IV. THE GOVERNMENT'S CASE FOR THE
14. The Government sets out its case for the bill
in its introduction to the White Paper,
and the same reasoning was advanced in oral evidence to the Committee
from the Minister, the Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong MP.
The essential features of the case are as follows.
15. Councils traditionally conduct their business
through large committees and sub-committees, having the same political
balance as the full council, and advised by professional officers.
This is deemed to be time-consuming for members and officers alike,
inefficient, slow, and expensive in terms of time and resources.
Indeed, a recent survey of councillors 
showed that while 70 per cent of councillors thought that their
representational work with the community was their most important
function, they spent only 30 per cent of their time doing it,
as opposed to 50 per cent of their time at meetings.
16. Most major policy decisions however are in practice
taken elsewhereeither within the ruling party group or,
where necessary, following consultation between the leaders of
groups where there is a minority administration. As a result a
decision-making process designed to be open and public is now
opaque and unaccountable. Electors and other interested parties
such as businesses do not know where responsibility lies, and
many individual councillors are frustrated by their inability
to influence decisions or even to follow the decision-making process
through what can be a labyrinthine committee system.
17. The Government see the reluctance of people to
serve as councillors and the reluctance of people to turn out
and vote for those councillors at local elections as symptoms
of this malaise. Thus only 50 per cent of councillors are in employment
while 35 per cent are retired; and many social groups are under-represented.
Meanwhile turnout at elections is one of the lowest in the European
Union. Average turnout in the most recent local elections in England
and Wales was only 29 to 30 per cent.
18. The Government's answer is principally enshrined
in this draft Bill. It consists of requiring local authorities
to set up a separate and clearly identifiable executive within
the council; and, under the terms of two of the three executive
models proposed, and subject to popular referendum, to establish
elected mayors to lead those executives. Such arrangements it
is argued will make local government efficient (by cutting down
on committees and time); transparent (by placing most decision
making with visible executives); and accountable (by allowing
for scrutiny of those executives). In addition, the possibility
of electing mayors will help to raise the profile of the local
19. The Committee consider that the objectives behind
the billefficiency, transparency and accountabilityare
laudable. The Government believes they can be achieved by requiring
all local authorities to make proposals for political management
structures with a separate executive, and establishing a new ethical
framework for local government. We see merit in the inclusion
of a clause at the beginning of the bill to state that its purpose
is to achieve greater efficiency, transparency and accountability.
20. In our consideration of the bill which follows
we have wherever possible considered the terms of the proposals
set out in the bill (referring where necessary to the White Paper
too) in the context of the evidence received before venturing
our own opinion and where appropriate making recommendations for
changes. In our view the extent to which any eventual Act based
on the current draft will fulfil these objectives will largely
depend on the extent to which the Government are prepared to accept
our findings and act upon them.
7 Cm4298 Back
8 QQ706-721 Back
Young and N Rao, 1993 Back
from House of Commons Library Back