Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - First Report


Memorandum by the London Borough of Camden


  1.1  Camden Council welcomes in principle the introduction of a draft Bill as a further stage of consultation between a White Paper and a Bill. We welcome the opportunity to comment on the draft legislation and contribute our experiences of the issues for consideration by a Special Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament.

  1.2  As set out in our response to the Green Paper, "Modernising Local Government: Local Democracy and Community Leadership" in April 1998, Camden Council is enthusiastic about accepting the challenge of a democratic renewal agenda, as is shown by our record of innovation, our current good practice and the developments we have planned. We are concerned that the Bill as presently drafted does not offer sufficient flexibility for authorities to seize the new challenges—for example, to hold a referendum that includes other options than that of an elected Major.

  1.3  Camden Council has already taken steps to put in place key features of the modernisation agenda. Camden has carried out an extensive public consultation exercise on the possibilities for introducing new political management systems and, as part of our commitment to a new ethical framework we have established a Camden Standards Panel independent of the Council, with no council members. Both these experiences are included within this response as part of our comments on the draft Bill. They offer practical examples of putting in place mechanisms to achieve the Government's stated objectives.

  1.4  Our response to the Green Paper encapsulated Camden Council's position at that time and remains our firm view: "We believe that local government should have the freedom to experiment with different models. The essence of our position is that local arrangements should be fit for local circumstances. It is to be expected that there will be variations in structures, processes and outcomes across local authorities, as democratically elected councils make judgements, after due consultation and involvement, about what will work best in the local circumstances in which they find themselves. We believe it to be good democratic practice to offer the widest possible choice to the electorate where local consultation has identified this need. As interest in our consultation exercise has demonstrated, local people are interested in a range of models of political management and may not favour the models offered.

  1.5  Although a welcome mechanism to move to workable legislation, this is a new process and some elements of the consultation process are somewhat unclear. For example, we have concentrated our response on the draft Bill itself and whether it achieves what it sets out to do. However, it is not entirely clear whether the draft Bill is intended to implement what is set out in the accompanying preamble. It is difficult to assess the full impact of the proposed legislation without having sight of the draft regulations and guidance or without knowing the government's intentions in respect of those amendments to existing legislation. In order to ascertain the degree of flexibility that councils may have, an early consultation on regulations would be very welcome.

  1.6  In the remainder of this response, we will set out views on both the overall content and detailed drafting of the two sections of the draft Bill and provide what we hope are useful examples of best practice on our consultation exercise and Standards Committee.


2.1  The Executive

  2.1.1  The draft Bill refers at significant points to the Secretary of State's intention to issue Regulations and guidance. For example, the Secretary of State will be able to include further forms of political management in Regulations should these emerge; those functions which can and cannot be exercised by the executive or may be exercised by the executive are not set out in the draft Bill and will be the subject of Regulations. As mentioned above, it is difficult to assess the full implications of the proposed legislation without more information about the likely content of Regulations. For example, the preamble refers to licensing and other quasi-judicial matters being excluded from executive decision making but does not say what these other matters will be or whether Authorities will have any discretion in this area. Consultation on draft regulations and guidance in summer 1999 (immediately following the Select Committee) would prove extremely timely for authorities considering how to prepare for new arrangements.

  2.1.2  The Secretary of State will also be able to specify all the matters which must be discharged by full Council. This will allow the Secretary of State to specify, for example, policy areas which he would expect to see exercised by the Council and not by the executive. It is difficult to tell from the Bill, therefore, what flexibility the local authority will have in determining what matters can go to the executive and which will stay with the Full Council. This Authority currently reserves very little to Full Council.

2.2  Delegation to the Executive—The New Constitution?

  2.2.1  The introduction to the Bill makes several references to a local authority's "new constitution". This is not mentioned in the Bill and needs clarification although it may be that it is the scheme of delegation which will in reality form that new constitution.

