Memorandum by Dr Josie Brooks, Southampton
I would like to take this opportunity to warmly
welcome the opportunity to comment on the draft Local Government
(Organisation and Standards) Bill and the consultation document
published with it. This was a positive step to ensure that the
local government community is involved fully with the process
of reforming local authorities' political decision making structures.
I feel that the Government's intentions to restore
public trust in local government and reduce apathy by local electors
are excellent. A significant step towards these aspirations could
be achieved by granting councils greater autonomy and freedom
to meet the needs of their local communities. While councils are
subject to Government intervention by inspectorates, auditory
processes and Ministerial intervention; local citizens continue
to receive a powerful signal that what is decided locally has
little value or importance. It also implies that decisions by
local elected representatives may be overturned by an appointed
official, for example, from the Audit Commission.
I also believe that local authorities should
be trusted to spend local raised taxes. Specifically, the return
of the right of local authorities to set and raise local business
rates. I welcome the recent report by the Environment, Transport
and Regional Affairs Select Committee. I would like to draw your
attention to the final paragraph in their report. Specifically,
their conclusion which stated ". . . that without a more
radical reform of local government finance system the aims of
the White Paper, Modern Local Government, In Touch with the People,
will not be achieved and will not contribute to an improvement
in local accountability."
1.1 By publishing a further consultation
document and a Local Government bill in draft form, the Government
has taken the most welcomed step of inviting stakeholders to comment
on and respond to its proposals. This suggests that the Government
is eager for stakeholders to "own" the project to modernise
local government and ensure their commitment to reforming decision
making in local authorities.
1.2 The Government is proposing several
significant changes in the way local government conducts its affairs.
However, while stakeholders may agree that local government decision
making processes are flawed, there is less agreement about possible
solutions. One interpretation suggests that the Government proposals
will reduce the number of people involved in local government
decision making, which will result in the process being less relevant
and democratic as decisions are "owned" by fewer people.
These points and possible consequences are discussed in detail
1.3 It is important to remember that there
is differentiated system of local government in England. Although
local government across the country shares many common features,
different types of local authority, (ie unitary authorities, non
metropolitan county councils, non metropolitan district councils,
metropolitan districts and London boroughs) have their own traditions
and there is considerable variation between the types of issues
which they deal with. Such diversity is a strength of local government
and any attempts to reform or modernise local authorities' decision
making processes must strive to retain it.
1.4 The Government's intention is to reform
current arrangements to create a system of local government where
decision making processes are efficient, transparent, accountable
and which maintains high standards of conduct (DETR 1999 page
11). These are significant aspirations and are surely shared by
all stakeholders. However, the current local government decision
making processes have other characteristics and values, these
points are discussed below.
2.1 The draft local Government bill and
the consultation document, "Local Leadership, local Choice",
argue that the proposed changes to local government will make
decision making in local government more efficient, transparent
2.2 Will local government decision making
be more efficient?
Reducing the number of people involved in local
government decision making will undoubtedly make the process quicker.
However, the speed of decision making should not be the only judge
of the efficacy of decision making, a further test is whether
the outcomes are an accurate response to the requirements and
needs of the locality. More rapid policy making does not necessarily
make for better decisions. Indeed, by reducing the opportunities
for local authorities decision makers to deliberate on other opinions
may make policy less responsive than at present.
2.3 Will local government decision making
be more transparent?
The proposals to introduce an executive leadership
into local councils will provide local electors a readily identifiable
individual or small group of people who are the policy makers.
However, this is a simplistic view of how decision making operates
in large complex multi purpose organisations such as local authorities.
Moreover, is it realistic or indeed, feasible for executive members
to be responsible for all decisions taken in their name? It is
also possible to argue that this will blur further the demarcation
between policy and operational matters, which will risk executive
members being over focused on operational matters. It risks promoting
a "blame culture", rather than local authorities' managers
and political leaders working in an environment which allows organisational
2.4 Will accountability be enhanced?
A core objective of the Government's proposals
to modernise local government is to improve its accountability.
However, accountability in local government is multi-dimensional.
