Memorandum by Birmingham City Council
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
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
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
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 sessionso as to avoid the disclosure
of "exempt" informationbut these occasions are
kept to a minimum.
13. These full Cabinet meetings are responsible
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
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:
other decisions which the Leader
has decided should be taken by the full Cabinet; or
decisions which officers are responsible
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 membersthree
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
(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 memberscurrently,
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
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
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
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
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 speakeg 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
(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.