Memorandum by SOLACE (Wales)
The governance of Wales is undergoing a sea
change. Local Government generally, and Solace Wales, see themselves
as part of that transformation.
The underlying forces which make it both essential
and right to modernise the governance of Wales are very powerful.
The Government has recognised those forces, and is seeking to
shape and apply them to make government and the public sector
more effective, whilst remaining true to the values of public
service. It has initiated its own wave of changeindeed,
it has initiated successive waves of change both for local government
generally and for many of the key policy areas in which Local
Government has a part to play.
In setting out to respond to those initiatives,
and in particular to the White Paper "A Stronger Voice for
Local People" ("Local Leadership, Local Choice"
in England), Solace (Wales) aims to "Catch the Wave"
and even, perhaps, in part to lead it. As the professional body
representing Chief Executives and senior managers in Local Government
in Wales, we see our role as playing a positive part in Modernisation,
just as we strive to lead our organisations managerially in contributing
to that process also. We believe that Welsh Local Government for
all its problems and for all the setbacks which it will no doubt
encounter, has a vital role to play in taking forward the governance
of Wales into the new millennium. We even believe that whilst
we have much to learn from Local Government in other parts of
the United Kingdom and, indeed, internationally, we also have
much to contribute to the wider debate and process. It is widely
acknowledged that the National Assembly is probably the devolution
model which is closest to possible future experience in the English
regions, and what we learn in Wales can be of benefit there in
addition to the mutual learning which we hope to develop with
Celtic colleagues. These are exciting times, and we aim to play
a full part within them.
Our key messages can perhaps be summarised thus:
We welcome the Modernisation process
and the proposals in the White Paper.
We think that Wales has something
special and extra to offer the process, and to maximise that potential
the National Assembly needs to have maximum discretion in applying
the legislative framework to local circumstances.
The Government should keep strongly
in view the overall, holistic, Modernisation process, and it should
forge the links between the parts of the Modernisation process
more strongly, and it should bring forward those parts of its
prospectus which seem to be lagging at the moment, and in particular
community planning and a duty of "wellbeing" for Local
Authorities in order to underline their fundamental constitutional
Future legislation to give effect
to the Modernisation agenda for Local Government should enshrine
principles but leave open the detail, and should leave room for
variation and experimentation.
Proposals to develop and implement
political executives should pay much more attention to Member/Officer
relationships, and in particular the role of senior managers in
developing complementary and supporting roles to the powerful
responsibilities of community leadership, strategy, and policy
development which the Modernisation agenda has fashioned for elected
The views in this Paper have both drawn on and
contributed to the response by Solace (UK) to the English White
Paper. In addition, Solace (Wales) would welcome debate and feedback
on the ideas and suggestions set out in the document. Views can
be communicated to myself, or to Viv Sugar (Chair) or Huw Vaughan-Thomas
1. Solace (Wales) welcomes both the Government's
Modernisation Agenda for Local Government and this opportunity
to respond to the White Paper "A Stronger Voice for Local
People" which deals with proposed draft legislation relating
to the organisation and decision making of Local Government, and
the Ethical Framework within which Councillors and Officers perform
their duties. We fully agree with the White Paper that there is
a need to bring about "fundamental cultural change"
in Local Government, and that getting right the way in which Councils
are run and local communities are governed is essential in order
that Local Government can succeed in serving and leading their
communities. This much, then, is common ground, and it is very
important common ground. The White Paper will make a significant
difference to the roles of both Councillors and Officers, and
such change can be uncomfortable. We consider that the risks and
the discomfort are worth the potential benefits, but we would
also suggest that the Government both add to its proposals in
certain respects and amend them in certain respects in order that
the potential benefits in good governance and better services
are enhanced and the risks minimised.
2. It is important to bear in mind the purposes
and the context of the Modernisation of Local Government. In part,
the need for modernisation derives from the fact that some of
the ways in which Councils work owe more to the 19th and 20th
century, let alone the 21stsome aspects of the Committee
system, for example. And although Local Government has made great
efforts, in applying modern methods of management and organisation,
it still has a considerable way to go in that respect also.
