Memorandum by Tameside Metropolitan Borough
Council (LAG 51)
1.1 Tameside has a population of 220,000
and a Council of 57 members, 7,500 employees and an annual net
revenue budget of £300 million (2000/2001).
1.2 The Council began modernising its political
management systems and structures a number of years ago, well
in advance of the publication of the Government's "Local
Leadership, Local Choice". It disbanded allowances for members
attendance in 1992, introduced member responsibilities outside
the committee system in 1993, disbanded all sub committees in
1997 and cut committee meetings by 40 per cent in 1998.
1.3 The Council introduced area committees,
known as District Assemblies in May 1998, and Executive and Scrutiny
arrangements in January 1999. It set up an independent, external
Standards Bench, chaired by a barrister, to oversee issues of
ethics and probity in February 1999. It has job profiles for all
councillors. It has now had over two years of practical experience
in experimenting with the arrangements provided for under the
Local Government Act 2000.
1.4 Based on the above experience, and extensive
public consultation on the political models contained in the Act,
the Council will be introducing a new constitution in May 2001,
using the Leader with Cabinet model.
1.5 The Council has been used by the Government
as a case study in `New Council Constitutions : Consultation Guidelines
for English Local Authorities' (DETR/LGA October 2000). It is
participating in a national project on standards and ethics, being
one of the first Councils to publish its own comprehensive set
of policies and procedures based on Nolan principles.
1.6 The Council is continuing to receive
a substantial number of enquiries and visits from local authorities
about Tameside's experience, particularly in relation to arrangements
now covered by Part II of the Act. As part of sharing experience,
the Council has contributed to national conferences organised
by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the New Local Government
Network and participated in the Best Practice Group run by the
Institute of Local Government (INLOGOV), University of Birmingham.
1.7 The Council has involved the Local Government
Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) and INLOGOV in reviewing
aspects of the modernisation programme.
2.1 New forms of political management have
been introduced over a number of years, with adjustments and new
developments being based on the learning from earlier experimentation.
2.2 In this submission, the Council has
concentrated on the major aspects of the modernisation agenda
(a) experience of devolved arrangements (Section
(b) experience of setting up scrutiny functions
(c) experience of operating an executive
cabinet (Section 5)
3.1 The Council chose to delegate executive
decision making and budgets to local areas in May 1998. These
responsibilities have grown each year. During 2000/2001, the eight
Assemblies have responsibility for around £8 million of expenditure
(around 4 per cent of the Council's net revenue budget). Town
managers have been appointed to lead and co-ordinate locally devolved
3.2 The District Assemblies have been fairly
well received by the public and have achieved high public recognition.
In the Tameside Residents Opinion Survey (MORI 1999), one year
after the Assemblies were launched, 32 per cent of the public
knew of their local Assembly and 40 per cent knew the name of
their local councillor. A Citizens 2000 Panel Survey confirmed
50 per cent knew of them and 75 per cent thought they were a good
3.3 A secondary provision is the responsibility
and delegated decision making of the elected members who through
this facility have a new and positive role. District Assembly
members are given a generic job profile, with an added responsibility
for one of the following issues ;
Local Liaison (with Business and
3.4 Each Assembly has an advisory group
made up of local residents, business people and secondary school
students (Years 9-11). Residents represent local voluntary and
community groups. Over 60 people are involved as Assembly advisers.
3.5 District Assemblies now have executive
responsibility for a wide range of functions that include ;
Highway maintenance and repairs.
Parks, play areas and open space
Small grants to local schools.
Grants to local voluntary and community
organisations and town twinning.
3.7 The following points reflect the Tameside
(1) area committees must not be run as committees.
They have to have a new style with public involvement;
(2) they must be properly marketed;
(3) training for members, officers and advisers
is critical. Feedback from advisers and school students at the
end of the first year highlighted feelings of isolation and uncertainty
about their role. Mentoring and support was provided. Officers
have adopted new forms of written and oral presentation. Members
have taken the lead on reports to the Assemblies. The role and
performance of the Assembly Chair is crucial;
(4) there must be good communications with
other parts of the Council and between Assemblies;
Cabinet members meet relevant Assembly "portfolio"
holders so that
strategic policy making is informed
by local perspectives; and
policy is co-ordinated across
The Cabinet member with responsibility for overall
District Assembly co-ordination has regular meeting with Chairs
and Deputies of Assemblies and town managers.