Modern local government is answerable to many different stakeholders
and requires processes adapted to fit the specific circumstances
of who is being held to account. Whether political, financial
or managerial, the concept of accountability implies responsibility
and obligations derived from the authority to act on the behalf
of others. By reforming the decision making processes, the Government
claim that the accountability of local authorities will be improved.
Yet, the proposals to modernise accountability in local government
may be criticised for undermining the traditional legitimacy of
elected local government. Furthermore, it reduces accountability
to merely being able to identify the individual decision makers,
whilst ignoring policy implementors. It is anticipated that the
new scrutiny arrangements will provide more explanation and background
information, yet without safeguards this process could be circumvented
by the actions of the majority group (see section 5).
3.1 Central to the plans to reform local
government is the assumption that the traditional system of decision
making in local government is fundamentally flawed. The Government's
criticism of decision making in local authorities was summarised
thus; ". . . it is inefficient, opaque, and weakens local
accountability" (DETR 1999 a p 8 para 1.8). Not only inefficient,
the decision making process is also believed to be unnecessarily
time consuming. It is also expensive to maintain and is wasteful
of councillors' and officers' time and energy. The system is also
believed to lack transparency as it is unclear where decisions
are taken and by whom, which, it is suggested, weakens the accountability
of public officials. These are significant criticisms of the traditional
systems of decision making and require to be discussed fully.
3.2 Council committee meetings are inefficient
On the surface this is a powerful critique of
council committee meetings. Reports by Government commissions
and organisations, such as the Maud Commission and the Audit Commission
have been critical of the resources consumed by committee meetings,
in particular, staff time engaged by writing reports and attending
committees. It was also acknowledged that councillors were often
overwhelmed by the volume of information they are required to
deal with and the time taken by preparing for and attending council
meetings. However, these claims rarely acknowledge that informed
deliberation prior to decision making is an essential component
of democratic practice. If local government is to retain its democratic
credibility and it its decisions are to be an accurate response
to the aspirations of the locality, the process of decision making
should contain sufficient mechanisms and opportunities for different
points of view to be expressed, heard and reflected upon by decision
makers, other than at periodic elections. In local government,
there are tensions between the benefits of effective and speedily
decision making and ensuring that democratic practices are meaningful,
for example, by ensuring there are sufficient mechanisms in place
to inform fully all stakeholders before a decision is taken and
they are provided with the opportunity to contribute and participate
in the process. However, deliberative processes are expensive
of staff and councillors' time, they may also be unwieldy and
rarely provide quick responses but despite these weaknesses, deliberation
in local government decision making process must be vigorously
defended because of the importance of informed debate to democracy.
Moreover, without informed debate there is considerable risk that
decisions may be flawed and will require substantial revision
once implementation difficulties become apparent.
3.3 Council Decision Making is Often in Private
The previous paragraph suggested that the present
system of council meetings should be defended as they provide
a forum for deliberation, essential if decisions are to be made
democratically. However, there is evidence to suggest that while
the formal decision may rest with the council, its committees
or sub committees, in practice, decisions are often brokered in
private at meetings of the majority group, or by ad-hoc meetings
of group leaders when no one party has an overall majority (DETR
1999 p 8, para 1.12). Yet, even if councillors meet privately
to deliberate on council matters, it is in the context that documents
and agendas are available to the public who may choose to lobby
councillors before the actual decision is made. Even if some party
councillors have reached a view prior to the relevant council
committee meeting, their decision is in the context that they
may have been lobbied before that meeting and are required to
make their reasoning known at the point at which any decision
is made. Lastly, there is evidence to suggest that group discipline
is more robustly applied in Labour groups. Although the Labour
party may take steps nationally to relax "whipping",
there is evidence to suggest that informal arrangements will continue.
At present, it could be argued that formal group whipping, in
particular, by Labour councillors, may be unpalatable but it at
least it is in a context of a formal process, which is less undemocratic
than informal pressures and inducements.