3. It is also important to consider the
underlying forces which are driving these changes, and the need
for them. The technological transformations of the late 20th century
have had fundamental effects on business organisation and communication.
Although those forces have been felt first and most in the private
sector, through the globalisation of markets and commodities,
they are increasingly transmitting themselves into state and civic
society quickly and powerfully. Nonetheless, it is possible, and
perhaps likely, that gaps can open up between the private and
the public sector in these respects because the drivers of markets
and technology are more immediate in the private sector.
4. In certain respects, the policies applied
to Local Government in the 1980's reflected a particular way of
trying to close such gapsa mixture of enforced privatisation,
a reduction in discretion, and an attempt to limit Local Government
to an instrument of local administration. That approach could
only ever, at best, deal with part of the problem. The way forward
has to be not to bludgeon and restrict Local Government to ape
the private sector, but to realise its own strengths and possibilities
by using the methodologies and the opportunities which modern
technology and modern business organisation can offer in supporting
reinvigorated local democracy and community leadership.
5. Local Government in Wales has certain
legacies when it comes to modernisation, but also some tremendous
strengths and possibilities. The reorganisation in 1996 created
a sea change in terms of the organisation of Local Government
in Wales which many have taken advantage of in beginning or continuing
a process of modernisation. Reorganisation was an opportunity
to rethink ways of working and to try and develop Local Authorities
which were more "fit for purpose". The simplicity and
clarity of Local Government structures, with the 22 Unitary Authorities,
has also been very important in creating a framework for clearer
and more effective partnerships with other public services, and
notably the Police and Health. The coterminous boundaries which
are now in place, coupled with the reinforcement of Local Authority
areas as a unit of planning in matters both of community safety
and of health commissioning, has built a very good basis for joint
6. Those changes and developments also help
to pave the way for very close working with the National Assembly,
and it is significant that clear and coterminous boundaries have
been established for the National Assembly regions and their relationship
with Local Government, particularly in the field of economic development
and of training.
7. The creation of the Assembly has also,
of course, added to the sense of new beginnings and new thinking
in Welsh governance. The creation of the Partnership Council between
the National Assembly and Local Government, and the Scheme of
Local Government, also provide specific machinery, opportunities,
and drivers for developing relationships and for continuing the
8. The role of the National Assembly in
taking forward the draft Bill when it is enacted is clearly of
the utmost importance, as is the role of the Partnership Council.
The provisions in the draft Bill (see Clause 45) that underpin
discretion for the National Assembly are therefore very important.
In some respects, the matters which are set out in the legislation
are very detailed and prescriptive, and go not only to the question
of the initial models which are available but also to some of
the detail which would have to apply to any modelsee, for
example, the points made about the position of Executive Members
set out below. On the other hand, certain matters which are very
important to do with the roles of Members and Officers are almost
entirely absent from the draft legislation and not at all adequately
addressed in the White Papersee on this, the points made
below about Member/Officer relationships. We believe that the
legislation should be clear about key principles which should
underpin all models in terms of reinforcing the fundamental thrust
of the Modernisation Agenda towards a role for Councillors which
is more strategic and more focused on community leadership and
governance. However, we also believe that over prescriptive detail
is unhelpful and unnecessary, and that there should be more scope
for local choice and experimentation.
9. The role of the Executive and the back
bench Councillors, and the relationships between them, is a matter
of particular concern. The draft legislation envisages a very
fierce separation between the Executive and the non-Executive
role such that Executive Members will not be permitted to be Members
of Committees which have responsibilities for scrutinyalthough
when it comes to certain quasi-judicial matters, such as planning,
no such prohibition applies. What is most striking is that the
model of the National Assembly itself, which Parliament has approved,
provides for Executive Members who are also Members of subject
committees which have scrutiny and policy development functions.
It seems to us entirely illogical to permit such an arrangement
at an all Wales level but to exclude it for Local Authorities
10. There is a body of opinion in Wales
which believes that it would not be appropriate to permit Executive
Members to serve on scrutiny/subject committees in the interest
of stronger and clearer accountability for executive decision
making, and to avoid "conflicts of interest" of a policy
character. However, we all share the view that this is a matter
on which the National Assembly certainly ought to be able to take
a view, and that it is inappropriate to preclude by primary legislation
the participation of Executive Members on subject/scrutiny committees.
