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Paper 8 - 29 January 1999 Meeting

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

29 January 1999

"MODERN LOCAL GOVERNMENT" - MEMBER AUTHORITIES' RESPONSES TO THE WHITE PAPER PROPOSALS FOR NEW POLITICAL STRUCTURES

Paper by the Policy Manager

RECOMMENDATION

That members exchange views on political structures and the merits of the Government's proposals.

SUMMARY

Local Authorities generally have welcomed the Government's objectives for modernising local government and enabling it to be fully in touch with local communities. However, some of this Association's members have voiced concern that Government proposals appear to be too prescriptive about the process for member involvement. This paper provides a background briefing and a summary of responses to a recent LGA survey.

BACKGROUND

1. At the last meeting, it was agreed that member authorities would be asked to report on their reactions to the Government's White Paper proposals for member structures. This report lists the formal responses by member authorities to a recent LGA survey and invites members to contribute and comment.

THE GOVERNMENT'S CONSULTATION AND OUTCOMES

2. When the Association last considered this matter, before the White Paper was published, it was agreed to urge the Government to encourage a wide range of political and managerial structures to develop. The Association felt that the LGA and DETR should research and promote best practice. Our response noted that the centralist "executive" model is not the only approach which can deliver open and "in touch" local government. The original Green Paper asked whether we would prefer "legislation to offer local government a wide range of political and managerial structures or whether we would prefer to have our structures codified in a narrow range of approved arrangements". This Association clearly preferred the former - a wide range of structures - without too much central control.

3. The Government, nevertheless, is determined to prescribe a separation of executive functions from the back-bench role. A recent statement from the Minister for Local Government and Housing (Hilary Armstrong MP) says "the Government is committed to the separation of executive functions, and this will always be a key factor of any model".

4. Whilst local authorities generally welcome the removal of 19th century constraints on their decision-making procedures, they do not all agree with the Government's statement in the Green Paper that "the way local government currently operates with its traditional committee structure is inefficient and opaque". The committee system has important strengths which were not recognised in the Government consultation. With committees, all councillors are involved in decision-making as well as scrutiny. New councillors can get involved immediately. Experienced councillors can move forward to chair/vice-chair, and to different committees. No-one is consigned to the back benches.

5. The Government consultation also failed to recognise the usefulness of the non-executive mayoral system. Local authorities have a great many civic and procedural functions to perform. The British tradition of the monarchy and an executive lends general support to the common practice of a civic mayoral or chairman function, running alongside and complementing the executive or Leader function.

6. The Green Paper did not even mention the key innovation of leadership in local government in the last half century: the development of the role of Leader of the Council. This role, now common-place, has enabled councils to address many of the issues of leadership and clarity raised by the Government. The Green Paper also ignored the role of parish and town councils in community leadership locally.

7. Despite many representations which pointed out these weaknesses in the consultation, the Government in the White Paper stated that it had decided to "enable and encourage" councils to move permanently to new political management structures. The Government intends to introduce legislation to make a limited number of options available including:-

Directly-elected Mayor with cabinet
Cabinet with Leader
Directly-elected Mayor and Council Manager

This does not preclude the introduction of other basic models, but the separation of the executive role from the back-bench role does not appear to be negotiable.

THE VIEWS OF MEMBER AUTHORITIES.

7. The LGA (circular 694/98) issued a major survey entitled "Taking the initiative" on 12 November 1998, seeking to collect baseline information about the modernisation agenda from each member local authority. Rather than send out a separate questionnaire from HIOW, this report has used the responses to the LGA questionnaire in particular the following:

Question 17 Has your authority considered the White Paper proposals about an executive/representational split?

Question 18 Which of the following models set out in the White Paper is your authority most likely to adopt?

8. Some authorities have responded to say that the committee system is effective, and to point out that the LGA ought to be seeking a wider choice of political structures, if the Government is determined to restrict the choice as proposed.

RESPONSES FROM THOSE AUTHORITIES WHICH HAVE FORMALLY CONSIDERED THE MATTER

9. The following authorities have considered the proposals and the general view seems to be that - if legislation were enacted as proposed in the White Paper - either Councils would choose the Cabinet with Leader option, or existing arrangements would be aligned within the principles of this option:

Eastleigh Borough Council
Hampshire County Council
Hart District Council

Rushmoor Borough Council
Test Valley Borough Council

RESPONSES FROM MEMBER AUTHORITIES WHICH HAVE NOT FORMALLY CONSIDERED THE MATTER

10. The following authorities had not yet formally considered the matter by early January. These authorities either are not prepared to predict what their Council will choose, or they predict that they will choose the Cabinet with Leader option:

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council
East Hampshire District Council
Fareham Borough Council
Gosport Borough Council
Havant Borough Council

Isle of Wight Council
New Forest District Council
Portsmouth City Council
Winchester City Council

NICK GOULDER
Policy Manager

Last update: 00/00/2000
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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