3.4 Whatever political decision making system
in local government is finally decided upon, sectional interests
will continue to seek to circumvent the process to maximise their
share of resources. One example of this practice is elected members
meeting privately or canvassing support from others to support
their proposals. In some circumstances, politicians and even paid
officials may "trade" their support with others to ensure
their schemes are successful or their position is secured. If
such practices are to be checked, council decision making, at
least at the policy/members' level should be as open as possible
and decision makers should be required to offer an explanation
of their reasons at the point a decision is formally made. For
these reasons, membership of all decision making committees should
reflect the political composition of the authority, this will
provide the safeguard that all interests, at least those represented
on the council, are present at the point when a decision is formally
3.5 It has been suggested that there has
been an increase in party discipline that reduces the freedom
and independence of councillors. It for these reasons, at least
formally, council decisions should be made in public and in forums
where political parties are represented proportionally to their
relative strength on the authority. To act otherwise would reduce
deliberation and the opportunity for other opinions to be considered.
Indeed to do otherwise would lead to council decision makers becoming
complacent and out of touch (DETR 1998 p 43 para 4.25).
3.6 It has been suggested that new requirements
for local authorities to consult with their constituents will
help make council decisions more responsive. However, within the
draft bill there is not a recommendation which insists that councils
consult prior to decisions being made. Indeed, it is implied that
politically astute councillors will consult frequently if they
wish to retain office at the next election. However, the significance
of local issues at local elections is questionable. Unfortunately,
local elections are often seen by national parties, the media
and by the public as an opportunity to make a judgement on the
performance and popularity of the national government and rarely
are local issues of such significance that are able to challenge
the nationalisation of local politics. Consultation by the incumbent
administration will canvass opinions in the context of existing
policy and it could be argued that such consultation risks merely
asking the question to which the answer is already known.
3.7 Council decision making lack clarity and
A further criticism of the present system is
that it is opaque and lacks transparency. The Government argues
that as councillors often make decisions outside formal council
meetings, there are few opportunities for opposition or backbench
members to influence the decision making process. It is also suggested
that current arrangements lack clarity about responsibility for
decisions taken, which in turn, so it is argued, clouds accountability
as constituents are unsure who is taking decisions on their behalf
and at what point such decisions are being made. However, it may
be robustly argued that few organisations only have a single individual
who alone makes policy or operational decisions. In practice,
managers and key individuals working within a broad policy framework
engage in many decisions and debates, striving for a consensus
and a decision which is owned by as many of the relevant stakeholders
as possible. Such an consensual approach is essential if policies
are to be implemented successfully and potential difficulties
identified and resolved prior to being operationalise. By proposing
that an individual or a small group of decision makers alone are
responsible does not adequately reflect mature decision making
processes in complex organisations. Moreover, it may contribute
to a "blame culture" which prevents organisations learning
and developing from their experiences.
4.1 In order to provide leadership and clarity
to political decision making in local government, it is proposed
that councils will have a clearly identifiable executive. Also
suggested is that within the new arrangements all councillors
have a new powerful role. It is also encouraging that the Government
has urged local authorities to consult with their constituents
before deciding which model is the most suitable for their council.
Broadly, there are only three models to choose
1. a directly elected mayor with a cabinet;
2. a cabinet with an indirectly elected leader;
3. a directly elected mayor and council manager.
Although, it is helpful that the Government
has indicated that within this framework there will be some flexibility
to how local authorities should implement these models. However,
it is regrettable that the Government has ruled out that present
arrangements may not be continued. Such centralisation is heavy
handed and is a factor in creating distrust between central and
4.2 It could be argued that seemingly the
Government's preference is not suitable for some localities. The
executive mayor model is most suitable for urban areas or localities
which are spatially identifiable. In practice, however, few local
authorities have such clearly defined spatial boundaries well
known to the constituents and neighbouring areas. This risks blurring
further the public's awareness of their council's activities.
For rural and mixed rural/urban areas covering large areas councils
represent many communities and this aspect may be lost by the
election of an executive mayor. In the case of large rural areas;
in particular, non metropolitan county councils, some areas may
be over represented in executive cabinets, leaving some localities
marginalised from the decision making process.
4.3 Yet, the case for local authorities
to have an executive leadership seems to be compelling. It also
appears to provide opportunities to make council business more
efficient, transparent and accountable. However, there are aspects
of these proposals that may produce a quite different outcome
than anticipated by the Government.