11. This is especially so when for what
will be fairly obvious reasons a number of Authorities are explicitly
looking to the National Assembly as a basis on which to model
their own arrangements for political executives at local level.
This is by no means the only model which will or should be adopted
by Local Authorities in Wales, but it ought to be one possible
model. Apart from anything else, it will provide opportunities
for mutual learning and sharing of experience, and an economy
of effort in relation to the development of administrative decisions
and standing ordersa Local Authority modelled on the National
Assembly would not automatically adopt their associated administrative
and standing order arrangements, but it would certainly be useful
to be able to look to them as a starting point.
12. It also seems to us that in relation
to the possibility of establishing area committees there may need
to be on occasion to be some mixing of executive and non-executive
functions. This too points in the direction of avoiding over prescription.
All models should provide for a clear political executive, and
for effective scrutiny arrangements. These are the issues of principle
which ought to be enshrined through the primary legislation or
through statutory guidance which has the force of secondary legislation.
It ought to be possible to work out particular possibilities beyond
13. It is especially important that the
National Assembly is able to explore to the full the models and
possibilities which may be appropriate in Wales, both having regard
to the particular circumstances and possibilities of Local Government
in Wales, and the effect which the National Assembly itself has
on the situation.
14. Once legislation is in place, and perhaps
even before that, there is likely to be a very determined and
energetic push to give effect to political executives. Many authorities
are likely to introduce transitional arrangements over the next
year or so, and will be anxious to move on to take advantage of
the new legislative framework which can be anticipated some time
in the year 2000. However, the very fundamental character of change
which is implied, and the need to learn from and build upon the
experience of the next year or so in the transitional arrangements
which are being put in place, suggests that there will need to
be thorough preparation by Local Government in Wales and by the
National Assembly to ensure that we modernise in a way which is
both effective and sustainable. One possibility is that the National
Assembly might establish a working group or commission along the
lines of the National Assembly Advisory Group to advise on both
the models which might be applicable to Local Government in Wales,
and to give guidance on how those models should be implemented.
The NAAG approach resulted in a thorough and effective specification
for the new National Assembly, and it was able to absorb and include
a wide range of views, and to create confidence in its conclusions,
partly because it was so thorough and inclusive. A similar approach
may well be beneficial in the context of implementation of the
Local Government Modernisation Agenda.
15. The legacies of Local Government in
Wales have been worrying and, in measure, continuing, and they
relate both to questions of culture and to questions of ethics.
Our assessment is that both have changed significantly, and are
continuing to change positively. One of the most important issues
for Local Government in Wales in the light of the modernisation
agenda is whether there are any aspects of what the Government
intends which might have the effect of reinforcing some of the
negative aspects of Local Government culture of inhibiting the
change process, rather than supporting and accelerating it.
16. This is particularly important in relation
to decision making and to Best Value considerations, and the way
in which the proposals on the organisation of Local Government
will influence them. Some Officers and some Members have been
prone to permit their roles to become blurred and overlapping
to a degree which has been unhelpful. Where such tendencies persist,
they inhibit the move towards Best Value, and they will inhibit
also the shift in the role of Councillors towards a strategic
approach based firmly in the principles of community leadership
and community planning.
17. It is clear that the new arrangements
will be very demanding, both in terms of the amount of work required,
and in terms of the potential strains and ambiguities in the roles
which Members and Officers need to perform. Whilst the White Paper
makes it clear that Officers have a responsibility to service
both the executive and the non-executive Members, in practice
there is likely to be strain and tension across this boundary.
Similarly, it is likely that there will need to be very specific
and intensive and medium term support for both Members and Officers
in developing the new skills needed to meet the demands of the
new ways of working. There is clearly a potential for duplication
and/or for conflict in the arrangements that may be introduced.