  2.2.2  For the elected Mayor, the Bill states that the executive arrangements must include arrangements which enable the elected Mayor to discharge all of the executive functions and to enable the Major to decide on delegation to the executive, a single member of the executive, a committee of the executive or an officer. Clarification is sought regarding the exact arrangements permitted for delegation. The implication of this is that decisions by single members will be allowed under the bill although the bill does not explicitly say so. This will have to be done, in any event, by an amendment to the 1972 Act. Any such amendment would also need to take into account the position of joint committees and advisory committees, neither of which are mentioned in the preamble or the Bill.

2.3  Scrutiny

  2.3.1  Camden Council notes Government's stated aim that new forms of local governance will bring powerful roles for all councillors. As a key vehicle for delivering change, one clause in the Bill on overview and scrutiny committees appears insufficient. The lack of clarity regarding the range and function of the scrutiny role causes concern. The flexibility open to councils may be explained in regulations but it is difficult to judge whether this will be the case.

  2.3.2  The overview and scrutiny committees must scrutinise the discharge of the executive functions and make reports and recommendations to the authority or to the executive on matters relating both to executive functions and other functions of the authority which are connected to the executive functions. However, an omission from the bill is how much flexibility there will be available to the authority or the executive in treating those reports.

  2.3.3  The operation and functions of overview and scrutiny committees will be set out by the Secretary of State in regulations. The bill does not say that any executive arrangements by the local authority must include provisions which comply with those regulations. It is therefore difficult to comment on the functions of overview and scrutiny committees without knowing the content of those regulations. All other matters relating to overview and scrutiny committees which are set out in the introduction to the document are absent from the bill.

2.4  Consultation and Referenda

  2.4.1  The Bill does not explicitly state that every local authority must adopt executive arrangements. However, the bill does require every local authority to draw up proposals for the operation of executive arrangements. It is important to note that the definition of "executive arrangements" at the start of the bill means the creation and operation of an executive of the authority with responsibility for the executive functions of the authority.

  2.4.2  The Bill then sets out the only three forms of executive which are allowed. The implication of this is that every local authority must draw up and then submit to the Secretary of State proposals for an executive of either an elected Mayor with a cabinet, an executive leader with the cabinet or an elected Mayor and council manager. There are no other options contained in the Bill, other than the ability of the Secretary of State to include other options in regulations. Although there is a requirement to submit proposals to the Secretary of State, the Bill does not indicate whether they are subject to the consent of the Secretary of State.

  2.4.3  In drawing up the proposals for the operation of executive arrangements, the authority must take reasonable steps to consult local government electors and other interested people in the authority's area. Information on Camden's extensive consultation exercise. "Make Your Mark: A New Kind of Council for Camden" is attached at Annex 1.

  2.4.4  Whereas the preamble states that a local authority may only retain traditional arrangements as a consequence of a referendum, the only mechanism in the Bill by which the local authority may do this is to hold a referendum on the authority's proposal for an elected Mayor and for the electorate to vote against it. There is nothing in the Bill which will allow the authority to have a referendum where the authority proposes, for example, a leader/cabinet. It would obviously also be a nonsense for a local authority to put proposals for an elected Mayor to a referendum and then campaign against it because it wished in reality to retain the status quo.

  2.4.5  If it is the government's intention that a Council may be able to retain traditional arrangements as a consequence of a referendum, then this should be included in the Bill. Currently, there is no explicit power for a local authority to hold a referendum. If it should choose to do so it could only do so either as part of any consultation requirement under existing legislation or under Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972. However, it is doubtful that this could be used once the Bill is enacted as case law suggests that where there is a specific statutory regime, that cannot be supplemented by the use of Section 111. Without specific legislative consent a local authority could not bind itself currently to the outcome of a referendum.

  2.4.6  Regulations will further set out the circumstances in which the Secretary of State will be able to require a local authority to hold a referendum. This is a further example of the need for early sight of draft regulations so that authorities can judge the extent of the Secretary of State's powers. Although the draft Bill sets out the mechanism for a petition of the electorate to trigger a referendum it is not clear what proposals the local authority would be obliged to put in such a referendum or, indeed, what happens if the referendum has a negative result.