4.4 Will executive mayors make councils more
responsive and in touch with all opinions?
This paper has argued that local government
derives a source of its legitimacy from its democratic practices,
specifically, its deliberative processes. Effective democratic
local government mediates different opinions and ensures that
there are opportunities for decision takers to deliberate on all
views before coming to a conclusion. By replacing the present
system which encourages deliberative decision making with an executive
system, that reduces or even by-passes the deliberative process,
may produce faster outcomes. It is uncertain, however, whether
the quality of the decision making, however measured, will be
enhanced. Unless there is compulsory consultation, decision makers
will not be required to consider alternatives before setting a
policy. This will encourage reckless decision making, requiring
amendments to ill-considered policies.
4.5 Will executive mayors help build effective
Since its election, the Government has encouraged
those involved in local governance to work in partnership. According
to the philosophy of partnership different interests are brought
together in a common purpose. Local authorities, it is suggested,
have a special role bringing together other agencies and service
providers to work together in partnership. The partnership strategy
also emphasises the rewards of bringing stakeholders together
to inform and influence decision makers. Yet, executive decision
making, which emphasises speedier decision making may become counter
productive to local authorities developing effective partnerships
as there will be fewer opportunities for other partners to reflect
and deliberate on proposed strategies. Effective partnership working
depends on trust and mutuality, quite different from the image
of a strong leader imposing his or her will on others as implied
in the model of strong council leadership.
4.6 Who will own policy decisions?
At present all councillors are involved in the
decision making process and although there is considerable variation
in practice in local authorities, backbench members do contribute
to the making of council decisions. According to the consultation
document decisions will be made by the executive mayor or am indirectly
elected leader with or without other cabinet members. In practice,
this suggests that at least 85 per cent of elected councillors
will not have any responsibility for making council policy (see
paragraph 3.10). Although, so-called back bench members will have
opportunities at the scrutiny and overview process to make their
views known, this will not be binding on the executive and may
be after the decision has been made and implemented. Decision
making by a small executive implies that new policies are at risk
of being imposed and not "owned" by the majority of
4.7 Will policy making be more responsive?
A criticism made by the Government of current
decision making arrangements in local government is that the process
if often lengthy, unresponsive and may not meet the needs and
aspirations of the locality. However, if the proposals in the
draft local government bill are implemented, there is a real risk
that relations between an elected mayor of one party and the assembly
dominated by a different party may be routinely politicised and
increase the risk of policy making becoming grid-locked. Presumably,
to overcome such difficulties, negotiating meetings, outside the
new decision making process will dominate all other business.
Such a situation does not suggest openness and enhanced accountability.
4.8 How will party politics be affected?
The position of a directly elected mayor of
a major conurbation will be a highly valued prize for the major
parties and will have some significance nationally. This implies
that the candidatures will be vigorously contested. The position
of a directly elected mayor with executive functions will risk
the position being personalised. After all, strong leaders have
run local authorities in the past; for example, Ken Livingstone,
Derek Hatton, Dame Shirley Porter, this risks reducing the competition
to little more than a "beauty contest". However, there
is evidence to suggest that national political parties will attempt
to ensure that "safe" candidates are chosen to minimise
the risk of embarrassment to their party. Furthermore, candidates
for the mayoralty will undoubtedly seek out endorsements from
local community groups, business leaders and other organisations.
This risks politicising civil society. Lastly, as executive mayors
will be elected every four years, this suggests that policy making
will be suspended for the duration of the election and some months
before the competition as party managers and candidates work to
secure their nominations. Prior to the election candidates, particularly
incumbents seeking re-appointment, will manage the policy making
process to seek to garner as many votes as possible, rather than
deal with possibly unpopular policy decisions.
4.9 Will the executive mayor be a civic entrepreneur?
The case for the civic entrepreneur promoting
the interests of his/her constituents, working in partnership
with other organisations, providing a vision for the locality
is very strong. However, this ideal, when applied to our system
of local government contains elements which appear undemocratic.
How can we be sure that the vision argued for by the civic entrepreneur
is shared by the whole locality? How are different visions dealt
with? Does this model offer scope for difference and diversity?