18. The White Paper clearly gives precedence
to the elected Mayor model, whilst most Authorities in Wales have
indicated their preference for some kind of Cabinet System. In
large measure, this preference reflects the fact that although
Welsh Local Government is fully aware of the limitations and inadequacies
of the Committee system, there is a feeling that there are strengths
in the Committee system too, and that these strengths can be built
upon. For this reason, the precedence given to the elected Mayor
model is not appropriate, and the fact that opinion polls indicate
a preference on the part of the public for elected Mayors needs
to be treated with caution. After all, there is no practical example
against which the public are currently able to assess that opinion.
Clearly, elected Mayor arrangements can work within Local Governmentthe
experience of other countries shows that this is the case. However,
the need for transition and continuity to such a radically different
model of Local Government decision making suggests that a more
measured approach is necessary. Otherwise, there is a risk that
the elected Mayor model will significantly and rapidly advance
local political accountability but, in the meantime, lead to a
significant weakening of managerial competence and effectiveness.
19. We have placed our response to the draft
Bill on organisation and conduct in this wider context because
we think it is crucial that the Government maintains a holistic
and integrated approach to modernisation. There is a real danger
that the separation of the agenda into different Bills and legislative
periods will lead to a fragmentation of the agenda, and a failure
to ensure that it is properly interconnected, and properly reinforcing.
In particular, we think it vital that the new structures of decision
making and the new functions envisaged for Councillors in the
draft Bill are put within the framework of a constitutional purpose
for Local Government of community leadership and planning. This
could best be achieved by the simultaneous enactment of a duty
and power to promote the social, economic, and environmental well
being of a local authority's area.
20. Similarly, we are strongly of the view
that the Government needs to legislate at an early date to enable
Local Authorities to participate in a wider range of partnerships,
including partnerships of an executive character. The character
or problems facing Local Authorities and their communities are
such that it is now widely recognised that multi-agency working,
and partnerships arrangements are critical to success. In effect,
what is being called for is "corporate" community working.
Yet the legal powers of Local Authorities are such that such partnerships
are inhibited, if not thwarted, by the restrictions which flow
from statute and from case law. These restrictions are so significant
that where government has addressed directly some of these policy
areas, such as community safety and health, it either has or intends
to legislate in such a way that will enhance the partnership capacity
of Local Government. In our view, such partnerships now figure
so strongly in so many areas of policy which Local Authorities
are being asked to address that more general and more generous
partnership powers are called for.
21. Solace (Wales) broadly welcomes the
proposals on ethics, and the increased emphasis that will be given
to standards of conduct on the part of both Members and Officers,
as a result. However, there is concern about the statutory roles
of certain Officers, the Monitoring and the Chief Financial Officer,
in particular. One particular concern is the extent to which they
will be able to work closely with the executive while being required
to take an "arm's length" and an objective view of the
authority's (and the executive's) activities. This might be contrary
to the views, and perhaps the interests, of the executive Members.
This concern is allied to the expectation that these Officers
will be required to provide support to the scrutiny function,
and to the ethics and standards committee, and these two may experience
a degree of tension with the views of the executive, notwithstanding
that such tension may well be in the overall interests of the
Authority itself. These matters require great care, especially
in the context of the way in which the ethical framework for Local
Government is developing, and the ways in which "checks and
balances" need to be accomplished in order to ensure openness
and accessibility so that decisions can be challenged effectively
and that public confidence in the quality of Local Government
decision making will not be diminished in any way. Here again,
many of the problems and tensions will arise across the Member/Officer
boundary. It is clear that the Member/Officer boundary will change
as a result of the Modernisation programme, and also that the
ethical framework will change. With both of these changing at
the same time, particular care needs to be given to ensure that
the tensions and the contradictions are managed and are minimised.
22. It is a matter for disappointment that
there is not, within the White Paper, greater clarity about the
basis of Member/Officer partnership on which the Modernisation
Agenda ought to be taken forward. The relationship between Members
and Officers ought to be a Partnership, pulling together, rather
than a see-saw or a tug-of-war as to "who is driving the
bus". It is also clear that the Partnership is, and should
be, an unequal onethe organisation and its Officers are
accountable to politicians and to the democratic process, and
that creates an essential and an appropriate hierarchy. Within
the hierarchy there are important and positive roles for both
Members and Officers.
