Model structures for executive
21. Three models lie at the centre of the Government's
proposals for the establishment of executive arrangements by local
authorities. Except as may otherwise be provided, one of these
must be followed by any authority adopting executive arrangements.
The models prescribed in the draft bill are:
- a directly-elected mayor who appoints an executive
of two or more, drawn from councillors;.
- a council leader, appointed by full council,
who either appoints an executive drawn from the council or heads
an executive appointed by and drawn from the council;
- a directly-elected mayor, with a council manager,
to be appointed by the council, who will be an officer of the
25. In their accompanying White Paper, the Government
appears to believe that all the forms of local government which
it has identified and which involve a separation of the executive
would fall into those three categories. Nevertheless the Government
is prepared to contemplate that there might be others.
Accordingly, the draft bill provides that the Secretary of State
may prescribe further models in regulations. To that extent,
and for the reasons we set out below, we consider that the bill
can be viewed as an enabling measure.
26. A majority of witnesses argued that the three
models proposed were insufficiently accommodating and wished to
see further models added to the face of the bill. A variety of
arguments were adduced questioning why the Whitehall/Westminster
model, involving the separation of the executive, was appropriate
in all circumstances. Professor Stewart urged that there should
be no requirement to make a rigid split between the executive
and the rest of the council. "The split, the separation of
the executive can become an obsession, can be carried too far.
It is very common in Europe when you have the centralising effect
of the cabinet or the mayor that at the same time you decentralise
a whole series of local decisions".
Some individual authorities who have already modernised their
structures thought it impracticable and undesirable to make such
a split absolute. The Whitehall model, it was argued, was not
necessarily suitable for all authorities. For instance, it might
not be appropriate for those where there was no overall control
by one party or for rural areas where party politics played little
part. As many authorities had already embarked on a process of
modernisation, a model based on an "improved committee system",
locally developed, should be made available.
27. The Local Government Association (LGA) told us,
"if we have a criticism of the bill it is that in some respects
it seems unduly prescriptive ... in the confining of models of
local government to three".
"Most councils have streamlined their procedures under the
present system in anticipation, or in advance, of the legislation
that the inefficiencies that the traditional committee system
of local government is supposed to have are disappearing and will
have disappeared even if you still have a collegiate model in
the traditional way".
The LGA further said that the principles of transparency, accountability
and efficiency "are, in our view, the overriding criteria
against which any proposals should be measured, be they the status
quo or modification of that or any of the three models. If it
is possible to incorporate those within the legislation, then
so much the better".
The Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (ACSeS)
also sought an extra option on these lines, though they recognise
that the Government "would be reluctant to allow that unless
it were very clear that the benefits were of substance and how
that would actually be assessed would be quite a contentious process
28. A number of individual authorities, whose own
experiences would fit uncomfortably with the bill's provisions
as currently drafted, advanced similar arguments. Cambridgeshire
County Council which had already "embraced the modernisation
agenda" by radically streamlining its committee structure,
adopting an advisory single-party cabinet and instigating various
devolved and delegated arrangements, considers that "locally
developed models" should be permitted, and accorded the same
status as the prescribed models; models might be permitted which
"straddle present and prescribed models".
Barnsley speculated whether "where the Council has already
adopted a modernised structure which meets the requirements of
the legislation, and has taken proper steps to consult the public
and other stakeholders as part of the process, it will be possible
to maintain such arrangements".
29. Eden District Council, the second largest (geographically)
and most sparsely populated district council in England, with
80 per cent Independent councillors, says it currently makes decisions
in open debate with an "equality of opportunity for all members
to contribute". It deems that the proposed changes would
be "restrictive of the transparency with which decisions
are currently made"; and, given that for political leadership/decision-making
purposes the largest group on the authority consists of four councillors,
asks which of the models would be "appropriate for a council
comprised of Independents". They suggest that councils be
given discretion to "choose a decision-making structure most
suited to their needs", which did not necessarily split off
Equally, Peterborough, a council with no overall control expresses
the view that since such councils "present their own specific
challenges when addressing the executive and representative split"
the Bill ought to include models that "have more relevance
to the decision-making processes at hung councils".
