Memorandum by Manchester City Council
1. Manchester City Council welcomes the
principles of Government's Local Government (Organisation and
Standards) Bill. The City Council is fully committed to providing
the best possible services to, and most effective advocacy for,
Manchester residents, in a way that is effective, transparent,
responsive and accountable. Existing local government structures
are obsolete, and fall well short of achieving these objectives.
2. In recognising the need for modernisation,
and fully embracing Best Value, we also look forward to legislation
which can deliver effective structures and high standards. In
particular, we would like to see a duty placed upon local authorities
to promote the social and economic well-being of their areas.
3. Changes in structure alone will not,
however, make local government more effective: changes to powers
and responsibilities are much more significant, as evinced by
4. The City Council has a very strong track
record in partnership working, established over many years. In
particular, we have provided strong and effective leadership within
partnership. This is widely accepted in the city, in local communities
and by the private sector. There is, we contend, no deficit in
legitimacy in Manchester. We consider that the best way forward
is to continue to build upon this in an evolutionary way, working
with our partners.
5. We have already carried out extensive
consultation with residents, and are currently implementing major
changes in structure, within the constraints of existing legislation.
6. The City Council has established an Executive
Committee, with extensive delegated powers. Five Scrutiny Committees
have also been established. The Council itself will remain the
ultimate decision-making body, and will determine major changes
in policy. This proposal means that all councillors will have
a role to play. In particular, we want to ensure a focus on local
residents' needs and aspirations, and we have thus decided that
individual ward performance plans will be drawn up and monitored,
in consultation with local councillors and the communities they
7. We consulted widely over three months
on these proposals with the local press and radio, displays and
posters, direct leafleting and residents and other stakeholders,
following a Local Democracy Conference held in December last year.
Over 2,500 responses were received, with the overwhelming majority
agreeing that we should reduce committee meetings, appoint a Cabinet,
and continue to meet in public.
8. In welcoming Government's proposals we
do, however, have a number of concerns about the apparent prescriptiveness
of the Bill.
(i) In placing a duty on a local authority
to discharge its executive functions only through three forms
of executive arrangements, the Government would be compounding
the current confusion and lack of clarity in relation to the powers
of Councils to enter into partnership working arrangements and
In addition to making it clear that the provisions
are not intended to derogate from Councils' existing powers to
enter into such arrangements it would be a pity if the opportunity
were not taken to address this issue, as partnership working is
essential to effective local governance and ensuring the success
of the Councils' strategic community leadership role. Presumably,
it is intended that the current powers to discharge functions
jointly with other local authorities will remain.
(ii) The provisions are very prescriptive
in relation to detail, such as the number of members of the Executive
(iii) The legislation should clarify the
powers of the Standards Committee in relation to individual cases
referred by the Standards Panel to them to deal them. A hiatus
in this regard would lead to difficulties in dealing effectively
with such cases. We believe that Councils themselves should be
responsible for upholding high standards, and have already established
a Standards Committee which has no representation from the leadership
of either political party represented on the Council and has an
9. We did consider very carefully the option
of introducing a directly-elected mayor. We believe that this
option has some merit when there is an existing democratic deficit,
such as has been the case in London. No such democratic deficit
exists in the city of Manchester, and our current proposals are
a good start in modernising the city council and providing a strong
and accountable democratic focus.
10. We do believe, however, that there is
a democratic deficit across Greater Manchester as a whole. The
arrangements for services such as the police, fire and civil defence,
public transport, waste disposal and others are derived from those
arising from the abolition of the former county council in 1986.
Whilst the 10 district councils have generally worked well together,
the current arrangements should be reviewed.
11. This could be addressed by the introduction
of a London style assembly for the whole of Greater Manchester,
with powers to deliver key conurbation-wide strategic issues.
These would include economic development, transport, the fire
service, waste disposal, and the police. There is a particular
lack of accountability, and a real democratic deficit, in respect
to the Police Authority, which has led to the disengagement of
the police's priorities and resource allocation from the needs,
aspirations and priorities of local people. Notwithstanding the
requirements of the Crime and Disorder Act, the objectives of
both Government and local councils will be much easier to achieve,
if this democratic deficit is addressed.
12. We also believe that the concept of
a directly-elected Mayor should be approached with a little caution,
especially in relation to comparisons with US models. Most cities
in the USA do not have directly-elected mayors. Where they do,
and have a high profile, as in New York, attention is usually
focused on specific issues, such as success in reducing crime.
The point here is that the mayor of New York has direct control
over the policies, priorities and resources of the police. An
elected mayor would be no more successful than a Cabinet or the
existing system without such control: again, it is giving local
authorities effective powers and duties which gets things done.
13. In relation to the Bill's proposal to
require Councils to hold a referendum if 5 per cent of the population
ask for one, the City Council believes this percentage is too
low. A genuine strong desire amongst local people for an elected
mayor would be reflected in a much higher percentage; the lower
figure offers scope for political distortion.
14. However we strongly endorse a position
that allows communities themselves to decide how they want to
be governed, and will do all we can to continue to promote discussion
and debate in Manchester about all the options available, and
then to build consensus on the way forward.
15. The City Council has always opposed
Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 relating to the "promotion
of homosexuality". We believe that this Section is discriminatory
and long out-dated, and should be removed.
16. We want to be able to develop much stronger
accountability in terms of the money we receive, raise and spend.
This is a particularly pressing issue in relation to core cities
such as Manchester. We have a very high proportion of socially
excluded residents on low incomes, who make high demands on our
services. Our low tax base means that, notwithstanding our pursuit
of Best Value, it is hard for us to deliver this. As the regional
centre, we provide services and make investments to the benefit
of people and other local economies for beyond the city itself.
We have already made the case to Government for greater flexibility
in raising revenue, particular in relation to the business rate
and the introduction of Business Improvement Districts, and will
continue to do so.
17. The introduction of an elected Mayor
or Assembly for Greater Manchester could also strengthen accountability
if a conurbation-wide economic development function was underpinned
by county-wide fiscal arrangements.
18. The new structure we have introduced
will, we believe, succeed in improving services and strengthening
accountability. It is, however, a learning process for us all,
and we will keep the structure under review to ensure that lessons
are learnt. It is vital, therefore, that the forthcoming Act allows
sufficient flexibility for us to do this, and to respond effectively
to changing circumstances with our partners.
28 May 1999