23. But whilst the White Paper spells out
in some detail the positive roles for Members, it is much less
explicit and developed about the Officer role, and it is, in part,
confused or, at any rate, confusing. To have a clearer, and more
accountable, set of arrangements for political decision making
is obviously valuable in itself. But the real prize is faster
and more determined continuous service improvement, coupled with
shaping and implementing a strategic vision for improving the
quality of life in local communities. The proposals for political
executives need to be linked in to those objectives more firmly,
and to be integrated within the repertoire of change which comprises
the Modernisation agenda.
24. We see that being accomplished in part
by emphasising the role of Members as providing the community
leadership and the overall strategic framework, with Officers
being responsible for implementing that framework and vision.
But the White Paper is not clear on this. On the one hand, the
diagrams associated with paragraph 3.7 in describing the various
models all refer to the Chief Executive and Chief Officers as
having a responsibility to "implement policy and secure service
delivery for Executive", and elsewhere the White Paper emphasises
the importance for senior managers to provide support to Councillors
outside of the Executive and to account for Executive actions
to Councillors generally. Further, paragraph 3.8 indicates that
the new constitution of a Local Authority should specify "what
should be the relationship between Councillors and Officers",
and "in all the new forms of local governance Councils would
continue to have a professional Chief Executive responsible for
managing and securing the professional body of staff a large multi-function
organisation needs to deliver modern well focused services effectively".
However, other parts of the White Paper leave a real doubt as
to whether that role will necessarily be available in the face
of the powers and prerogatives of the Executive Members. For example,
paragraph 3.3.1 says that "under the new forms of local governance
the Executive would be responsible for effective implementation
of Council policy and delivering services". Paragraph 3.4.3,
in discussing delegations to individual Members of the Executive
or to a group of Executive Members, the White Paper says that
these may (emphasis added) be subject to conditions or limitsyet,
if they are not, there will be no clarity around the scope of
action it is intended should be conducted on a day to day basis
through normal organisational functioning and operational decision
making. Similarly, in paragraph 3.3.6, the responsibilities of
the Executive are spelt out as "to be responsible for all
matters of Council business" other than for certain very
limited matters which are restricted to the full Council or to
certain other specified arenas. There is insufficient indication
of the need to ensure that those responsibilities are given effect
through a Partnership with Senior Managers.
25. For a variety of reasons, the lack of
clarity of roles and responsibilities between Members and Officers
has and can create difficulties. Officers have not had the skills
to support Members into a strategic and community leadership role,
and that problem has been exacerbated by the absence of clear
legislative and constitutional purpose for Local Government in
that regard. Some Members have felt that they could best serve
their constituents and ensure that the organisation was responsive
by playing a significant role in day to day decision making. In
our view, it is essential and critical that the whole of the organisation
should be fully accountable to Members, and also that Members
should be fully supported in the powerful roles envisaged by the
Government. But we think it would undermine the modernisation
process if the proposals for political executives led to a significant
increase in Members involvement in day to day decision making.
It would prevent Members focusing on and developing their new
roles and responsibilities, it would not necessarily be more efficient,
and it would perhaps increase risks in the area of ethics and
26. Again, the National Assembly holds a
useful model. Its officials will be fully accountable to the Assembly
but for day to day matters and operational matters they are accountable
managerially through the Permanent Secretary, supported by a clear
and developed civil service code. We see a strong and effective
partnership between Members and Officers, which is Member led,
and which is forged on the basis of complementary roles and responsibilities,
rather than the blurred accountability and lack of direction which
can be associated with a lack of such clarity.
27. The issue of Member/Officer roles and
relationships also has a major potential impact on the capacity
of Local Government to address the increasing agenda on "Joined-Up"
Thinking and Policy. In our view, there is a need for "joining-up"
both at political level, around themes of community leadership
and community planning, and also at the organisational level,
where departmental "silos" can get in the way of effective
use of resources and effectively addressing complex, cross-cutting
issues. We see the new Cabinets (this being the most likely model
to be applied in Welsh Local Government) as the place where joining-up
can take place at a political level, both within the Council and
then, through links between the Cabinet and external bodies, externally
as well. But we also see a need for joining up at the operational
level, within the organisation, and this is where we think that
the role of Chief Executive and senior managers is a vital one.
