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Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Birmingham City Council (LGA 39)


  1.  I am currently the Acting Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council, a position I have held since the retirement of Sir Michael Lyons at the end of September 2001.

  2.  I have worked for Birmingham for some 13 years, principally as the Council's Director of Legal Services. I have been the Council's principal adviser on the introduction of Executive Arrangements in accordance with Part II of the 2000 Act.


  3.  In common with many other local authorities, Birmingham chose to experiment with a version of Executive Arrangements in advance of completing the formal processes under the Act. A constitution which incorporated a form of the Leader and Cabinet model (but retaining formal decision making by way of committees), together with a number of Scrutiny Committees, was first introduced in January 2000. This was seen very much as a learning experience and a number of adjustments were made in May 2000 and again in May 2001.

  4.  Starting at the beginning of 2001, the Council devoted a considerable amount of energy to stimulating and informing a public debate about the choice of Executive models available under the 2000 Act. This culminated in the Council organising a consultative ballot of the City's entire electorate in September 2001. This ballot attracted responses from some 31 per cent (over 220,000 electors) of the electorate.

  5.  The analysis of the response to the consultative ballot showed (in rounded figures) that 46 per cent of the respondents favoured the Leader and Cabinet model, 40 per cent favoured the Elected Mayor and Cabinet model and 13 per cent favoured the Elected Mayor and Council Manager model.

  6.  Having regard to this response, the Council decided in early October 2001 to adopt the Leader and Cabinet model as the basis of its "proposals" under the Act and to bring these Executive Arrangements into full effect from early December 2001. Details of the Council's "proposals" and the consultation which had been undertaken were then duly submitted to the Secretary of State.

  7.  In December 2001, shortly after the Council's new constitution (incorporating the Leader and Cabinet model) had been brought into full effect, the Council was notified by the DTLR that the Secretary of State was concerned that the Council had made its choice "without having had due regard to the response to its consultation". The letter from the DTLR went on (a) to say that the Secretary of State was therefore minded to direct the Council to hold a formal referendum under the 2000 Act and (b) to invite the Council to make representations on this matter.

  8.  The Council submitted its representations, arguing that the proposed intervention was unjustified, in January 2002. However, the Council has now been notified (by way of a further DTLR letter of March 2002) that the Secretary of State remains minded to issue a Direction. A final decision will not however be made by the Secretary of State until the DTLR and the Electoral Commission have completed their work of reviewing certain aspects of the Conduct of Referendums Regulations in the light of the issues raised in the Electoral Commission's report of January 2002. We have been told that this work is due to be completed "by summer 2002".

  9.  In summary, Birmingham continues for the time being to operate the Leader and Cabinet constitution which was introduced in December 2001. However, the Council faces the prospect of receiving a Direction and therefore having to hold a formal referendum on an Elected Mayor proposal, probably in late 2002 or early 2003. If such a referendum were to result in a "Yes" majority, the election of the first Elected Mayor would take place in May 2003.


  10.  The Council's current political structure is illustrated on the next page of this memorandum. The remainder of this memorandum provides further information about the practical operation of some of the components of this structure.

(a)  The Cabinet

  11.  As well as electing the Leader, the full Council appoints the Deputy Leader and the eight other Cabinet members, all with specific portfolios. The entire Cabinet is currently from the Labour Group which has a majority of seats on the Council.

  12.  The full Cabinet meets in public every Monday afternoon. Three Opposition Group members (currently, the Leader and one other member from the Conservative Group and the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group) also attend these meetings. They receive all the papers and are able to play a full part in the meetings, apart from voting. The Cabinet will occasionally need to go into private session—so as to avoid the disclosure of "exempt" information—but these occasions are kept to a minimum.

  13.  These full Cabinet meetings are responsible for:

    —  making all "key decisions" (the financial thresholds in Birmingham are £0.5 million revenue and £1 million capital). The Constitution specifically prohibits any individual Cabinet member from making "key decisions"; and

    —  dealing with other items of business which, although not involving "key decisions", are considered by the Leader to warrant collective consideration and decision.

(b)  Cabinet members

  14.  Each individual Cabinet member is empowered to make decisions, relating to the Council functions within his/her portfolio, provided that such decisions are not:

    —  "key decisions";

    —  other decisions which the Leader has decided should be taken by the full Cabinet; or

    —  decisions which officers are responsible for making.

