Memorandum by Wandsworth Borough Council
Report by the Chief Executive and Director
of Administration on a proposed response to the Government White
Paper "Local Leadership, Local Choice".
This report summarises proposals in the Government's
White Paper on requirements to change the organisation of councils,
and the ethical framework. It sets out the proposal to divide
councils into executive and non-executive portions, and to adopt
new constitutions including executives on one of three models:
elected Mayor plus cabinet, elected Mayor and Council Manager,
or Leader plus cabinet. The proposals involve non-executive members
adopting a role of scrutinising executive decisions, providing
advice to the executive, developing policy and carrying out regulatory
functions. Although full professional etc advice on all executive
decisions would be published under these proposals ( in contrast
to the Mayor for London) no early notice of business, advance
publication, or public access to or debate on decisions is required.
The proposed ethical framework reflects earlier White Papers,
and includes locally-approved codes of conduct for councillors
derived from a national model, local standards committees, a National
Standards Board to investigate cases of alleged impropriety and
an Adjudication Panel to hear cases and settle punishments. The
report includes comments from the Leader of the Council in which
he recommends that the Council's response should follow previous
policy in rejecting the prescriptive and untested executive models,
which he regards as divisive and much poorer in terms of access
to information and transparency of decision-making.
The Committee are recommended to recommend to
(a) that the proposals in the White Paper
be generally rejected for the reasons previously stated by the
Council and in particular because of their divisive nature, lack
of openness and transparency, and the absence of any practical
experience or evidence that they would work;
(b) that the Leader's views, as set out in
paragraphs 22 to 36 in this report, be accepted as the Council's
detailed comments and sent to the Secretary of State for the Environment,
Transport and the Regions;
(c) that the Secretary of State's attention
should be particularly drawn to the deficiencies in openness,
public accessibility to information and the decision-making process
and the lack of early information for the public on decisions
being taken that are all implied by the proposals; and
(d) that the significant inconsistency between
the GLA/Mayor for London proposals on published information on
Mayoral decisions, and those included for these arrangements be
drawn to the Secretary of State's attention, and that he be urged
to enhance and stardardise both, in order to reflect the current
standards on openness and access to information for all decisions.
In January 1998 the Government published the
first of four Green Papers on local government reform: "Modernising
Local Government, Local Democracy and Community Leadership".
This set out several proposals for reform, including the possibility
of introducing executive mayors and cabinet structures for councils
and dividing councillors into executive and non-executive classes.
The Council responded to this following a report by the Leader
of the Council to the Policy and Finance Committee on 18 March
1998 (Paper No 98/279). Subsequently, in April 1998, a further
Green Paper in the series was received"A New Ethical
Framework", proposing a new National Code of Conduct for
Councillors for local adoption, and a network of local authority
standards committees, and independent National and Regional Standards
Boards. The Council responded to this following a report from
the Leader to this Committee on 1 July 1998 (Paper No 98/491).
A White Paper"Modern Local GovernmentIn Touch
with the People" was subsequently issued in July 1998, and
this represented many features from the previous four Green Papers.
A response to this was presented to the 23 September 1998 Policy
and Resources Committee (Paper No 98/681).
3. Last month the Government issued a further
White Paper containing more detailed proposals on Chapter 3 (New
Political Structures) and Chapter 6 (A new ethical framework)
of the July 1998 White Paper. This was entitled "Local LeadershipLocal
Choice", and was accompanied by a draft Billthe Local
Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill.
The White Paper talks of the legislation being
introduced "when Parliamentary time allows", with no
indication of when that might be. Comments are invited on the
White Paper and the draft Bill by 21 May 1999. Copies of the White
Paper and draft Bill have been placed in the Members' Room and
provided to both Leaders. The Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions (DETR) have also produced a summary of the paper
and a copy of this is included with this distribution for all
5. Proposed response
The Leader of the Council has been consulted
on the details set out in the current White Paper and has consulted
his colleagues. His views are broadly that Council policygenerally
opposing these initiatives for a variety of reasonsshould
remain broadly unchanged and that the Council should be recommended
to respond accordingly. The Leader's detailed views are included
later in this report.