How are such leaders assessed by others, in particular those who
are politically, socially or economically different from the leader
or are from groups which are often excluded from decision making?
4.10 It appears that the Government's first
preference is for directly elected mayors operating with an executive
cabinet. However, local government practitioners seem more at
ease with the second model, the executive cabinet with an indirectly
elected leader. This is the system which is most similar to current
practice and is in the tradition of local government in the United
Kingdom. According to the consultation document published with
the draft local government bill, councils are recommended to adopt
a cabinet which is restricted in size to 15 per cent of the membership
of the council or 10 members, whichever is the smaller number.
Whether to support an executive mayor or an indirectly elected
leader, the case for a cabinet with executive functions is justified
as providing more efficient decision making which has greater
transparency than at present, which would improve accountability,
as local electors would be aware of who was making decisions on
4.11 As in the case of executive mayors,
the introduction of executive cabinets would reduce the opportunity
for reflective deliberative decision making. Ownership of decisions
would be significantly reduced to a small minority of elected
members and there is a real risk that executive cabinet members,
executive mayors and indirectly elected leaders would become isolated
from other councillors. These issues are also discussed in the
section which discusses the new scrutiny committees and the role
of councillors (sections 5 and 6).
4.12 The proposals do not allow for deputies
to share the responsibilities of executive cabinet members or
to take over in the case of unforeseen events. It may be argued
that under current arrangements the post of vice chair of a committee
provides an opportunity for inexperience members to gain expertise
and is a training opportunity for newer members. However, this
opportunity will not be available in the future if the Government's
proposals are unamended.
4.13 Lastly, it would also be advisable
for guidelines for authorities to develop officer/members protocol
which makes clear what constitutes an executive decision making
meeting and who should be present to make such a meeting valid.
5.1 Several of the concerns discussed earlier
may be are addressed by the recommendation that the new arrangements
will include the introduction of new arrangements for policy decisions
to be monitored and scrutinised by the non executive members of
the authority. Overview and scrutiny committees will be an important
check on the Executive. Indeed, it may be argued that without
the checks provided by these committees, significant issues of
probity would be left unresolved. This point is acknowledged by
the consultation paper.
5.2 It is expected that non-executive councillors
will have a new enhanced role in scrutiny policy making and implementation.
This is a departure from current practice, as traditionally scrutiny
is carried out in committee/council meetings, at the point any
decision is made. Because of internal group discipline and inter
party competition, scrutiny is at present a function of opposition
5.3 However, if the scrutiny panels are
to be effective, party loyalties would have to be first disengaged.
Even if party discipline was relaxed, ambitious councillors who
aspire to become a "cabinet" member or an indirectly
elected leader, might find that their actions whilst a member
of a scrutiny committee may impede their further advancement.
5.4 If scrutiny is to be effective under
this or any other system, sanctions are required. Ultimately,
without checks and balances on the power of executives, these
systems are open to abuse. Yet to give backbench councillors the
power to veto budget decision and policy frameworks will undermine
the executive's authority. Unless scrutiny committees are given
power to veto, they will be reviewing policy after it has been
formulated, unlike the present committee system, where it is possible
to challenge decisions before they are formally ratified by the
5.5 Quite rightly, there are no guidelines
on the actual size, structure and the flow of business of scrutiny
arrangements. This suggests that local authorities will be free
to make local arrangements and this should be welcomed. Several
possibilities include councils establishing one committee with
powers to co-opt other members and to set up time limited task
groups to investigate specific policy areas. An alternative would
be to set up several scrutiny committees which would "shadow"
the cabinet members' portfolios.
5.6 The draft bill or the supporting paper
is silent however on the recommended number of scrutiny committees
or indeed, how frequently they should meet. It is welcomed that
proportionality rules will apply. Nevertheless, without some safeguards
majority groups could attempt to influence the scrutiny process.
Unscrupulous majority groups could restrict the number, size or
even the agendas of scrutiny committees, thus limiting their effectiveness.
Similarly, policy reviews could also be restricted if the council's
majority party believed it could be politically embarrassing.