Epsom and Ewell told us that the proposed models would not suit
their largely Independent membership and improved committee system.
Professor Stewart of Birmingham University told us that for independent
authorities it might be possible to make appropriate provisions,
either by a separate option or by "making it clear that the
intervention powers of the Secretary of State would not be used
in a situation where those criteria apply" (those criteria
referring to the absence of the faults described in the White
30. For the LGA and the authorities cited above,
then, a further model should be based on an "improved committee
system" where this can be demonstrated better to meet the
objectives of change than the models set out in the bill. "Such
a model might be characterised by:
- strong role for the full council;
- a radically reduced number of committees;
- streamlined working of committees (removal of
information only items, etc);
- absence of strong party politics;
- greater delegation to officers;
- greater opportunities to involve members in policy
- new system of members' allowances."
31. The Committee have thought long and hard about
whether or not, under the terms of the draft bill, an enhanced
committee system should be available as a model on the face of
the bill. It is clear from "Local Leadership, Local Choice"
that the Government envisages a wide variety of possible models
emerging in practice, but all based upon variations of the three
models it sets out. While the Government state there is a wide
range of new forms of local governance involving a separation
of the executive, the White Paper concluded that all those it
had identified could be categorised under three broad models.
This suggests that the defining criterion of the acceptability
of a submitted model is the establishment of some form of executive
separate from the council itself ('the legislature'). On this
basis, a local authority not wishing to change its present decision-making
procedures could not escape from a requirement to submit a model
including such arrangements. This interpretation of the Government's
intention is strengthened by reference to para 2.15 of the White
Paper where the Government say "If a proposal is not supported
it cannot be implemented. It would remain open to the council,
after further consultation, to move to another way of working
which does not involve a directly elected mayor". In other
words, the defeat of a referendum to have an elected mayor would
not absolve councils of the responsibility to produce proposals
for some form of arrangement involving an executive.
32. However, in her evidence to the Committee, the
Minister was questioned specifically about the improved committee
option, and the particular instance where a council opposed to
change might fight and defeat a referendum on change required
by the Secretary of State. In this instance, the Minister conceded
that it "was technically possible" for a council to
continue with the status quo by defeating a referendum called
in this way.
This appears to highlight a considerable ambiguity in the Government's
position; it is, in reality, more than a 'technical possibility.'
We are concerned that this ambiguity exists, and consider that
it is in the interests of a clear understanding for local authorities
engaged in the process of considering options that it be clarified.
We therefore recommend that a clear indication of the options
available to a local authority following the defeat of a referendum
called by the Secretary of State be placed on the face of the
bill. In order to remain faithful to the principles of "Local
Leadership, Local Choice," provision might be made for the
Secretary of State to receive proposals for models excluding an
elected mayor within a specified time of the defeat of such a
referendum on change in general.
33. We note that some authoritieslike Epsom
and Ewell for examplewith a long tradition of independent
membership and no political control, believe that executive arrangements
on the lines of those proposed in the draft bill would never really
work and it would seem pointless to put those authorities through
the hoops of the referendum processes. Under clause 2 (5) of the
draft bill it is possible for the Secretary of State to prescribe
that an authority's executive arrangements may take such form
or are of such forms as he (or, in Wales, the National Assembly)
may prescribe in regulations. We therefore think it should be
possible for authorities like these to take the initiative and
be able to apply to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly
for regulations approving arrangements which may not conform with
the executive arrangements on the face of the bill. The conditions
to be fulfilled before this discretion might be exercised should
be prescribed. We suggest that an authority making an application
for the Secretary of State to use his discretion must provide
evidence of public consultation. And it must be demonstrable that
the arrangements proposed or in place for that particular authority
better meet the principles of transparency, accountability and
efficiency than any of the models prescribed.
