the County Council's policy
of openness as reflected in the recent "Campaign for Freedom
of Information" award.
25 June 1999
1.1 The Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions (DETR) has issued a discussion paper "Local
Leadership, Local Choice", together with a draft "Local
Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill". These proposals
reflect those contained in the Government White Paper issued in
the summer of 1998 "Modern Local GovernmentIn touch
with the People" the details of which were considered
at Policy and Resources Committee on Monday 28 September 1998.
Comments on the proposals contained in "Local Leadership,
Local Choice" must be forwarded to the DETR by 21 May
1.2 The discussion paper is aimed at stimulating
debate amongst local communities about how they want to be governed
locally although, it has to be said, within the limited options
presently favoured by Government.
1.3 This report examines the proposals contained
in the discussion paper Local Leadership, Local Choice a copy
of which has been sent to all political group leaders. Further
copies can be obtained from the Head of Corporate and Legal Services.
2.1 The Government's stance clearly stems
from their point of view that local people are not well served
by the traditional way that Councils work and that they therefore
need to be given greater choice as to how they will be governed
2.2 The view is taken that the existing
Committee system, designed over a century ago, does not work today.
It is said to be inefficient, opaque and weakens local accountability
and that a more modern system is necessary to give effective leadership
to its local community. Another often suggested weakness of the
Committee system is that in practice decisions are not taken by
committees but elsewhere within the ruling political group.
2.3 The Government takes the view that peoples
choice as to the form of local governance should be characterised
efficiency in decision taking;
transparency in terms of who is responsible
high standards of conduct.
2.4 The Government also suggests that immediate
effort should be made by councils to begin consulting with their
local community on the (limited) options for future governance,
notwithstanding that these could not be implemented without legislation.
2.5 From the discussion at Policy and Resources
Committee on 28 September 1998 it is clear that Hampshire County
Councillors do not accept the Government's version of how the
Committee system operates and that all Councillors, including
opposition Councillors, consider themselves influential in the
making of decisions at Committee. No doubt this is in no small
part due to the fact that recommendations at Committee are often
amended at the suggestion of the opposition parties.
2.6 It is also relevant that it is only
a little over 10 years ago that the Widdicombe Report recommended
the need for all council committees to have political balance
on the basis that this was a fairer democratic system than existed
previously. This runs counter to other proposals of Government
to form executive committees which would be made up of only one
2.7 Only time will tell whether or not those
characteristics referred to at paragraph 2.3 will be fulfilled
by the limited number of options favoured by the Government. However,
"transparency" might immediately be thought not to exist
in the new proposals being suggested by Government.
3. LOCAL GOVERNANCE
: LOCAL CHOICE
3.1 The essence of this chapter is that
if either a council or a petition signed by at least 5 per cent
of local electors wish to have a directly elected mayor, then
a referendum must be held. With Hampshire's electorate of approximately
940,000, 5 per cent would represent a petition of about 47,000.
It is also proposed that the results of any referendum, for example
to have a directly elected mayor, will be binding upon the Council
and it will be obliged to put in place the necessary mechanisms.
3.2 Where a Council has neither put such
a referendum to its people, nor moved to some other form of modern
local governance, the proposed legislation will enable the Secretary
of State to require that Council to hold a referendum within a
specified period on a question determined by the Secretary of
3.3 The Government also takes the view that
even where people do not want a directly elected mayor the expectation
is that councils will adopt one of the other new ways of working.
Only in those circumstances where local people have been given
the opportunity in a referendum to have a new form of local governance
and rejected it does the Government believe that the existing
traditional ways of working should be allowed to continue.
3.4 These proposals may be seen as giving
very strong central direction on how local governance should take
place but within a very limited range of options.
3.5 Interestingly, in the press release
issued by the DETR, it is stated that "Local people in
towns and cities everywhere will be able to vote for an elected
mayor to lead their communities". There is a stark omission
of counties in this context and, perhaps, this reflects the often
made comment that these proposals have been formulated on how
town, city and urban government operates rather than large rural
4. STRONG LEADERSHIP
4.1 This chapter discusses the Government's
preferred models of local governance which have not changed or
been expanded from those discussed in the White Paper. They are
a directly elected mayor with a cabinet;
a cabinet with a leader, and
a directly elected mayor and council
The assumption is that these new models of governance
will give strong leadership to communities and clarity to decision
taking and will constitute powerful roles for all Councillors
to ensure transparency and local accountability.
