Memorandum by Professor John Stewart,
University of Birmingham
The publication of Local Leadership, Local Choice,
containing the draft bill is to be welcomed, providing an opportunity
to consider the full implications of the government's proposals.
The emphasis on local choice is especially important, although
some of the constraints are disappointing. This paper sets out
three major main issues raised and then discusses some of the
detailed points arising.
The proposal are clearly linked to the governments
recognition of the local authorities role in community leadership
(para 1.2). It is to be regretted therefore that the draft bill
does not contain the provisions set out in "Modern Local
Government: In Touch with the People" for the new duty giving
expression to that role and the promised powers. New political
structures should be related to new roles. Rather than structures
precede roles, they should follow from the roles.
The emphasis previously given to the role of
non-executive councillors in scrutiny has led to an emphasis on
the separation between the executive and other councillor. It
has also been unfortunate in suggesting a negative role. This
paper goes some way to redress the balance. It does that by emphasising
the role of the council in setting council policy, determining
budgets and taking decisions on changes from strategy and the
budget. Para 3.9 correctly emphasises that this involves all councillorsexecutive
and non-executive "acting together".
This recognition highlights a tension in the
Governments proposal. There is an emphasis in the paper on separation
of roles, with an implied desire to keep apart executive and non-executive
councillors because the latter have to scrutinise the former.
This means that the full implications of para 3.9 have not been
taken on board.
It is important to recognise that while non-executive
councillors scrutinise the executive and hold it to account, they
also can have an important role in supporting the executive. Certainly
councillors from the same party as the executive will see themselves
as having such a role and such support will be required. The executive
will need support from other councillors, because if faces the
danger of overload if it is to take over executive responsibilities,
from committees, develop policies, propose strategies, provide
community leadership and be involved in partnerships. That is
being recognised in some of the transitional arrangements with
the appointment of deputies, support groups of councillors and
councillors as advisers. These possibilities are not discussed
in Local Leadership, Local Choice. It is recognised that the executive
may seek advice from an overview and scrutiny committee, but it
is seen as advice from a separate body. The executive is likely
to wish to work with council members in developing policy. Thus
it might set up a group of councillors led by a cabinet member
to develop policy in a particular area. An individual councillor
could be invited to advise the cabinet on a particular topic.
The executive might wish other councillors to sit upon cabinet
It is hoped that all such developments will
be possible. It would be unfortunate if the emphasis on separation
in Local Leadership, Local Choice discouraged such developments.
It is important to recognise that councillors can have as important
a role in supporting the executive as in scrutiny. After all as
the paper recognises in determining policy all councillors "act
together". It is hoped nothing in the legislation will prevent
such a supporting role, but it would be helpful if the need for
it was recognised.
The emphasis on separation also affects the
discussion of the role of decentralised structures in para 3.26
and 3.27. The paper sees them playing a role in advising the cabinet
and in undertaking a scrutiny role, but does not apparently envisage
them carrying out executive functions, perhaps because of the
wish to maintain separation.
Yet a number of authorities introducing a transitional
model (as well as authorities with an existing area committee
structure) see a value in such area committees having an executive
role on local issues. This enhances the presentative role, enabling
councillors to take action on some of the matters raised within
them. It also relieves the cabinet of local issues which need
not concern them, enabling them to devote more time to authority-wide
issues and the development of policy.
It is presumably for these reasons that executive
models in Europe are often associated with decentralised structures.
In Barcelona such structures are responsible for 20 per cent of
the budget. In Oslo a cabinet and decentralised structures with
budgetary responsibilities were seen as complementing each other.
Many such examples could be quoted.
Again while it is hoped legislation will not
prevent decentralised structures with executive role, it would
be helpful if their value was recognised.
An emphasis is placed on the mismatch between
a councillors view of the importance of the representative role
and time spent. What may be important is not merely the time spent
but the ability to achieve action. New structures have to meet
that need and many councillors are concerned about how that is
achieved under new models.
The Government is taking powers to ensure fair
conduct of a referendum, but the Government cannot be regarded
as impartial on these issues. Should not these powers be given
to an independent commission?
There is a fourth model of council (ie with
a mayor appointed by the council) and council manager which is
the standard city management model in the USA (some cities do
have a directly elected mayor and council manager but that is
a deviation from the original council manager plan). Should not
this fourth model be included?