6. Full details of the proposals are included
in the Government's summary version and are therefore not reported
here: paragraphs below highlight the main features.
7. New Council organisations
Chapter 3 of the White Paper outlines plans
for all councils to be split into executive and scrutiny functions
under a new constitution. Three optional models for the executive
(a) a directly-elected Mayor plus a cabinet;
(b) a directly-elected Mayor plus a Council
(c) a Leader plus a cabinet.
8. A new Council constitution
A new Constitution would be required whereby
the full Council would be responsible for approving:
(a) capital and revenue budgets;
(b) appointment (or confirmation of the Chief
Executive and Chief Officers);
(c) any departure from approved budgets and
(d) the Council's constitution (and amendments
to it) and appointments to such Committees and Sub-Committees
that exist; and
(e) all strategies and key plans (such as
the education development plan and the local transport plans).
9. Non-Executive Councillors
Non-executive councillors would have a scrutiny
and regulatory role under these proposals. They would
(a) investigate broad policy issues;
(b) consider budget plans;
(d) review the executive decision-making
and policies (via scrutiny and overview committees);
(e) manage expanded community dialogue, involving
devolved consultative arrangements;
(f) provide advice to the executive; and
(g) sit on such regulatory committees as
exist such as planning and licensing, from which the executive
would be excluded.
10. The arrangements are theoretical and
are not in full operation anywhere, although some authorities
such as Hammersmith and Fulham attempt to operate an executive/scrutiny
division within current legislation. The Leader comments on these
11. Size of Executive
The executive would have a maximum size prescribed
of 15 per cent of the full Council, rounded down, or 10 Councillors
whichever is the smaller (this would be nine for Wandsworth at
present). The executive councillors cannot sit on regulatory committees
such as planning (an important division which does not exist under
present ad hoc cabinet models), but must take responsibility
for all Council decisions other than those mentioned above as
reserved for the full Council. This would require the current
statutory status of certain committees, such as Social Services,
to be abolished. Whereas the party balance is to be maintained
on the scrutiny and overview committees and regulatory committees,
the executive is envisaged as a single-party entity or a coalition.
12. Election of Mayor
Any Mayor is planned to be elected by a supplementary
vote (SV) system whereby a voter records a second preference vote
for use if no candidate gets an absolute majority on the first
vote. This is the same projected method as the Mayor for London.
If the Mayor presides over a Council Manager structure, it is
not envisaged that the Council Manager would also be elected:
this is seen as an officer appointment made by the full Council,
typically the Chief Executive.
13. Meetings and Access to Information
Under the proposed arrangements, regulatory
committees such as planning, and new scrutiny and overview committees
will be subject to current arrangements for access to information
and (presumably) public access to meetings. This would also apply
to the full Council and any other committees and sub-committees.
It is stated that political advice to the executive would remain
private and that the executive must be free to determine a political
view on an issue and weigh that in private, although local people
and councillors outside the executive would need access to information
on the decisions being taken by the executive. The proposals,
therefore, include (rather tentatively) for advice from officers
to be fully recorded with decisions and published, and for the
Council's monitoring officer to ensure that all members of the
executive comply with this. In addition, the overview and scrutiny
committees would be able to ask for factual information to support
their work and would need a "regular and open" dialogue
with the executive. To the extent, however, that many decisions
now taken after public debate in service committees would be taken
in private by executive members and not be later raised by scrutiny
committees or at full Council, the open character of the current
arrangements would clearly be largely lost. It is noteworthy,
however, that even these requirements for openness, recording
and publication of all officers' professional advice differ from
those proposed for the Mayor of London and are slightly less opaque.
14. Mayoral veto over the Council
It is suggested that an elected Mayor might
enjoy an American-style ability to veto Council decisions, for
one week after they have been notified to him or her. This would
only be a potentially delaying tactic, however, since the decision
would be presented to the next full Council for a final and binding
decision. It is suggested that such mechanisms would be a matter
for local discretion and design as part of the local constitution.