34. We recommend that an authority where decision-making
is normally taken on the floor of its committees be allowed to
apply to the Secretary of State under clause 2 (5) for confirmation
of arrangements not in conformity with the executive arrangements
on the face of the bill. In exercising his discretion, the Secretary
of State should have regard to whether:
- the decision-making process has been enhanced;
- the authority has engaged in public consultation;
- the arrangements proposed for that particular
authority better meet the principles of transparency, accountability
and efficiency than any of the models prescribed; or
- the authority has no tradition of party political
39. Some witnesses raised a more specific problem
in respect of authorities which had, as part of their modernisation
process, developed area committees with decision-making powers.
These were mainly (but not exclusively) county and rural authorities.
As the Local Government Information Unit succinctly put it, "Not
currently covered in the bill is an option to enable greater decentralisation
of decision-making within a council. This would allow primary
emphasis on decision-making arrangements on a geographical rather
than service principle. This could encourage public involvement,
particularly in large areas where the population is dispersed.
Legislation could give greater powers to counties to delegate
some service delivery to districts, and for both to be able to
delegate to larger town and parish councils".
40. South Somerset District Council, since 1991,
have had generic area committees which have made decisions on
behalf of local people and which have been supported by decentralised
budgets and area staff teams in area offices. Corporate cohesion
has been ensured by a district-wide executive committee on the
This, they maintain, has led to "stronger leadership for
local communities, a more powerful role for councillors and more
transparency throughout the council". In May 1999 they had
adopted a "cabinet and leader" model of working, "with
the four area committees relinquishing to the council (and a district
executive) those decisions which impact on more than one area
or which depart from agreed policies. Six non-decision-making
strategy groups generate and develop council-wide strategies.
Each member sits on the council, an area committee and one of
the strategy groups". Although they supported the principles
of the bill, they were concerned that "the effect of the
executive/scrutiny split will mean that the decision-making powers
of area committees will be severely limited. Furthermore, it seems
likely that members would have to relinquish attendance at the
all-important area committees in order to sit on a scrutiny committee,
to the detriment of their opportunity to represent their electors
through the area structure". Their Joint Partnership Committee
with the County Council, which in due course they hoped would
also have a budget and decision-making powers would also be constrained.
Other witnesses also wished to see the draft bill made capable
of accommodating area committees with decision-making powers.
41. Indeed Professor Gerry Stoker, an enthusiastic
supporter of new executive-based arrangements, said of decision-making
area committees that "at the moment it would be difficult
for these decentralised committees to be formally decision-making
committees under the Bill as it is currently drafted and I think
that is something that the Government should have a look at because
I think there should be enough flexibility in the system to enable
those authorities that want to go down that route to think about
going down that route".
There is evidence from overseas, for instance from Barcelona and
that it is possible for decentralised committees to exercise decision-making
powers (see also Annex 1).
42. Similarly, DETR witnesses offered some possibility
of accommodating decentralised arrangements. They said, "The
Government would not want to go so far as to wholly remove the
purpose of executive separation ... by having very large amounts
of decision-making and spending delegated out to committees but
there are certain possibilities for taking a cut which continues
to allow decentralisation and neighbourhood planning and decision-making".
The Minister of State also suggested that if an authority wished
to include decentralised arrangements in its constitution, and
where such committees had a "link with a corporate centre",
decentralised arrangements could be compatible with an executive
43. For authorities and proponents of decentralised
decision-making area committees, then, a further model would comprise
some form of delegation of executive functions to area committees
with mixed responsibilities. We recognise that some local authorities
have already developed executive arrangements but with the inclusion
of decision-making area committees and joint county/district partnership
committees. Such arrangements are in tune with the Government's
objective of encouraging community consultation and bringing decision-making
closer to the people. We therefore recommend that the bill
should be capable of accommodating them, and that the guidance
to be issued by the Secretary of State should clarify the basis
on which local authority constitutions might include provision
for the continuance or development of such committees within a
44. One witness, Professor John Stewart, put forward
a case for a model which combines elements of the second and third
models already provided for, that is to say a council leader,
appointed by the full council, with an officer of the authority
appointed as a council manager. Professor Stewart bases his proposals
on the experience of the United States where, he told us, the
council leader and manager system has recently overtaken the elected
mayor/council system as the preferred choice of American cities.