2.5  Elected Mayors

  2.5.1  There is nothing in the Bill which indicates what the qualifications will be to stand as an elected Mayor; who may be disqualified from standing; what may disqualify a person from continuing to be a Mayor once elected and whether there will be any special requirements about numbers of nominations etc. These are important issues which may or may not feature in regulations.

2.6  Access to Information

  2.6.1  The Bill makes no reference whatsoever to access to information. These provisions are expressed to apply to meetings and committees of the local authority. The executive is not described as a committee and therefore it might be assumed that it is not the intention for access to information to apply to the operation of the executive. This means that as currently drafted meetings of the executive will not need to be held in public nor will there need to be agendas and reports available for inspection three clear days before the meeting. However, it may be that case law would decide that the cabinet was in fact a form of committee, thus applying access to information in any event.

  2.6.2  The preamble sets out in some detail the government's inclination to make advice from officers public and also sets out duties to create records of decisions of the executive and the reasons for that decision. The preamble also states that failure to create and make available such a record will be a criminal offence. That duty appears to rest with the monitoring officer and, where decisions are taken by single members, that member. There is no reference to any of these issues in the bill. Whilst some of them might be achieved by amending existing legislation, others could not and in order to understand fully the proposed impact of this regime early sight of the legislation to be amended would be helpful.

2.7  Allowances

  2.7.1  The preamble also states that the payment of pensionable salaries for Mayors, and others in political executive positions will be made possible and that the attendance allowance will be ended. It also states that the Council should seek proposals for their allowances and remuneration scheme from a local independent panel. This also is not in the bill. Since it is likely that other legal issues flow from this eg the status of those members or Mayors as employees, it is important to be clear whether the government intends to enact this at this stage.

  2.7.2  It may be that there is no mention of many of the apparently omitted matters in the Bill because they require the amendment of existing legislation rather than primary legislation in their own right. However, it would have been helpful for the bill to include those proposed amendments in order to see how they would work in practice.


3.1  Ethical Framework

  3.1.1  Camden Council welcomes these clauses that introduce an ethical framework to local government. However, this section of the draft Bill proposes a fairly bureaucratic and overly and unnecessarily complicated set of procedures that could be substantially improved upon. Under the proposed legislation, Camden's existing Standards Panel would not be lawful.

  3.1.2  Camden's Standards Panel is not only independent of the Council but seen to be so by the public. This gives our Panel a local credibility and ensures that it commands local respect. The model of the Standards Committee proposed in the draft Bill does not ensure independence and could well be seen to be a part of the Council, not an outcome that is welcomed. In addition, the Committee as set out in the draft Bill appears to have no power or responsibility.

  3.1.3  There are further elements of the proposals for Standards Committees that cause concern. No criteria are contained in the Bill for selecting the independent person. There is nothing in the Bill about whether the committee needs to meet the political balance requirements, nor anything on access to information. It is not clear, therefore, whether it is intended that it should meet in public.

3.2  Standards Boards

  3.2.1  As set out in our response to the Green Paper we agree that it is necessary to have a body external to the council to ensure that there is general confidence in the proper functioning of the standards committee. However, we continue to see a danger in the Draft Bill in that the remit of the board is too wide; not only does this take from the council the opportunity to deal with its own councillors, but is likely to mean an unmanageable amount of work for the board investigating allegations, many of which will turn out to be unfounded or unactionable.

  3.2.2  It is important that local councils accept responsibility for ensuring that their members comply with the ethical framework. The difficulty in referring all complaints to a regional Standards Board is that it may encourage councils to distance themselves from that responsibility especially where the local standards committee has an unclear role.

  3.2.3.  We believe that our current panel has the necessary independence to give its reports local respect and we are concerned that both making its structure unlawful and removing everything to a regional level may means that local people will not feel that the ethical issues are being dealt with.

  3.2.4  In addition, one of the main advantages of our current panel is the speed with which it is able to take decisions. Since its membership is made up of local people, it already has local knowledge which would need to be acquired by a more remote Standards Board. Furthermore, the fact that our panel is not a formal committee of the Authority means that it can adopt flexible ways of working which contributes to its ability to respond quickly.