4.2 Within these three models the Council's
constitution would need to change. It would need to set out the
key political and officer positions and their roles and duties,
making it clear who takes what decision, how they are held to
account and how they are to be appointed. New Standing Orders
would be required. How the Constitution would be drafted would
depend on which executive model was preferred.
4.3 The discussion paper suggests that there
will be powerful roles for all Councillors in the new arrangements.
It is suggested that all Councillors will be required to:
agree the Council's overall community
strategies including key plans such as its educational development
plan and local performance plans;
determine each year its revenue and
adopt the form of local governance
under which the Council operates;
make appointments to such committees
and sub-committees as the Council's new Constitution provides;
make or confirm appointments of the
Council's Chief Executive and Chief Officers.
4.4 In reality, however, these roles may
not be seen as the powerful roles being suggested and for the
most part are ones that could be taken at one Council meeting
each year. That does not represent an on-going powerful role and
it is questionable, therefore, whether or not such a role would
be sufficient to encourage new candidates for the office of Councillor.
4.5 The Paper also suggests that regulatory
responsibility such as licensing or the granting of planning permission
will be carried out either by the full Council or a delegation
to a committee but not by the Executive. If the proposed new executive
manner or working is so modern and desirable, perhaps it should
be questioned as to why it is not applicable to regulatory responsibilities
such as licensing or the granting of planning permission?
4.6 It is suggested that a Councillor will
need to be appointed to be Chairman of the full Council. However,
the point is then made that to preserve the separation of roles
and the impartiality of the Chairman, the legislation is to require
that the Chairman cannot be a member of either the Executive or
an overview and scrutiny committee.
4.7 As the vast majority of Councillors
will not be able to be represented on the Executive, the new role
for them is said to be:
a freer role in the review of policy
and in the formulation of future policy;
a duty to question and evaluate the
impact of the decisions and actions of the Executive, through,
for example, scrutiny committees even if they are in the same
political party and more time to consult directly with those that
they represent because day to day decisions will be taken by the
4.8 Scrutiny committees would be able to:
require members of the Executive
and Council officers to attend their meetings and invite others;
meet and examine all these people
4.9 The role for most Councillors will,
therefore, be in a representational capacity rather than one in
which there is a direct influence on policy formulation and implementation.
Part of this role would be undertaken in overview and scrutiny
committees but it would be a requirement of any new legislation
that a council could not empower any overview and scrutiny committee
to take decisions and exercise responsibilities on behalf of the
4.10 This role is, therefore, much less
influential than that of a Councillor of Hampshire County Council
at the present time. It must also be questioned whether this lesser
role, which would exist for most Councillors, would be sufficient
to encourage more people with appropriate qualifications to stand
as candidates or indeed whether the reverse is likely to be the
4.11 This would indeed be a more significant,
powerful role than exists for most Councillors at the present
time. However, the Government intends to restrict the size of
the Executive to a maximum of either 15 per cent of the Council's
total number of Councillors or 10 Councillors whichever is the
smaller. In the County Council's case that would mean an Executive
of no more than 10 Councillors.
4.12 The Executive would have wide ranging
leadership roles including:
leading the community planning process;
leading the preparation of plans
consulting on and drawing up the
taking in-year decisions on resources
and priorities to deliver the strategies and budget approved by
4.13 Suggested characteristics of the Executive
are as follows:
would not normally reflect the political
balance of the authority but be formed by the majority Party or
would usually give specific portfolios
to individual members;
would take decisions either as a
whole cabinet in sub-groups or as individuals.
4.14 With the directly elected Mayor or
Leader model it is suggested that that person would be responsible
for determining the size and structure of the rest of the Executive
and be responsible for inviting Councillors to serve.
4.15 The third option of a directly elected
Mayor and Council Manager is not generally favoured as it would
give wide powers over both strategic policy and day to day decision
making to a non-democratically elected officer.
4.16 The County Council's views on the proposals
for the directly elected Mayor with a Cabinet or for a Cabinet
with the Leader, is that substantial powers would be vested in
the hands of one person together with a small number of other
people in support. One concern is that these proposals represent
a very large threat to democracy, openness and accountability.
Furthermore, there are numerous examples of the corrupting influence
of placing such power in the hands of a small number of people,
both in this country and indeed throughout the world.
4.17 Although there is much criticism in
the discussion paper of the disadvantages of the existing committee
system, there is very little in the way of evidence, which supports
those comments. The County Council at Policy and Resources Committee
were of the view that the existing committee system is by its
very nature open to public scrutiny, background papers are available
and deputations are allowed to be made to the committee before
any decisions are taken. These are all important factors which
strengthen the democratic process and which will not be available
with the new proposals.