He writes, "The council-manager structure in the United States
has been associated with non-partisan elections. In a party-dominated
system as in the United Kingdom it could be difficult for a directly-elected
mayor to exercise political leadership if he or she does not have
a majority on the council and that is quite likely with elections
by thirds. The council manager would inevitably look to the leader
of the majority group for political leadership rather than to
the mayor who has in a council management system no separate executive
SOLACE informed us that "There is continuing decline in the
US for the directly-elected executive mayor in favour of the council
manager approach. Furthermore, it is perhaps unfortunate that
in the White Paper and bill, the council manager approach is linked
exclusively to an elected mayor. Our understanding both of the
council manager structure in the US and the New Zealand system,
suggests that the form can sit very comfortably with the traditional
system or cabinet model".
45. We felt that the council leader and manager system
may be a particularly suitable form of executive arrangement for
example in rural areas, or for traditionally hung councils. Indeed,
the Minister told us that she now believed that such an arrangement
was already possible under existing models as drafted.
We conclude that an additional model of a council leader with
council manager may well appeal, for example, to some rural, a-political
or traditionally hung authorities. It is, moreover, entirely consistent
with the establishment of executive arrangements and complements
the logic behind the other three models. We therefore recommend
for the avoidance of doubt that a council leader with council
manager model be included in clause 2 of the draft bill.
Model structures for executive
46. This draft bill relates to Wales as well as England.
Powers exercisable in England by the Secretary of State will,
in Wales, be exercised by the National Assembly. It was pointed
out in evidence that the Welsh constitutional model now practised
at the National Assembly provided for members of the executive
or cabinet to belong to the Assembly's six "subject"
committees. Thus the constitutional model followed in the bill,
while not unfamiliar in England, is no longer the model for Wales.
47. In these circumstances, SOLACE (Wales) argued
that Welsh local authorities might well seek forms of executive
arrangements which were slightly different from those likely to
be available under the bill.
48. The Committee have already noted the power for
the National Assembly, under clause 2 (5), to sanction alternative
executive arrangements. We can safely assume that the Assembly
will make such special provision for Wales as it sees fit. For
Wales, therefore, in the interest of comity between Westminster
and Cardiff, we make no recommendations.
49. As we have seen, two out of the three models
of executive arrangements prescribed in the bill include directly-elected
mayors. The bill also provides that an authority wishing to adopt
arrangements which include an elected mayor should hold a referendum
on the proposal, the result of which is binding. If the referendum
does not approve the proposal, no other referendum may be held
for five years. Where a local authority has received a public
petition signed by at least 5 per cent of electors in support
of executive arrangements with an elected mayor, it can be required
by regulation to hold a referendum.
50. The term of office of an elected mayor is four
years and the system of election for a mayor will be by supplementary
vote (SV). (Under SV, a second preference vote is cast. If no
candidate receives more than half the first preference votes cast,
all but the two candidates with the most first preference votes
are eliminated. Any second preference votes among the votes for
the eliminated candidates which have been cast for the top two
candidates are added to those candidates' total votes. The candidate
with the highest total of first and second preference votes wins.)
Although we recognise that this will be an issue of debate when
the bill is published, we have not considered it our job to pronounce
on the merits of different voting systems.
51. The bill also gives the Secretary of State power
to make regulations on the conduct of elections and to modify
any of the statutory provisions.