  3.2.5  The proposals discussed in paragraph 3.2.8 below in relation to the ability to suspend members pending an investigation add particular weight to concerns about the inevitably slower process which a more remote Standards Board will bring. The absence of any filtering mechanism for complaints (which is considered in paragraph 3.2.6) is likely to increase potential delay.

  3.2.6  There is nothing in the Bill which restricts the complaints which may be sent to the Standards Boards. Complaints are not limited to people in the area of the authority and there is no prior filtering mechanism. We believe that local expertise and experience can operate to filter the frivolous or vexatious complainant. While there can be risks in this the Standards Board could operate some form of overview resulting in a more manageable system. There is nothing in the Bill which sets out criteria for matters which are the subject of an investigation to be referred back to the authority, or those matters referred to the Adjudication Panel.

  3.2.7  A further gap is that there is little cross referencing in the Bill to the monitoring officer, S151 Officer, Auditor of the Ombudsman and therefore nothing about the inter-relationship of these different processes. It appears that there will be no obligation to maintain secrecy or any other restriction on the disclosure of information by the Ethical Standards Officer. Given the very wide powers of an Ethical Standards Officer to obtain information, this makes the silence on access to information and confidentiality of some concern.

  3.2.8  There are significant concerns relating to the suspension of a member from the authority. The Bill is silent about the impact of this on the election process since during the period of suspension, electors would be unrepresented (or, at least, there would be a more limited representation). In addition the suspension of a Member from the authority could have an impact on the political balance of the authority, certainly in circumstances where the council is hung. There is no reference to the potential impact in the Bill of what may only be a temporary suspension.

  3.2.9  The person suspended can appeal to the High Court but there is no mention in the Bill as to what happens pending that appeal. In other words, it is not clear whether the Member is suspended pending appeal or not. If they remain suspended, then the Bill must deal with the political balance implications at that stage.

  3.2.10  A Member has a right of appeal to the High Court when suspended by the Adjudication Panel but, again, there is no mention in the Bill as to what happens pending that appeal.

  3.2.11  Although the Draft Bill refers to the Standards Board and the Adjudication Panel referring matters back to the Standards Committee of the authority, there is nothing in the bill which indicates what the Standards Committee must do other than if the Adjudication Panel requires a Member to be suspended they must be so suspended. There appears to be nothing that requires the local authority or the Standards Committee to discuss or publish any such report.

3.3  Other Omissions

  3.3.1  Although the proposed Ethical Framework for local authorities is contained in the same Bill as the democratic renewal provisions, this part of the Bill only makes reference to Members of the authority and to members of committees or sub committees of the authority. There is no provision in the Bill for any elected Mayor to be covered by the code of conduct or the rest of the ethical framework.

  3.3.2  In addition, whilst the member of the executive may be suspended from being a member of the authority, there is nothing in the Bill which would allow a member of the executive to be suspended from being a member of the executive.


  4.1  In summary, Camden Council's main concerns regarding the draft Bill are:

    —  there should be more flexibility on options for new political management arrangements and in how authorities might wish to take up the challenges set out;

    —  referendums should include other options than that of an elected Mayor where local consultation has identified this need;

    —  draft regulations and guidance should be made available as soon as possible:

    —  the proposals for an ethical framework are over-eleborate and complicated and should allow for more local flexibility;

    —  the Bill as currently drafted has a number of omissions and ambiguities which require clarification.

Annex 1

Camden Council's Consultation: "Make Your Mark: A New Kind of Council for Camden?"


  In response to the Government's White Paper, Camden Council launched a major public consultation with residents and voluntary, statutory and business organisations in Camden about possible options for new political management arrangements. The scale of the consultation, which is remarkably good given the abstruseness of the topic, is illustrated by the following key data:

    —  1,298 individual questionnaire responses;

    —  92 organisations' responses;

    —  30 public meetings held across the borough;

    —  special consultation meetings set up with socially excluded groups;

    —  Camden Citizens' Panel workshop held;

    —  extensive advertising placed in local newspapers.