28. The Government has rightly drawn on
the history of Local Government in identifying the lessons from
the Maud Committee in terms of the problems associated with the
Committee system and the need to have clearer political executives
and stronger political accountability. It needs to be linked up
to the lessons of Bains, which helped to identify for Local Government
the key significance of corporation working and sound policy advice.
29. Although in some respects the questions
relating to the ethical framework are slightly different from
those relating to Local Government organisation, we think there
is a strong overlap. Not only does the increasing strength of
political executive action need to be accompanied by an appropriately
strong ethical framework. In addition, the scope of the ethical
framework should include clear guidance on roles and conduct both
of Members and of Officers, including considerations of mutual
respect and the character of the role which is expected. There
are developed codes from a number of other countries, including
New Zealand and South Africa, as well as the civil service code
in Britain, all of which offer some developed and tested models.
30. The whole area of Member/Officer relations
is a key arena, and one which either the legislation or the guidance
needs to address. It was evident across the 1980s and early 1990s
that some of the Authorities facing the most significant problems
in terms of service delivery were precisely those where Member/Officer
relationships broke down or were soured by one or other reason.
We believe that Member/Officer relationships have been improving
in recent years, but that in certain respects they are still fragile,
and need the support of clarity of roles and responsibilities.
Interestingly, this was one of the key findings of an important
study by Pam Fox for Solace when she reviewed, in some detail,
the kinds of situations in which misconduct is likely to flourish,
or where it is harder to deal with.
31. It is clear that, over the medium to
long term, the character of Member/Officer relationships will
change and develop and that is entirely accepted and supported.
We think it is likely that over a period Members will develop
into the new roles and will relish the challenges and opportunities
which they provide. Those who come into Local Government as Councillors
in years to come will do so in the light of the roles and responsibilities
which the Government intends for them, and if only for that reason
they are likely to come more equipped and with a positive embrace
of those roles. Across the transitional period, in particular,
is when the modernisation process is likely to be inhibited or
thwarted by a blurring of roles or a lack of clarity in responsibilities.
32. The importance of positive and clear
Member/Officer relationships is such that some relevant principles
ought to figure in the legislation, in the codes of conduct, and
in guidance. However, as presently drafted, Clause 16 would not
require that guidance to be followed, but only taken into account,
and its scope as currently drafted is not wide enough to enable
these very important issues to be the proper subject of guidance.
The propositions in the White Paper about the need for the new
constitutions of Local Authorities to include definitions of roles
and responsibilities is not reflected in the draft legislation,
and is not under the present draft capable of being the subject
of guidance. Nor are any principles enunciated which should guide
the definitions and roles of relationships to ensure that the
culture of decision making is one which supports and encourages
Members in the community leadership and planning role and enables
Officers to perform the management and implementation responsibilities
which are referred to in the White Paper but which currently have
little or no substance to them.
33. In a period of change, especially, Local
Authorities need very much to be learning organisations. Just
as there needs to be a climate of openness and trust between a
Council and its community, so does there need to be a culture
of trust and mutual respect within the organisation.
34. The recent judgment of Porter V. Magill
has helped to underline the importance of clarity of roles between
Members and Officers, and a degree of separation. The Court of
Appeal decision makes it exceptionally difficult to identify the
dividing line between proper policy considerations which, ultimately,
may well relate to political values or ideologies, on the one
hand, and on the other considerations of narrow political advantage.
It appears that a politician with a tainted political motive can
persuade other politicians to take what would otherwise be a tainted
decision on the basis of other considerations which are, in that
context, lawful. Even in a traditional Local Government Committee
environment which may be influenced through an unseen and unaccountable
political process (as the Government itself highlights) it would
be very difficult to draw the line as to quite which considerations
were operating where. This would seem to open up the possibility
for the kind of renewed pressures on Officers by Members with
politically tainted motives to come up with reasons to justify
what is fundamentally a politically tainted objective. That in
itself is worrying enough. But how, we wonder, will the dividing
lines of motive and reasons be drawn when the self same Executive
Member may be able to translate a politically tainted motive into
their own executive decision?