52. Some more detail about the Government's thinking
is provided by the White Paper. Thus it is expected that eventually
the timing of elections will ensure that the mayoral cycle will
fall in step with the normal electoral cycle for the council.
It is envisaged that the elected mayor will be the "key political
leader and policy developer for the community". He or she
would be a member of the council,
appoint the executive and allot the portfolios within it. The
White Paper sees the elected mayor soliciting citizens' views
in formulating policies, acting as a voice for the community,
and facilitating communication between councillors and officers.
He or she might be "the focus of the community planning process".
An elected mayor would not chair the full council and whether
or not he or she undertook ceremonial duties would be a matter
for local choice.
53. Clearly, taking the bill and White Paper together,
the Government sets great store by elected mayors. Equally, witnesses
had plenty to say to us on the subject. The proponents and supporters
of elected mayors argued that they would help to reinvigorate
local politics. As Professor Stoker said, "there is a dynamic
in the mayoral model which enables people to achieve more".
He suggested lowering the 5 per cent threshold to make it easier
for people to petition for a referendum on the elected mayor model,
on the grounds that local authorities on the whole would be likely
to prefer the council leader/executive model. Indeed, he thought
it would be "a perfectly constitutional option to consider
the idea of imposing elected mayors in, say, a dozen urban areas
on the grounds that it is popular and it will help to transform
politics in those areas which all the evidence suggests are dying
on their feet".
However, Professor Stewart told us that the arguments for an elected
mayor were finely balanced and that requiring every large authority
to have an elected mayor would be a huge risk. We agree with Professor
Stewart that "there will always be a need for a considerable
diversity because of the great diversity of local government itself".
54. The Committee have assessed the opinion poll
evidence we heard prayed in support of the idea of elected mayors.
Most polls, such as they are, seem to be supportive, though some
- MORI's 1998 poll for NLGN of 1,000 adults in
five major English cities outside London found 60-70 per cent
- ESRC's 1996 survey across Great Britain consistently
found two thirds in favour of directly elected leaders of the
council (ESRC Local Governance Programme);
- Lewisham Borough Council Citizens Panel of 1,000
local residents, surveyed by the Office for Public Management
in 1998, polled 58 per cent in favour of elected mayors;
- the Government's People's Panel Survey of January
1999, conducted by MORI, of 3,600 members of the 5,000 strong
panel, found 55 per cent support for elected mayors;
- the latest poll evidence, ICM's poll of 1,000
adults across Britain in May 1999 found that two thirds were in
favour of electing mayors, and 40 per cent were more likely to
turn out and vote if local government arrangements included an
60. When weighing opinion poll evidence, we believe
it is desirable to remember MORI's caveat: "Beyond the headline
figures, the picture is less clear. First, the public know relatively
little about the proposals, and so while around 59-68 per cent
in the metropolitan areas surveyed by MORI say they are in favour
(as did Lewisham's own poll of its Panel, and the ICM survey),
this is not a high salience issue for the public and there are
sizeable proportions who do not feel able to answer either way".
Professor Stewart also believed that people did not always understand
(see also para 167). Much of the evidence shows stronger support
in urban areas though Professor Stoker said that the opinion surveys
show that support is equally strong in non-urban areas.
Nonetheless, the election of a mayor is, according to the Government's
People's Panel Survey cited above, the least popular method of
addressing voters' concernscompared, say, to opinion surveys
or local referendums. Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, which
has consulted widely on its own modernisation plans, wrote "...
people were generally more interested in ... processes to facilitate
participation, accountability, and responsive delivery of service
than in the form of executive.
And the LGA drew our attention to a recent consultation exercise
in Camden which elicited a large response and favoured a committee-based
As Ben Page in his evidence for MORI put it, "The bottom
line is that people are more interested in outcomes than political
11 Cm4298, paragraph 3.4 Back
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and App81; see also QQ611-619 Back
Cambridgeshire County Council; App82 London Borough of Sutton;
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