5.7 To address the concerns raised in the
previous paragraphs, (5.5 and 5.6), it would be difficult to justify
that cabinet/executive councillors should be entitled to participate
in setting the constitution, standing orders and membership of
these committees. Indeed, legislation should include provisions
that ensure the Councils' Standing Orders should prohibit executive
councillors deliberating on the constitution, standing orders,
size and number of scrutiny committees. This should be a matter
for non executive councillors only. It is also important that
if the scrutiny process is to be sufficiently robust and effective.
Party officials should be encouraged to relax group discipline
for non executive councillors who are scrutiny committee members.
5.8 By suggesting that scrutiny committees
should have responsible for policy overview, the Government is
acknowledging that local authorities are often involved in long-term
projects. As it is unclear in the Government's documents, at which
point in the policy making process scrutiny would commence. In
Southampton, for example, there are a number of large long term
projects are being undertaken with local authority involvement.
To be meaningful, scrutiny should be continuous throughout the
projects' lifetime. However, for sensitive projects, it could
be claimed that investigations by a scrutiny committee may jeopardise
the project's success. Often such projects are in partnership
with other organisations and it may be argued that other organisations
involved in joint working arrangements may resist scrutiny by
5.9 Indeed, to take a local example of the
difficulties in the Government's proposals, the application by
the local Premier Division football club to build a new stadium
in Southampton would not be subject to scrutiny as it is a planning
decision. Yet there are strong arguments that such a decision
should be scrutinised because of issues of community safety, economic
development and leisure provision. It is unclear whether such
an investigation would be allowed under the Government proposals.
5.10 The proposal to formalise scrutiny
outside the actual decision making process risks encouraging partisan
action by some councillors. Without responsibilities to the decision
making and implementation process, disengaged (and minority party)
backbench members may find plenty of opportunity to politicise
policies that could be detrimental to their successful development
5.11 The recommendations on how decisions
made by the executive members are to be recorded and maintained
are to be supported. By insisting that whenever a decision is
made by the executive, there is a duty for that decision to be
recorded and with any supporting documentation to be available
for public inspection. Failure to do so will, if the draft bill
is enacted, become a criminal offence (DETR 1999 p 37 para 37).
Yet, if the part of the plans to reform local government are to
reduce the time officers commit to producing reports and recording
decisions, this ambition may not be met if the Government's recommendations
on decision recording are implemented. If officers and members
are to avoid prosecution, meticulous recording will be necessary
but will also be very time consuming. Robust guidelines are required
as there may be disagreement between the decision maker and recorder
of what was actually decided. It may be helpful if a national
standard for recording decisions could be developed, that would
include how to note factors which may have been pertinent to the
5.12 If scrutiny and policy development
committees are to be effective, there ought to be a set percentage
of the authority's budget allocated for officer time, preparation
of reports and, if necessary, to commission independent research.
Moreover, there is a case to suggest that there ought to be designated
officers to support scrutiny. Yet to provide designated officer
support to service overview and scrutiny committees would significantly
revise the position of council officers. The convention in local
government is that officers are impartial and provide advice on
professional and technical matters to all councillors. However,
if these committees are to be effective, protocols will need to
be developed to define the role and responsibilities of council
officers and their role in overview and scrutiny.
5.13 Presently, there is a statutory requirement
for councils to publish papers and agendas ahead of the actual
meetings. Under the new arrangements, it is uncertain whether
the authority will be required to make documents publicly available
ahead of any meeting where decisions will be made. For the public,
the publication and the subsequent publicity which such documents
attract, is an important factor in ensuring the council remains
in touch with its constituents. It would be advisable for guidelines
to be made on at which point background documents become available
to the public, separate from any action taken by the overview
and scrutiny committees.
6. THE ROLE
6.1 At present councillors have three dimensions
to their role; as representative; politician and as corporate
manager. It may be argued that each aspect of the councillor's
role informs and complements the other elements. According to
the Government's proposals, most councillors will no longer be
required to have corporate management responsibilities. It is
possible to argue that at a stroke, the councillor's role as a
representative will be devalued. Shorn of corporate responsibilities,
back bench councillors will begin to lose their strategic understanding.