35. One of the likely areas of over prescription
is in the area of the recording of decision making. In many Authorities,
the recording of decision making is not under the direct control
of the Monitoring Officer, but is a function of Committee Services
Officers with a separate line of responsibility to the Chief Executive.
It may be appropriate for the Monitoring Officer to be assured
that there are proper systems for recording decisions, but there
should not be a requirement that the Monitoring Officer perform
the recording (either him or herself or through staff delegated
directly by the Monitoring Officer). It may in fact be the case
that the somewhat arm's length relationship envisaged for the
Monitoring Officer in relation to ethics and standards would be
far better performed if that Officer were not also directly involved
in the recording of decisions, especially when the act of recording
a decision might well be the point at which attempts are made
to disguise inappropriate or unlawful motives.
36. Indeed, the White Paper generally appears
to reflect a fairly crude and simplistic understanding of the
complexity of decision making in Local Government. In particular,
because Local Authorities are generally large providers of services,
there are large numbers of operational decisions made by Officers,
or (generally the larger ones) made by Officers in consultation
with appropriate elected Members. If these are to the subject
of record (against pain of criminal sanction) a new industry is
about to be established which will completely dwarf that which
has been represented in the traditional Committee system. If they
are not to be the subject of record then there is a risk of intensifying
tension and conflict across the Member/Officer relationship. To
a degree, of course, that tensions exists now, but the Government's
proposals on the recording of decisions and arrangements for delegations
need more thought if we are not to run the risk that they will
lead to a general worsening of such problems.
37. It is not suggested that the Government
should seek to legislate either in relation to the issues raised
in Porter V. Magill or in relation to political motives generally.
It is probably impossible to legislate in a way which would override
the application of judicial review principles and maxims. But
it is possible to help underpin and ensure the integrity of the
organisation, partly through clarity of roles and responsibilities,
and partly through the judicious use of codes of conduct as applied
to both Officers and Members.
38. The following issues have been identified
as relating to the new forms of political executive which may
in part be addressed by consideration of the role of the Chief
Executive and other senior Officers, as identified by a Solace
Some of the implications are:
(a) Decision Making:
The new executive arrangements will permit decision
making in private, by single party groups and by individual members.
These are radical changes which require checks and balances which
are in part provided for by the scrutiny system, (although that
in itself requires clarification in terms of whether "scrutiny"
is to happen generally before or after decision is made).
(b) Recording of Decisions:
The Committee system is a very clear way of
recording decisions and systems of officer delegation are generally
laid down in council Standing Orders and Terms of Reference. Decision-making
in different environments will require new approaches to recording
decisions to ensure that appropriate audit trails are available
to check on decisions and decision-making processes.
(c) Availability of Advice:
It is axiomatic that decisions should be made
upon the best advice available, although the advice does not necessarily
have to be followed. Under the current system, advice is contained
in committee reports and background papers are listed. The new
system will require continuation of such advice and not only to
the cabinet and/or controlling political parties.
(d) Staffing Matters:
These essentially form a sub set of decision
making but, given the large number of staff employed in local
government, staffing matters deserve particular attention. It
is vital that the new system retain the public service traditions
of appointment on merit, equality of opportunity and, hopefully,
an acceptance that staff on occasions have to make tough decisions
and should not be subject to reprisals.
(e) Political Neutrality:
The new systems have the potential to increase
the party politicisation of officers. It is accepted that political
advisers could be a useful part of the system but the essential
neutrality of the core management and workforce should remain.
It is not of course to say that the Senior Officers do not need
considerable political acumen.
(f) Scrutiny Matters:
Scrutiny will inevitably be used, probably by
opposition parties, as a political weapon. Such action should
not degenerate into mere political theatre and there needs to
be some process for arbitration concerning matters of scrutiny.