15. Budget-setting and approval
The budget-setting arrangements would change
under an executive-type Council organisation. Whilst the timetable
and general statutory requirements would remain, the executive
would draft up a budget in the light of recommendations from scrutiny,
etc committees and then put it to full Council for approval. Conflicts
could be resolved in a variety of waysto be decided locally
as part of the constitution. These could for example be similar
to those proposed for the Mayor/GLA budgets (two-thirds majority
of the GLA needed to over-ride a Mayor's budget) or could be parallel
with general veto procedures to defer for one cycle and refer
back to the next Council meeting.
16. Arrangements for Local Referendums on
The White Paper sets out (in Chapter 2) proposed
arrangements whereby local people would be able to decide on a
new form of local council organisation by way of a referendum,
which would be binding on the council. Detailed statutory guidance
on these referendums and suitable regulations is awaited.
17. The Government considers that there
should be local consultation on the issue of local organisation,
which it sees as key to its "modernisation" agenda for
local government. It does not, therefore, favour single options.
There would be two main opportunities to test local views with
(a) a council could propose, after consultation,
the form of local governance it considers appropriate, draw up
a new constitution and hold a referendum on this; and
(b) if 5 per cent or more voters (around
10,000 electors in Wandsworth) petition the Council to hold a
referendum for a directly-elected Mayor option, again the Council
would draw up a suitable constitution and hold a referendum on
18. If a referendum proposition is not supported,
no further referendum on the matter is allowed for five years,
and a council would continue as it was.
19. A significant difference from previous
consultation papers is the limited range of options available.
A council cannot continue as it is unless a referendum proposition
is rejected. The Secretary of State plans to take powers to require
an authority to hold a referendum if it is neither petitioned
to do so, nor comes forward with its own proposals. However, provided
a council is willing to move to one of the three prescribed models
(ie including a Leader with cabinet) it would appear that a referendum
would not be enforced. It would appear therefore, at present,
traditional ways of council working could only continue in the
five years following a failed referendum proposition.
20. The Government state (in Chapter 4 of
the White Paper) that the proposals in their previous White and
Green Papers for a new framework have been broadly welcomed by
local government. They therefore propose to proceed on these general
lines suggested, including:
(a) the current National Code of Conduct
will be replaced by local codes of conduct to be adopted by all
councils and based on a model code to be developed by the Local
Government Association (the LGA), which would in turn be based
on a set of principles approved by Parliament. Certain parts will
(b) all principal authorities will set up
Standards Committees which will be required to advise on the local
adoption of a code of conduct, supervise advice and training for
Councillors on ethical matters, and investigating and dealing
with less serious allegations of impropriety referred from the
national Standards Board. This Committee must have at least one
independent co-opted member and not more than one member of the
(c) establishment of a new national quango,
the Standards Board, responsible for receiving, investigating
and reporting on allegations of breaches of the Code of Conduct.
The Secretary of State will appoint investigating officers (Ethical
Standards Officers or ESO's) to this body together with a Board
of non-executive members. As part of these new arrangements a
separate Quango, the Adjudication Panel, will be set up to hear
individual cases referred across from the Standards Board and,
if appropriate, impose a suitable penalty;
(d) introducing a statutory Code of Conduct
for local authority employees, to be approved by Parliament after
(e) repeal of surcharge provisions and creation
of a new offence of Misuse of Public Office are being pursued,
but these provisions are not included in the draft Bill.
21. In presenting more detailed suggestions
on some of the above features, the White Paper admits that some
concern was expressed in response to earlier consultation on the
dangers of the new organisational proposals in that they concentrate
decision-making in the hands of a few executive councillors. These
concerns extended to the risks of greater secrecy with the new
elected Mayor and cabinet models and an increased chance of unethical
conduct. These were concerns strongly voiced by this Council.
The Government does not believe that this will happen and believes
that the reporting arrangements on decisions and the new ethical
framework will minimise the change of unethical behaviour.
22. The Leader's views are as follows:
None of these new proposals rectify any of the
earlier defectsin fact in many respects they are worse.
In earlier responses this Council has made it clear that it does
not agree with the Government's analysis of the lack of performance
by some authorities nor the suggested remedies. There are ample
flexibilities in the present arrangements to permit innovation
without the risks, bureaucracy and costs of referendums, scrutiny
committees and new Quangos now proposed.