Should not the model make clear the council
(ie "all councillors act together") "decides"
rather than "agrees" the policy framework and the budget.
It is difficult to see how a directly elected
mayor without executive responsibilities could play this role
on a council on which he or she did not have a majority and such
cases may be common with annual or biennial elections. In such
cases the council managers would inevitably look to the majority
leader for political "leadership" and to propose the
The stress on councillors playing a consultative
role in key policy preparation is important but it does show the
value of developing mechanism for councillors to support the executive
in policy preparation.
It is also important to recognise that while
the councillors representative role involves to their neighbourhood,
it can involve wider interests and concerns, for the authority
as a whole.
The reference to co-opted member having full
voting rights, seems to run counter to the previous para, or does
it merely refer to the representatives of the churches and of
Overview and scrutiny committees are given a
variety of tasks. At times the paper seems to imply that the same
committees should carry out all these tasks and that apart from
decentralised structures and committees for quasi-judicial functions,
these would be the only committees. It is hoped this is not the
Government's views. Council may want different bodies for the
tasks set out in 3.19, since they may require different ways of
working. They may want to set time-limited task groups. Other
forms may be required. There is for example no reference in Local
Leadership, Local Choice to the public forums described in Modern
Local Government, In Touch with the People. Maximum flexibility
by authorities should be encouraged.
The list of activities of overview and scrutiny
committees does not refer to review for best value, in which one
would expect an overview and scrutiny committee to play a role.
While an emphasis is laid on the direct mandate
of the mayor, it has to be recognised that the council also has
a direct mandate, and with annual and biannual elections it can
be a more recent mandate.
It is clearly envisaged that the executive will
meet in private. I am not clear where this is provided for in
the proposed legislation.
Where in the legislation is the third category
(permitted by the legislation not to be the responsibility of
the executive) provided for. It could be very important. It is
important that this category is wide enough to allow significant
While executives are limited to 10 or less,
it is assumed deputies can be appointed for executive members.
Is this allowed for in the legislation? In very large majority
groups a restriction to 10 could add to intra-group tensions.
In unitary authority of only 45 councillors, a cabinet of six
is very small.
Para 3.39 and 3.40
The emphasis is placed upon the leader as if
he or she is expected to play the same role as a directly elected
major. The leader and cabinet model should not be regarded as
a quasi-mayoral model but developed in its own right. There is
a danger in seeing leadership in individual terms. The complexities
of community governance may benefit from styles of leadership
concerned to build teams and consensus. The emphasis on a "strong
form of leadership" could suggest a rather old-fashioned
While the election of mayors is provided for,
there is not discussion of exceptional procedures for removal
of the mayor, even though the right of recall is being considered
in Lewisham. Should not such procedures (which are widely found,
in mayoral systems) be allowed for in the legislation.
The provisions about reasons being provided
in records of decision are important, but are likely to cause
great difficulty in practice. There is a need for discussion of
Should there be provision for publication of
executive agendas, so that representations can be made prior to
Provisions for vetoes are unusual outside the
USA. Is it not better to make clear where responsibility lies
rather than to have divided responsibility. The council (ie all
councillors acting together) would have responsibility for policy
and the budget, the executive has responsibility for execution
and proposing policy and the budgets. Vetoes can maximise conflicts
and instability. Fortunately the Government leave this issue to
Presumably these provisions about recording
decision would also apply to a council manager. Is this correct?
The abolition of the attendance allowance does
not appear to be included in the legislation. Is this correct
and if so, why not.
There is a danger that over-specification in
regulations could limit local choice.
It would be helpful for DETR to produce draft
regulations to show their intention.
The emphasis is on the scrutiny role of Oversight
and Scrutiny Committees. Is policy development adequately covered?
Does not the requirement to prepare proposals
contradict para 2.17 which envisages on authority continuing with
traditional arrangement, although subject to a requirement for
Should not the guidance be restricted to the
items listed in 2 (a-d).
It would be helpful if the government indicated
their intentions on timing.
Will the provisions for mayoral elections cover
the number of nominations or introduce deposits, to discourage
THE COUNCIL MANAGER
Form of Government in the United States
by John Stewart
In the United States there are a variety of
systems of government in local authorities. The Form of Government
survey regularly conducted by the National League of Cities and
the International City Management Association shows the following
results for the three main forms.