The scrutiny function also needs adequate support and to be aware
of what decisions have been made (or are to be made) and how they
have been made and where they have been recorded.
(g) Availability of Information:
One of the benefits of the committee system
is that it has contained within it large amounts of information
which members have been able to use to keep up to date with developments
within the Council. Provision will need to be made in the new
arrangements for members to be similarly kept up to date with
developments within an individual Council and Local Government
(h) Standards and Ethics:
A Standards Committee could also become subject
to abuse, again possibly by Opposition parties, to bring before
it trivial or inappropriate matters. There still needs to be some
interpretation and judgment involved in pursuing issues to a Standards
Committee which ensure that it becomes and remains an effective
39. SOLACE believes that the framework for
the role of Chief Executive still remains robust and relevant
but that certain, more detailed aspects of the job need to be
defined as part of the creation of new political executives. The
following points are put forward as matters requiring attention.
The effective management of a Local
Authority requires operational responsibility for performance
to be vested in the most Senior Official employed by each Council
(normally the Chief Executive).
The Senior Management should remain
politically neutral, whilst being politically astute.
The Chief Executive should be responsible
for delivering to the Cabinet and the Assembly, a system of professional
advice on all relevant topics and that where such advice relates
to decision making, then it should be on the record. It is, however,
accepted that informal advice will necessarily be given to majority
parties and/or cabinets; this has long been a feature of a Local
Government system and will remain.
The Chief Executive should be responsible
for ensuring there is a system for clear delegation of decisions
which has been decided upon by the Council and that decisions
which require recording are so recorded in a form which will enable
public and other scrutiny and that there is access to appropriate
The Head of Paid Service/Chief Executive
also needs to play a significant part in accomplishing changes
and developments of culture within the organisation. S/he must
be an agent of cultural change, and help the organisation to modernise
its character and its conduct.
A mechanism for appointing Chief
Executives should be approved by the whole Council and the whole
Council would need to invoke the procedure for the dismissal of
a Chief Executive.
The Government is right to emphasise
that it is most appropriate for Members to be involved in appointing
only the most Senior Officers, although it is clearly appropriate
that the Council should determine the overall procedures within
which all staff appointments are made, receive information on
all those appointments, and are able to satisfy themselves that
procedures are operating fairly and in accordance with best personnel
The Chief Executive should be able
to attend any meeting of the Council and should have access to
all documentation. If there is a need to know issue in relation
to, say, confidential information, the Monitoring Officer should
The Chief Executive should be charged
with ensuring that there is within a Council, adequate systems
for dissemination of relevant information to all Members of the
Where Members want support in developing
or delivering their role in community leadership or governance,
the Chief Executive and senior Officers should be willing to provide
40. We believe that such clarification of
the role of Senior Managers and the Chief Executive will help
to create the framework for a positive partnership with elected
Members, and will enable them to be better focussed and better
supported in the new and powerful roles which the Government has
shaped for local elected politicians.
25 May 1999
Supplementary memorandum by SOLACE (Wales)
During the evidence given on Tuesday 29 June
1999 by SOLACE, a question was raised by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
at number 274 in which he raised the question as to whether English
Chief Executives might consider that it would be a good thing
for Members of the Executive to serve on the Scrutiny Committees.
In that regard, a specific example came to mind
but it was one which I had come by under "Chatham House"
rules, relating to Bedfordshire County Council. The Chief Executive,
Denis Cleggett, has now agreed that the example can be brought
to the attention of the Joint Select Committee.
The interesting thing about Bedfordshire County
Council is that it has been running a "Political Executive"
for some months now, and established it on the basis of a separation
between the executive and the scrutiny functions. However, on
the basis of the experience of its operation, they have had cause
to reflect on whether it would not be desirable to have a closer
engagement between the Executive and the Scrutiny Committees.
In their case, they are considering whether the Chairs of the
Scrutiny Committees should play some part in the Executive. They
are thus exploring the same general proposition, of closer engagement
between executive and scrutiny functions, but coming at it from
the other side, as it were.
Denis Cleggett would be pleased to provide further
information should it be of assistance to the Joint Select Committee.
12 July 1999