  15.  A Cabinet member can only make a decision once he/she has received and considered a report from the relevant officer(s). There is a standard format for such reports which is designed to ensure that they contain all relevant information and advice etc.

  16.  As a means of involving other members of the Council in the work of the Cabinet and Cabinet members, each Cabinet member is supported by a multi-Party team of "Advisers to Cabinet members". These teams, which are appointed by the full Council, currently comprise five members—three Labour, one Conservative and one Liberal Democrat. The detailed method of involvement is left to each Cabinet member to determine, but the most common method is to have monthly meetings with the Advisers, when current issues and forthcoming decisions are discussed.

  17.  As a further means of keeping other members informed of important issues, Cabinet members are encouraged to issue regular information bulletins and/or to arrange seminars open to all members.

(c)  Recording of Decisions

  18.  All decisions, taken either by the full Cabinet or by individual Cabinet members, are recorded in a prescribed form and the details "posted" on an electronic database. This is accessible by all members of the Council and by the general public (via the Council's website). The record provides details of all supporting reports, papers etc and contact points for further information.

(d)  Overview and Scrutiny

  19.  There is currently a structure of seven permanent O&S Committees (shortly to be increased to eight), including a Co-ordinating O&S Committee which is responsible for planning and co-ordinating the work of all the Committees. The normal size for each Committee is 12 members—currently, seven Labour, three Conservative and two Liberal Democrat. All the Committees are currently chaired by Labour members.

  20.  In addition to the standard O&S role (as prescribed in the Act), each O&S Committee is responsible for:

    —  overseeing the conduct of any Best Value reviews which fall within their remit; and

    —  examining any "policy framework" plans, relevant to their remit, before such plans are submitted (by the Cabinet) to the full Council for approval. If the O&S Committee believes it appropriate, it may propose amendments to the plan at the full Council meeting.

  21.  Each O&S Committee has the power to "call in" decisions (relating to its remit) taken by the Cabinet or Cabinet members. This is a power to require the Cabinet to reconsider the decision in question.

  22.  The "call in" procedure operates as follows:

    —  decisions taken by the Cabinet/Cabinet members cannot normally be implemented until the expiry of three clear working days from when they are "posted" on the database;

    —  during this three-day period, a "request for call in" may be lodged by the Chair or other members (two of different Parties or three of the same Party) of the relevant O&S Committee;

    —  a "request for call in" suspends the implementation of the decision for a further five clear working days and requires the relevant O&S Committee to meet within this period;

    —  at the O&S Committee meeting, all the reports and papers supporting the decision will be available for consideration. In addition, the relevant Cabinet Member and the relevant officers must attend in order to respond to questions and to explain/justify the decision that has been taken;

    —  the O&S Committee has three options at its disposal. These are (i) to decide to "call in" the decision, (ii) to decide not to "call in" (in which event the decision can be implemented straightaway) or (iii) to refer the matter to the full Council (only available if, after receiving advice from the Council's Monitoring Officer, the O&S Committee considers that the decision is at odds with the approved Budget or with one of the "policy framework" plans approved by the full Council). In coming to its decision, the Committee must have regard to certain "criteria for call in" laid down by the full Council;

    —  if the O&S Committee decides in favour of "call in", the implementation of the decision remains suspended and the decision must be reconsidered by the full Cabinet at one of the Monday meetings;

    —  at the Cabinet meeting, the Chair and one other member of the O&S Committee are entitled to attend and to speak—eg to explain the reasons for "call in". The Cabinet's decision, either to confirm or modify the original decision, is then final.

  23.  This "call in" procedure has operated since December 2001. There have to date been 17 "requests for call in" which have resulted in four decisions being actually "called in" (and therefore reconsidered by the full Cabinet).

  In the majority of cases therefore, the concerns of O&S members have been resolved at the initial O&S Committee meeting.

(e)  Council Business Management Committee

  24.  This Committee, which comprises members of the Cabinet, the O&S Committees and all the Party Groups, fulfils the important role of planning the business of meetings of the full Council and monitoring the operation of the Constitution. It operates very much as a "whole Council" Committee.

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Prepared 12 September 2002