Total, all cities:
It shows that the Council-Manager system has replaced the
mayor-council system as the most common approach. Proportion of
council-manager structures found in the categories of cities of
between 50,000 and 499,000 (ie the size of most British authorities)
is even higher at 60 per cent or over. The council manager approach
is included in the three options set out in Local Leadership,
Local Choice but has not received much attention from local authorities.
The lack of interest is probably due in part to it being
linked to the directly elected mayor. It is not necessarily so
linked in the United States. The seventh edition of the model
city charter (setting the constitution for government in a city)
issued by the National Civic League sets out the formal basis
for the council management structure for adoption by authorities.
It allows for two alternative ways of appointing the mayordirect
election or appointment by the council. In neither instance is
the mayor a political executive, but is a political leader 62.1
per cent of council-manager cities have a directly elected mayor
but 37.9 per cent have a mayor appointed by the council.
The introduction to the model city charter argues that the
role of the mayor is "quite different from that of the elected
chief executive in the system that separates executive and legislative
powers. Rather, the mayor in the council-manager form is the chief
legislator, the leader of the policy-making team. This mayor can
be a `strong' mayor who, not having to overcome the offsetting
powers of the council or not being bogged down with the details
of managing the city's staff, can focus on facilitative leadership".
There are particular reasons why a directly elected mayor
would be less appropriate in a United Kingdom version of the council
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 authority. These different arguments are the reason
given for the alternative ways of appointing the mayor.
In the Model Charter it is recognised that direct election
gives the mayor a citywide popular support basis for leadership.
But the "disadvantage of this method is the possibility that
the mayor will be at variance with the council majority on some
For this reason "In many other cities, it is felt that
local policy leadership can best function through a cohesive team
of council members which chooses its leader as mayor".
There is a need for an option in the new legislation for
a council a manager structure without a directly elected mayor
as allowed for in the Model Charterindeed that was the
only approach provided for in the original charter.
There is, apart from the issue of the directly elected mayor
considerable confusion about the council-manager system, which
has also prevented it receiving much attention. It is not appreciated
that the council management system is based on the authority of
the council. William Hemsell the Executive Director of the International
City Management Association has stressed that "the council
manager form provides a system in which there is no separation
of powers" and that "all power is concentrated in the
council. An appointed manager constantly must be aware that the
powers of the local government belong to the council. Any authority
or responsibility assigned to the manager by the council or by
the citizens can be removed at any time, for any reason".
The charter emphasises "that all of the powers that can be
exercised by the city rest in the popularly elected council".
It argues that the city manager should recognise that "responsibility
for policy execution rests with members".
Renner and De Santis in their useful study of Municipal Form
of Government: Issues and Trends draw a distinction between mayor-council
and council-manager systems in terms of the separation of powers.
They argue that the mayor-council system "is the only form
of city government with an element of separation of powers that
is typical in American Federal and statement governments. The
chief executive is elected separately from the city council and
exercises some distinctive executive authority (although the precise
contours of that authority vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction).
Alternatively, the council-manager plan vests all authority in
a popularly elected council, which in turn hires an appointed
The council-manager is in the words of the charter "continuously
responsible to the city council". He or she carries out their
decisions often on matters not merely of policy but of policy
execution. What the council manager has is a clear responsibility
for running the administration including the appointment, suspension
and removal of staff and the model charter contains prohibitions
on by the interference council or councillors in administration.
The council in order to meet their responsibilities meets
frequentlyand this is also true of mayor-council systems,
for even their councils have considerable responsibilities. Just
over two thirds of all councils of all types meet twice a month
(69.1 per cent) and that includes all sizes of authority. In larger
authorities they may meet more frequently. Weekly council meetings
are held in 71.4 per cent of the 500,000 to 1,000,000 population
jurisdiction and in 56.0 per cent of the 250,000-499,999 population
jurisdictions. In addition there are standing committees to handle
legislative matters in all the largest jurisdictions (500,000
and over) and in 92 per cent of the 250,000-4999,999 and 63 per
cent of the 100,000-249,999.
Some of the business is conducted in ordinances. The model
charter requires that "those acts of the city council shall
be by ordinance which:
1. Adopt or amend an administrative code or establish,
alter or abolish any city department, office or agency.
2. Provide for a fine or other penalty or establish a
rule or regulation for violation of which a fine or other penalty
4. Grant, renew or extend a franchise.
5. Regulate the rate charged for its services by a public
6. Authorise the borrowing of money.
7. Convey or lease or authorise the conveyance or lease
of any lands of the city.
