Memorandum by the London Borough of Richmond
COMMENTS IN RELATION TO CHAPTERS 2 AND 3
OF THE SUMMARY OF THE CONSULTATION PAPER "LOCAL LEADERSHIP,
LOCAL CHOICE" AND DRAFT LOCAL GOVERNMENT (ORGANISATION AND
STANDARDS) BILL: PROPOSALS FOR POLITICAL MANAGEMENT ARRANGEMENTS
1. LOCAL GOVERNANCE:
Within the overall context of broadly welcoming
the consultation paper and the Government's commitment to revitalising
local democracy, the following comments should be noted with respect
to the specific proposals of the consultation paper:
Every Council will be required to consult its
local community about what new form of political management structure
This Council strongly supports consultation
as a matter of principle although it has seen no evidence that
choice of political management structure is a matter of significant
interest to the local public in the borough, even in this area
of highly politically articulate citizens; what is of real concern
to local people is the funding of services after years of continual
reduction of budgets for the public sector and the consequent
decline in local public infrastructure and quality of life (parks,
streets, public toilets, school buildings, library opening hours
etc) and morale of those working in public services.
Government envisages Councils consulting on a
range of options
Although currently there is no real enthusiasm
for any of the models proposed and the Council remains to be convinced
that the proposed structures will lead to increased openness,
transparency and accountability, it is fully prepared to review
continually its working methods to ensure cost effectiveness and
to innovate in order to maximise the vitality of local democracy.
Once legislation is introduced to support cabinet working, it
is likely that the Council will consider a Leader and Cabinet
model but until then the Council will be retaining a fairly traditional
committee structure since there has been a shared cross-party
consensus during the year-long review of the committee structure
(which this Council had already initiated before the publishing
of the White Paper) that the opportunity for cross-party deliberation
and examination of issues in a public forum (supported by regulated
procedures for ensuring that decision-making is made in the context
of the highest standards of reporting by officers) which the committee
system provides, is still of value.
Proposals for a directly elected Mayor will have
to be endorsed by a binding local referendum
The Council has no objection to, and in principle
supports, the use of referenda on matters of significant public
If there is to be an elected Mayor, the Mayor
should be elected by proportional representation, as is being
done for the GLA.
Local people can petition for referendum on whether
to move to an elected Mayor model if 5 per cent of the electorate
The Council values the current non-political
role of the Mayor as a representative of all citizens in the borough
and the symbolism of civic unity and pride which this reflects.
The contribution of such Mayors for expressing the Council's interest
and care for the work of voluntary organisations and charities,
civic societies, young people and the elderly should not be underestimated.
The invention of another title for this ceremonial function is
likely to lead to considerable inter-borough confusion, in the
short term at least.
A Council can continue with its existing traditional
political structures only where the electorate has rejected a
clear option for a new way of working in a referendum
See above and the attached summary (Appendix)
of the range of measures which this Council is taking to reform
its decision-making system and to prepare for the implementation
of a political executive system when the legislation to support
this is introduced.
Powers for Secretary of State to compel a binding
referendum if a Council does not move to a new model or does not
put proposals to a referendum
If concern about corruption is the main reason
for this provision, there would seem to be a much wider range
of faster, surer, targeted solutions which central government
could explore for rooting out particular problems and an equally
wide range of school and community-based methods for encouraging
healthy local democracy; a full range of such options should be
openly considered, preferably within the context of expert analysis
of what are the root causes of corruption, especially within the
structures of local party administration. The current confusion
in the approach to the Porter/Westminster case with regard to
the powers of the District Auditor suggests that there are significant
aspects of existing auditing legislation which need tackling.
If the concern is to encourage councillors to
be more active, dynamic, creative and effective, again there are
a range of more cost effective options, including councillor job/role
profiles (as recently introduced in this Council), effective officer
support for Ward Members' surgery work and work on outside bodies,
training for Members, even customer feedback forms on councillor
performance (in the manner of complaints/congratulations forms)
which in cases of concern (or excellent performance) could be
considered by Standards Committees.
The argument for proportional representation
should again be considered in this context. If local government
elections were conducted in accordance with proportional representation
the result would be more representative and pluralistic politics,
with local councils which more accurately represented their local
communities (for example, in terms of gender, age and ethnicity),
which is of course a major objective for this Government; it would
also increase voter turn-out at elections (another major objective
for this Government), since it would provide more incentive to
vote in circumstances where currently there may be too many "safe
2. STRONG LEADERSHIP
The emphasis is on finding a form of local governance
to provide strong leadership for local communities; the ways of
achieving this have been categorised by the Government under three
broad models, as set out in the Modern Local Government White
Please refer to this Council's earlier response
to the "Modernising Local Government" paper (addressed
to N Easton) for general observations about empowering local government
and raising the status of the role of councillors.
Cabinet with a leader (draft provisions limit
the size of the Executive to 10 Members or 1 per cent of the number
of Councillors whichever is the smaller)
While it is unlikely that this Council would
choose to have a cabinet much larger than this, it seems unduly
prescriptive for central government to set the size of "cabinets"
for local government.
They provide a clearly identified and separate
The scrutiny role is critical to the success
of political executive models of government; it will be valuable
for the LGA to take forward the guidance provided in this paper
in some detail to ensure commonly agreed approaches to achieving
scrutiny committees with sufficient independence which at the
same time do not destabilise or immobilise the executive by splitting
the cohesion of Majority Groups.
This chapter provides considerable detail on the
way the models will operate and the role of the different constituent
parts of an authority: the Executive; "overview and scrutiny
committees", and the full Council
Following the presentation by Professor Jones,
this Council has some concerns about the scrutiny committee(s)
being used as a rival forum for policy formulation and we consider
that their role should be limited in the first instance to review
of the implementation of policy.
Councils will draw up a proposal for new political
management arrangements"a new constitution"
Notwithstanding the comments above, this Council
considers that it is a valuable development for local authorities
to articulate, publicise and consult on their constitutional arrangements.
The Bill sets out a number of key parameters which
such a new constitution must meet, but within these, the precise
arrangements are a matter of local choice. (Examples of where
there will be local discretion include: scope to add to the function
of the full Council, or to delegate from it; to determine locally
the structure of the overview and scrutiny functions; to design
executive arrangements to suit local circumstances)
The power of veto of the Mayor to delay implementation
of Council decisions which he/she believes to be contrary to the
manifesto on which he/she was elected until the Council reconsiders
the matter at its next meeting is an important power which should
perhaps have been referred to in the summary document.
Access to informationwe still have some
concerns about how "local people outside the executive"
will get "access to information on the decisions which are
being taken" (ref para 3.61), especially since there is an
exception in paragraph 3.59 for "political advice"how
will this be defined?