The Questionnaire

  The consultation took place from January until 31 March 1999. Self-completion questionnaires were distributed to Camden households with the Council's own magazine, Camden Citizen, and a targeted mailing was made to over 1600 organisations on the Council's own consultation database. Other mailings were made to schools and school governors, voluntary sector networks, and a wide variety of fora and working groups across the borough. General publicity leaflets and the questionnaires were also made available in six community languages, as well as being offered in Braille, tape and large print. All the information was also put on the Council's web-site, with the facility to e-mail a response to the Council.

  The questionnaire was produced as part of a booklet with explanatory material about Camden Council's current decision-making structure and processes and the White Paper's options for new decision-making arrangements. A summary of arguments for and against accompanied a short description of each option.

  Besides standard demographic questions, the questionnaire contained 11 substantive questions with a mix between "open-ended" and "closed" questions. The former set of questions has provided a rich source of comments about how the Council operates now and views on the possible changes. Many respondents made suggestions about how the Council might improve the way that it conducts business.

Other Means of Consultation

  In addition to obtaining views through the questionnaire, the Council also sought to have the "Make Your Mark" consultation included on the agenda of the widest possible range of fora, liaison groups and partnership boards in order to stimulate debate and discussion. In particular, the Council organised a number of public meetings across the borough, and arranged for officers and Members to attend meetings called by the tenants' associations, residents' associations, amenity groups and other voluntary organisations. The local press also contributed by sponsoring two meetings and giving sizeable coverage to the topic. The Council also advertised extensively in the local papers, inviting residents to fill in questionnaires and attend the local meetings.

  The Council was also aware of the need to reach out beyond those groups and social strata which are familiar with the Council and with participating in its consultation processes. It therefore also sought to engage a wider range of constituencies by making particular efforts to address them, through articles in local newsletters and by attending local meetings. In particular, the Council organised, in conjunction with the Camden Racial Equality Council and Disability in Camden, a half-day consultation meeting for members of those two organisations.

  The Council also commissioned MORI to recruit and facilitate a Camden Citizens' Panel workshop on democratic renewal. From the 1,500 strong representative group of Camden residents who make up the Panel, 29 members were selected on a one-off basis to provide a representative mix of age, gender social class, ethnicity, tenure and work status to reflect Camden's profile, and attended the full day workshop, with a presentation and discussion groups.


  Nearly 1,300 individuals returned questionnaires. Because between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of respondents did not supply full demographic information, comparison of individual respondents' and Camden's demographic profile is unreliable with respect to gender, disability and ethnicity, since the missing data might or might not produce conformity to Camden's profile. It was noticeable and disappointing, however, that despite producing both a publicity leaflet and the consultation document in six languages and setting up a dedicated telephone line for requests, few were made for these materials. Similarly, the public meetings held around the borough, even in strongly multi-ethnic areas, were predominantly attended by white residents.

  In terms of age, the missing data would only partly affect but not overturn the considerable under-representation of the 18-34 age group and the over-representation of the 55+ age group in the respondents' profile. In terms of tenure, it would only partly affect but not overturn the considerable under-representation of council tenants and other tenants, and the over-representation of owner-occupiers.

  The questionnaire also asked for respondents' addresses, and although nearly seven per cent did not give an address or a postcode , it is clear that responses were not proportionally distributed across the borough. Of the five areas into which Camden groups its wards, four areas were under-represented by between one and 7.5 percentage points. The remaining area, (Area 4, running from Primrose Hill up to Hampstead covering most of the NW3 postcode), was over-represented by over 13 percentage points. Even if all missing data actually belongs to the under-represented areas. Area 4 would still be over-represented in the respondents' profile. Of all the five areas, this area has the smallest percentage of council tenants and the largest percentage of owner occupiers; the second highest percentage of white residents; and the highest percentages of both Social Class 1 and 2.

30 June 1999

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