While it would be beholden on executive members to brief backbench
members on strategic matters, this is not a realistic replacement
for the information that becomes available by being involved in
policy making on a day to day basis. Under the new arrangements
proposed by the Government, backbench members may have more time
to consult with their constituents but they will be without a
formal point where they engage with the policy making process
at the point decisions are taken.
6.2 At present, all councillors represent
their constituents interests in the decision making process. As
councillors will continue to be elected by the present arrangements,
presumably, all elected members will retain this responsibility
to their constituents, at least only because of the very practical
reasons of aspiring to win future elections. However, a new enhanced
representative role for non-executive councillors would suggest
that as well as continuing the traditional problem solving role,
councillors will be encouraged to set up consultative forums and
other arenas to consult with constituents. Yet, this type of activity
by elected representatives should not supplant the council, as
a corporate body, carrying out consultation. Indeed, there should
be clear boundaries between the activities of the authority and
councillors, particularly at election time.
6.3 If non-executive councillors are expected
to have a new enhanced representative role, it follows that if
their activities are to be meaningful, processes should be developed
to enable representatives to present their findings to the executive
members and other decision makers. If this process is to be valued,
the executive should be obliged to comment on the content of these
forms of representation and whether or not they were incorporated
into their decision making.
6.4 As the role of non-executive members
is to undergo significant change, it is only sensible that some
thought should be given to their training and development requirements.
For example, the process of scrutiny and how policy review should
be managed. It has been suggested that executive and non executive
councillors' job specifications ought to be developed. Information
on the successes and indeed, failure to meet their objectives
should be reported at the end of each year or prior to election.
I would imagine that for this reason, this suggestion would not
be acceptable to some councillors. However, if councillors are
eager to improve their accountability, a significant step towards
meeting this aim would be for them to tell the public whether
they have met their objectives.
6.5 At present there are few incentives
for councillors to attend council activities, other than peer
pressure and the legal requirement to attend a council meeting
at least once in a six-month period. Locally, councillors are
paid an allowance which is not tied to performance, attendance
or any other criteria (other than their statutory obligation).
Indeed, some councillors have argued privately that since the
attendance allowance was replaced, regular attendance at committee
meetings by some councillors has become noticeably erratic. Ideally,
I think councillors, should be paid according to what they do
and not be in receipt of an allowance which is paid regardless
of how much or how little they do. While there are significant
difficulties with the payment of attendance allowances, steps
should be taken to ensure that payment is somehow related to output.
Presently councillors decide themselves on their level of allowance
and the criteria by which it should be paid. Although members
are encouraged to take independent advice the recommendations
are not binding. I would welcome central Government intervention
on this point!
6.6 If the role of councillors is to be
enhanced and developed, Government should consider introducing
a statutory right to time off work for public duties, with would
be a step towards removing a significant barrier to those who
are interested in becoming a councillor yet have difficulty in
obtaining sufficient time off work. More training and development
could also help make councillors more effective.
7.1 Lastly, it is most welcomed that the
Government plans to replace the National Code of Local Government
Code with legislation. By requiring all local authorities to adopt
a code of conduct, which councillors would agree as a condition
of their term of office is an important step towards improving
standards in public life. Each council will also be required to
establish a Standards Committee that will offer guidance on the
implementation of the ethical framework. While the detail of these
proposals may appear to be draconian and heavy-handed, they are
important steps in improving the accountability of local government
elected and unelected officials.
7.2 Some councillors and officers have expressed
some reservations about Standard Committees and the new Standard
Board. It has been suggested that they would be unhelpful and
be a bureaucratic response to allegations of wrong-doing. Indeed,
they may encourage frivolous complaints, however, when allegations
of wrongdoing are made, it is important that councils take steps
to investigate them. I would argue that the public takes such
allegations very seriously and the apparent failure of councils
to investigate promptly has contributed to public apathy and cynicism.
7.3 It is for the reasons given in the last
paragraph that I would urge that the Government includes in its
proposals a procedure that would allow executive mayors to be
suspended or removed from office if there are allegations of wrong-doing.
Without such a check on the power of an executive mayor, localities
would have not a mechanism to deal with impropriety other than
at the next election. This is unsatisfactory and the draft legislation
should be amended.
20 May 1999