8. Regulate land use and development.
9. Amend or repeal any ordinance previously adopted".
Other parts of the charter also require ordinance for "adoption
of codes of technical regulations", (eg building and sanitary
codes) "appropriation and revenue ordinances" "supplemental
and emergency appropriations and reduction of appropriations"
and "creation of a charger commission or proposal of charter
amendments". Other acts of the council "may be done
either by ordinance or resolution".
The charter suggests that ordinances submitted to a particular
meetings are then subject to a public hearing after publication
of the ordinance. After the hearing the council will amend, reject
or approve the ordinance at a subsequent meeting.
Ordinances can be used for what would be regarded as relatively
local matters. Thus in one authority with a council-management
structure, for which I have obtained minutes, an ordinance was
approved relating to the speed limit on a particular street. Other
parts of the business covered the issues as "award of a two-year
mowing contract". Such detailed agendas are however also
found in executive mayor systems. At a council meeting one large
authority, ordnance on no parking signs on two streets were among
the 50 or more items on the agenda. There ordinances have a first
reading, are referred to committees and then come before the council
with any amendments made in committees.
What would be unlikely to be acceptable in the United Kingdom
would be the small number of councillors. The Charter recommends
a council of five to nine councillors although it is stressed
"In determining the size of the council, consideration should
be given to the diversity of population elements to be represented
as well as to the size of the city" and because of this there
is a tendency for council size to grow, while still remaining
very small by UK standards.
Executive mayors versus council manager one writer argues:
There is much debate about the merits of executive mayors
as opposed to council managers. One writer argues:
1. "Mayor-dominant forms are more conflict prone
with increased partisanshipand special-interest brokerage.
2. Governmental workforces and expenditures are typically
larger, proportionately in mayor-dominant governments.
3. Departmental actions tend to be quasi-autonomous, with
reduced co-ordination and collaboration, in strong-mayor systems".
(Chester Newlandthe Future of Council-manager Government
in ICMA Ideal and Practice in Council Manager Government)
but these findings were disputed by others.
The International City Management Association argue:
"The council-manager form encourages open communication
between citizens and their government. Under this form, each member
of the governing body has an equal voice in policy development
and administrative oversight. This gives neighbourhoods and diverse
groups a greater opportunity to influence policy.
Under the "strong mayor" form, political power
is concentrated in the mayor, which means that other members of
the elected body relinquish at least some of their policy-making
power and influence. This loss of decision-making power among
council members can have a chilling effect on the voices of neighbourhoods
and city residents.
Under the council-manager form of government, involvement
of the entire elected body ensures a more balanced approach to
community decision making, so that all interests can be expressed
and heardnot just those that are well funded. Under the
"strong mayor" form, however, it's easier for special
interests to use money and political power to influence a single
elected official, rather than having to secure a majority of the
city council's support for their agenda".
but they are naturally advocates of the approach.
Advocates of mayor-council systems argue in favour of strong
political leadership, to which the reply is made by ICMA that
it does not always produce it and that such leadership is found
in council-manager systems, and may be more likely if that leadership
is freed from administrative responsibilities.
Distinctions between council-manager and mayor council systems
are not always clear-cut. Within each system there is a variety
of practice and Renner and DeSantis argue that research is difficult
because these categories over-simplify and point out "cities
have adopted a myriad of structural arrangement that cannot easily
be considered part of one mode."
To an extent what is happening is convergence between the
systems. Strong political leadership is to be found in council
manager systems, while there has been a growing tendency for chief
administrative officers to be appointed in mayor-council systems.
In all systems there is a necessity to carry the council for even
in strong mayor systems the council has significant power, even
if the mayor has veto powers as is the case in 56 per cent of
such authorities. A vote does not normally allow the mayor to
over-ride the council.
There remains differences in so far as the council-mayor
system is based on a separation of powers not recognised in the
council manager system (whether with a directly elected mayor
or not) and formal differences influence practice. Thus as the
appendix to the model charter says the veto power "has no
place in a council manager government because it distorts the
basic principle of the formthat the council is assigned
all powers of the city". It is that principle that has not
been fully appreciated in local authorities in the United Kingdom.
The council manager system merits more attention than it
has received in discussion. It can involve a directly elected
mayor, but in the USA it does not need to do so. There is a need
for a fourth option based on a council with leader and a council