Memorandum from the Labour Campaign for
Open Local Government
We represent the Labour Campaign for Open, Local
Government and seek to make representations to your Committee.
We enclose a press release for your information.
As an organisation of Labour councillors, mostly
backbenchers although it does include senior councillors such
as Cllr John Mills of Camden we recognise your experience in local
government, and trust you will consider all points of view when
drawing up your Committee report. We also note that your Committee
includes many distinguished former local politicians. Our concerns
about the draft Bill have ramifications across all parties and,
not least, for the general public.
We would therefore value the opportunity to
give oral evidence to and answer questions from your Committee
on the proposed political management structures of local government.
We believe that we can offer interesting and
unique insights as backbenchers with some experience of the structures
already adopted in certain London local authorities, notably Lewisham,
Hammersmith and Fulham and Haringey.
We also should like to place on record our five
basic principles. We value the opportunity to speak and answer
questions on these, because we are very concerned that the debate
hitherto has been confined to a remarkably small number of individuals
and organisations and with little general publicity. The majority
of councillors will always be backbenchers, and in this draft
Bill they are effectively being patronised or treated as an afterthought.
Certainly there will be few who will speak on backbenchers' behalf
at your Committee.
While it values the role of all councillors,
the enclosed press release expresses our concerns about the potential
erosion of democracy. It rejects the prescriptive impetus of the
proposed Bill, and advocates an open and less adversarial approach
with devolved consultation and decision-making processes, coupled
with forward-looking use of inter-active IT to widen community
participation. We have therefore set up a working party to examine
ways to improve the current committee system.
Crucially, we reject the "behind closed
doors" culture of the executive/scrutiny model, and are determined
that the public and the press must have genuine access to live
On a wider note, LCOLG believes that the public
is being stealthily deprived of its democratic rights and safeguards
in this new managerial approach, and we would welcome the opportunity
to put our case.
"The Labour Campaign for Open, Local Government
was launched on 29 May 1999 in Camden Town Hall by mainstream
Labour Councillors concerned that the government's far-reaching
proposals in the White Paper known as the draft Local Government
(Organisation and Standards) Bill will constitute an elitist
style of managerialism leading to Tammany Hall politics in our
The government's ill-considered plans will mean,
in effect, a denial for the majority of elected Councillors to
contribute positively to the decision-making of their authority,
a denial of real opportunity for the public and the press to observe
or participate in the process and a denial of many of the principles
of a broad-based and representative local democracy.
The launch was attended by Councillors from
local authorities which have already introduced forms of so-called
"Democratic Renewal". Hitherto, the debate has been
dominated by academics, assorted spin-doctors and the most ambitious
of local politicians.
LCOLG has the new agenda. Although the present
committee system of local government is not perfect, it believes
there should be a proper examination of how it can be improved
before any undemocratic alternatives are imposed. It has agreed
five basic principles:
All Councillors have a fundamental
role in local democracy. The proposed Executive/Scrutiny split
is divisive, impractical and also expensive. Councillors should
be trained, informed and knowledgeable, genuinely able to represent
their constituencies, to contribute to the executive function
and to scrutinise the process. Backbenchers must not be marginalised
as voting fodder or as cheerleaders.
The authoritarianism of this prescriptive
White Paper should be rejected to permit each local authority,
by means of a referendum if necessary, to seek its own most appropriate
and democratic system of local governance.
A less adversarial and more consultative
and participatory process, including the involvement of opposition
members, should emerge, sharing decision-making with co-optees
and local forums with real powers and the use of new technology.
All final decisions should be made
in public and in front of the press.
The abolition of the committee system,
with its democratic checks and balances, which will lead to a
Godfather culture with potential for cronyism and patronage, should
The Labour Campaign for Open Local Government
believes that directly elected Mayors are a gimmick, rather than
a solution. Other proposals, such as city managers are laughable.
Instead, it is committed to a reformed, progressive committee
system where decisions are made in public.
Now evaluating these principles, LCOLG will
connect with similar campaigns across the country, it will use
the press to pursue its objectives and will attend the House of
Commons Select Committee to argue its case.
LCOLG believes that the public is stealthily
being deprived of its democratic rights and safeguards. Our government
must reconsider its plans."
17 June 1999