(5) public interest is sustained if they
are real decision making bodies, not just a consultative forum;
(6) new forms of political and officer management
systems are required;
This will vary according to authority and the
level of activity devolved to area committees. Changes to systems
need to be planned as part of any overall programme to establish
(7) a phased development is likely to be
more successful, with recognition that adjustments may need to
be made in the light of experience.
Consultation on planning applications and school
governor appointments did not work at the Assembly level and were
changed after a year's experience. This may have implications
for those authorities introducing area committees as part of a
4.1 Tameside set up its three Scrutiny Panels
in January 1999. In setting up the scrutiny function, it drew
heavily on the parliamentary select committee model. Both the
Rt Hon Robert Sheldon MP and Andrew Bennett MP helped members
and officers at the formative stages, with initial training and
role play benefiting from their knowledge and experience. A visit
to a select committee took place.
4.2 As with any such fundamental change,
progress has been determined by the enthusiasm, commitment and
understanding of those involved. At the time of the IDeA review
in February 2000, the Council had been operating a scrutiny function
for just a year. They commented
"in many way the council is ahead of the
4.3 The Council has committed increasing
resource and effort to develop the scrutiny function. It has responded
to the IDeA peer review by commissioning Dr Stephanie Snape, INLOGOV,
to undertake a scrutiny evaluation. Her role as a "critical
friend" has been invaluable in identifying key issues, inhibitors
and areas for improvement and development. She has provided a
series of reports that have helped shape a programme for scrutiny
4.4 The Council has also drawn on the North
West Employers Organisation to carry out further member training
and development on scrutiny. This has complemented a larger programme
of member development, including the member capability programme
organised in conjunction with consultants HayGroup Ltd. Tameside's
approach to member development was "highly commended"
in the Local Government Chronicle Awards 2000. At the time of
this statement, the Council is again a finalist in this category
for the 2001 LGC Awards.
4.5 A confusion of roles can create political
tensions and uncertainty, particularly when arrangements are in
shadow form. Political groups are obliged to adjust and deal with
issues about their internal organisation and decision-making.
4.6 Public interest and involvement in scrutiny
can be very limited. The Council has recognised this as an issue
to be addressed through improved marketing. Many of those attending
the Council's road shows on a new constitution commented on the
importance of "holding the executive to account". Yet
few of them knew of the potential to be involved in submitting
evidence or attending scrutiny panel meetings. The Council has
launched a series of advertisements in local newspapers and developed
the scrutiny pages on its award winning web site. The public must
be encouraged to send in their ideas for scrutiny and comment
on those topics that have been selected.
4.7 There would be benefit in co-ordinated
marketing, potentially on a county or sub regional basis, in order
to be cost effective and make the maximum benefit of advertising
in media such as radio and television.
4.8 Clear protocols help ensure the scrutiny
function is well defined and able to operate to an agreed set
4.9 The INLOGOV scrutiny evaluation (June-December
2000) identifies key areas for improvement. In recognising achievements,
it considers there is a substantial agenda to be tackled in making
scrutiny more effective. The Council is seeking to learn from
its experience to date and the change agenda identified by INLOGOV.
5.1 The Executive, known as the Cabinet,
consists of the Leader, First Deputy and eight Deputies, each
with a portfolio of operations carrying delegated responsibility.
Details of the portfolios, known as warrants of office, can be
found on the Council's website.
5.2 The Cabinet was introduced in January
1999 and the Council made two year appointments of Cabinet members
in May 1999 in order to give the new system continuity and stability.
5.3 The Cabinet meets every three weeks
and the record of its meetingsthe Cabinet diaryis
distributed to all Members of the Council.
5.4 The Cabinet is supported by a number
of members, known as Cabinet Secretaries, who take on specific
tasks or research issues for Cabinet Deputies. The Cabinet also
has the benefit of an Aide-de-Camp and a Head of Heritage, who
have specific responsibilities.
5.5 These arrangements have worked very
6.1 There are distinct risks that the regulations
governing "key decisions", forward plans and the status
of meetings will lead to bureaucracy and not create the clear
and straightforward processes they are intended to promote. We
will rise to the challenge of explaining in plain language to
the public (and our own employees) all these matters, but we consider
the regulations to be overcomplicated and overblown.
6.2 Effective governance depends on councillors
taking on new roles and being willing to do so. We have put in
place a substantial member training and personal development programme
for all councillors to deliver this. Members are expected to attend
and develop new skills. Can and will this effort be replicated
in other authorities?