Memorandum by Coventry City Council
1. Coventry City Council welcomes the opportunity
to submit written evidence upon the draft Bill. This opportunity
itself is a welcome sign of openness in central government, enabling
the shared objective of modernising government as a whole to be
undertaken on a collaborative basis, drawing on experience of
good practice in governance at the local level.
2. However, we believe that in only addressing
the internal governance arrangements for local authorities the
proposals in their present form will fall short of providing a
consistent national framework for good local governance. Local
governance is not just about local councils, but also about other
agencies with power over local decisions and services.
3. Coventry City Council has been a pioneering
authority in what is now called the modernisation of local government:
In 1991, we reviewed the role of the City Council
in the governance of the City in the wider context of a review
of the State of the City. This involved widespread consultation
including two conferences.
We concluded that we should face up to the fact
that, defacto, there was a plural system of local governance,
with power over local decisions and local services in the hands
of many agencies as well as the City Council, private as well
as public. We determined that the City Council would have as one
of its key values good governance and that this was to be striven
for by government through partnership.
We set about, proactively, building partnerships
and involving other agencies and communities in the processes
of governance. We piloted inter-agency community partnerships
at the local level which have now grown into city wide local area
working, focused on priority neighbourhoods and communities. We
have pioneered different types of joint venture partnerships with
the private sector and, at the time, a ground breaking sub-regional
partnership for economic development (Coventry and Warwickshire
We recognised that the Council political structures
had to change, and in 1994 we undertook a fundamental review which
concluded that we should shift Member time from old style committee
meetings with officer driven agendas to new style policy teams,
undertaking reviews and re-shaping the Councils approach to major
city-wide issues. We introduced job descriptions for all Member
posts of responsibility and introduced processes to hold Members
carrying these responsibilities accountable.
In the same year, we adopted a vision for the
City after wide-spread consultation.
By 1996, Local Area Community Plans had been
produced for the six major priority neighbourhoods of the city
on an inter-agency basis and with very extensive community participation.
On this sound foundation in 1997, we undertook
further, city-wide consultation on priorities and objectives for
the City to form the key priorities for the Coventry Community
Plan. This was launched in February 1998 with extensive commitment
from all the major agencies and organisations within the City
private, voluntary and public sector.
The Coventry Community Plan now shapes the priorities
of all organisations involved in local governance in the City,
whether directly or indirectly.
4. This lengthy introduction to our response
to the Consultation Paper is presented to illustrate the context
in which the Draft Bill is being considered here in Coventry.
5. Local governance is not just about the
local Council, and local choice is not just about choosing between
the three options of Council political management arrangements,
or indeed solely about electoral turn out. The quality of local
governance should be measured through the different ways in which
citizens and public service users are empowered to shape and influence
policies, their own environment and the services they receive.
Neither annual elections for the local Council on the one hand,
nor consumer choice on the other are adequate mechanisms by themselves
for ensuring good, accountable governance in relation to all our
public services. What is needed is community planning that is
inter-agency and soundly rooted in local area based community
partnerships, with accountability mechanisms built in.
6. Hence, while welcoming many aspects of
the Consultation Paper and Draft Bill, we are disappointed that
it does not include a community planning duty placed on local
authorities in their community leadership role and a duty to collaborate
placed on all other relevant statutory agencies.
7. We have successfully pursued community
planning on a voluntary participation basis here in Coventry.
However, we recognise that consistency of good governance across
the country is an important national objective. A statutory framework
for community planning, therefore, is necessary. In his introduction
to the consultation paper, the Deputy Prime Minister stresses
this objective of consistency; everywhere there should be forms
of local governance which listen to the voice of local people.
We would agree strongly with this, but argue that local choice
about their local councils political management arrangements is
only one small aspect of good local governance.
8. We welcome the emphasis that the consultation
paper placed upon the scrutiny role of Councillors. What is proposed
we would see as a development of our present system whereby policy
teams operate in review mode, examining an aspect of policy or
practice in detail.
9. We are less enthusiastic about a hard
split between the scrutiny function and the executive function.
Our political management arrangements which, to a degree, separated
the review and policy development functions from the decision
making functions (we don't like the term Executive that is what
officers are supposed to do) have been successful in involving
a wide spectrum of members in reviewing and shaping policies and
in providing community leadership on service and cross cutting
issues with partners in the city.
10. We would therefore ask that the Government
does not phrase the legislation in such a way that prohibits any
member of the Council being involved in developing policies as
well as reviewing them and in representing the Council on partnership
bodies or in relation to specific issues of public policy.
11. This latter concern relates in particular
to the impact in a City such as Coventry of the provisions of
Part 1 Clause 2 (7) which specifies the maximum number of members
of a local authority executive.
12. For its size, Coventry has relatively
few councillors (54). This clause would limit the number of members
of the local authority executive to 8.
13. As a Metropolitan Authority, we have
a duty to provide representation (presumably executive members)
on the statutory Joint Authorities for Police, Fire and Passenger
Transport. We have extensive representation on partnership bodies
where the representative is required to speak for the authority
(presumably defined as an executive function). As outlined above,
a number of members currently lead on different cross-cutting
and inter-agency issues within the City, many of which are priorities
under our community plan. Would we have to find all of these from
within the 8? Or do we delegate many of these functions to officers?
How would that improve political accountability in local governance?
Or can non executive members be used so long as any decisions
they are required to make (for example in representing the Council
on a partnership board) were within some clearly defined parameters?
14. Alternatively, the figures under Clause
2 (7) should be raised. We estimate that 15 is about the minimum
in the case of Coventry.
15. We strongly welcome the requirement
to establish a Standards Committee, which we will be establishing
at the Annual Meeting of the Council in May this year.
16. Another cause for concern is that the
Draft Bill appears to include a provision which enables a council
to continue with its existing traditional political structures
only when the electorate has rejected a clear option for a new
way of working in a referendum.
17. We have existing political structures
that are not traditional. We have not yet determined what if any
further changes the City Council would wish to see in its own
political management arrangements, but we are intending to consult
widely this year, in advance of the passage of the legislation,
to be in a position to make whatever changes are desired and necessary
in the coming municipal year. In these circumstances it would
be disingenuous for the Council to propose another radical way
of working to put to a referendum in order to be able, if the
electorate rejects this, to implement the Council's desired arrangements.