4.18 The discussion paper does try to address
these issues in a section headed "meetings and access to
information". However, what is proposed is worse than exists
at the present time because although with the new proposals decisions
and reasons for them must be given, this will only need to take
place after the decision has been taken and the decision itself
is not likely to take place in public.
4.19 Where there is to be a directly elected
Mayor, election to that office will be held across the whole of
the Council's area, utilising the supplementary vote system. This
means that where there are more than two candidates, voters will
register both a first and second preference. If a candidates gets
at least 50 per cent of the vote that candidate is elected. However,
if no candidate gets 50 per cent of the first choices all candidates
but the two who got the most first preference votes are eliminated.
Where voters had voted for an eliminated candidate but gave their
preference vote to one of the remaining candidates their votes
are awarded to them. The person who then has the most votes at
the end of that process is declared the winner.
4.20 The Government also suggests that where
there is a difference of opinion between a directly elected Mayor
and Executive and a decision of the full council then the directly
elected Mayor should have the authority to veto that decision
or delay the decision of the full Council until the matter is
reconsidered by the Council. The precise details of this are left
to the local constitution to determine.
4.21 The proposal that one person, even
a directly elected Mayor, will be given powers to veto the decisions
of directly elected Councillors in full Council seems to run counter
to the system of democracy as previously understood and is to
5. HIGH STANDARDS
5.1 These proposals, which were also foreshadowed
in the White Paper are broadly to be welcomed by the County Council.
The County Council has an excellent reputation for probity and
has set itself standards of conduct above those normally required.
Furthermore, the County Council has recently voluntarily adopted
a code of conduct for members and officers on probity on planning
matters and has separately agreed at the last Personnel Sub-Committee
a policy on fraud and corruption, often referred to as a Whistle-blowing
policy. This shows how seriously the County Council takes the
issue of conduct.
5.2 The main proposals covered in the discussion
standards of conduct are to be laid
down in statutory codes of conduct for members and officers;
standards committees are to oversee
conduct in each council;
there will be independent investigation
of alleged unethical conduct;
there will be fair hearings with
effective penalties for proven cases. STANDARDS
5.3 The County Council will be required
to establish a standards committee to encourage, develop and maintain
high standards of conduct for all members. It will also investigate
and deal with the less serious allegations of impropriety referred
to them by the standards board. The standards committee will also
be required to have at least one independent member, co-opted
and able to vote. The standards committee will be required to
have at least two council members but not more than one may be
appointed from the Political Executive of the Council and that
person should not be a directly elected Mayor and will not be
allowed to be chairman of the committee.
5.4 Officer support to the standards committee
will be given by the monitoring officer, who will have an enhanced
role in providing advice and assistance on ethical standard issues.
5.5 This will be a new independent body
set up to handle any alleged breaches of a Council's code of conduct.
5.6 This proposal to have an independent
body investigating and determining allegations of misconduct repeats
the proposal in the White Paper. However, it is contrary to the
proposals recommended in the Nolan Committee Report and those
favoured by the County Council. Both the Nolan Committee and County
Council favoured an approach whereby allegations of misconduct
were investigated and dealt with locally by the County Council,
with the availability of an external appeal to an independent
body. The County Council's view was that such a system would better
reflect local accountability.
6.1 It is regrettable that the Government
continues to press for a system of local governance which the
County Council has rejected as an attack on open, transparent
and democratic local government. It is considered, however, that
the County Council should adhere to the application of these principles
in any future changes that may be made in the local governance
of the County Council. It is also important that the democratically
elected representatives of the people continue to play a full
role in the life of the County Council.
6.2 The Government is, however, placing
a very heavy emphasis on local government moving away from the
existing committee system. Evidence of such movement will need
to be demonstrated, for example, in any applications that the
County Council makes for Beacon Status.
6.3 There is a postscript to the discussion
paper which outlines the steps which the Government suggests Councils
should take to implement the proposals in the draft bill. This
is attached to this report as an Appendix.
1. That the proposals contained in the government
discussion paper "Local Leadership, Local Choice"
2. That a copy of this report be forwarded
to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
as the County Council's response to "Local Leadership,
Local Choice" and the draft Local Government (Organisation
and Standards) Bill.
3. That the Chief Executive report to a
future meeting of the committee on an option for local governance
for the County Council which satisfies the Council's requirements
as expressed in this report, within the framework suggested by