23. Organisation options
It is particularly worrying that the Government
now proposes only three options for organisational structures,
none of which have ever been piloted. A much greater local flexibility
should be allowed, including the "no change" option.
It is naive to think that the majority of councillors will be
content with a scrutiny role. As this Council has pointed out,
the whole thrust of the Government's proposals is divisive, likely
to discourage high calibre councillors from coming forward, and
based on academic and untested notions that "scrutiny"
can be detached effectively from decision-making.
24. The virtue of the current system is
that it offers flexibility, known procedures and accessibility.
It links back-bench councillors into live involvement with all
major decisions and plans via operational or service committees.
Without detailed briefings, officer presentations and full reports
on open public agendas, back bench members will be neither motivated
or enabled to get involved in the detail of policies and decision-making.
Reports from Hammersmith and Fulham suggest this is exactly what
is happening therea disenchanted, less well-informed back
bench caucus with an impossible task of monitoring a high volume
of decisions via scrutiny arrangements with inadequate prior notice
of key issues that are coming forward. This replaces the clear
focus and expertise built up by service-oriented committees.
From one point of view, the Government have
made a partial recognition of the dangers of the new system by
differentiating them from those provided for disclosure of information
on Mayoral decisions in the GLA Bill. They have at least acknowledged
the dangers of behind-closed-doors decision-taking by an executive
without a requirement to record and make available officers' reports
on each decision. This Council has stated that professional legal
and financial assessments from officers tendered to executive
councillors should be part of the published information on all
decisions. The requirement for the Monitoring Officer to ensure
that all this happens is welcome. Similar arrangements must be
written into the GLA Bill immediately, and I suggest that this
point be specifically endorsed by the Committee and drawn to the
Secretary of State's attention.
26. However, these attempts to bolster up
the transparency and probity of any new executive-style arrangements
still represent a major deficit in terms of openness and accessibility
in comparison with the current tried, tested and well known system.
The Mayor and Cabinet will not meet in public or publish papers
and agendas in advance. Who will know what decisions are coming
up? How can local residents and press know what is imminent and
send in petitions, letters or seek deputations?
27. Publication of decisions will be after
the event and the "scrutiny" portion of the Council
will have to comb through long (and completely unstructured, if
Hammersmith is typical) lists of business and quickly make a forlorn
attempt to promote a real and open debate on something they will
have typically had little briefing or information on. This represents
a huge deficit on the rights of access to information for not
only the press and public, but the back-bench councillors as well,
even in relation to matters which affect their wards. The new
proposals, therefore, undermine the very foundations of effective
ward representation inherent in the current arrangements.
28. The Government must radically revise
these half thought-out ideas if they are to replicate the safeguards
of the existing system. The decisions of the Mayor and executive
must be based on full reports, published in advance, and
containing all information from professional officers. The reports
should be debated and agreed by the executive in public, so
that interested parties could attend and make representations,
The White Paper, as previous ones, attacks the
committee system as an evil and prime cause of poor council performance.
Ironically, now more details are mapped out about how the new
arrangements might work, we see the committee is actually back
with a vengeance! Far from being streamlined, the new arrangements
(i) Regulatory committees (at least for Planning
and Licensing functions);
(ii) Overview and/or scrutiny committees;
(iii) Standards committees;
(iv) Area committees/or neighbourhood forums;
(v) Joint committees with other bodies;
(vi) Special (Access to Personal Files Act)
(vii) Advisory committees to Mayor/Council
(viii) Committees of the Executive;
(ix) Independent committees (eg advisory
on Members allowances etc); and
(x) Sub-committees, appointed by full Council.
This is, of course, without mentioning appeals,
staff management, housing benefit reviews and other routine matters,
partnership committees, town centre committees or other possibilities
reflecting local circumstances. It is quite clear from (i) to
(x) above that even at this stage the new arrangements have worse
potential for exactly the time-wasting, "talking shop"
type of committees the Government say they are trying to get away
30. Referendums to test public views
The Government's tactic here is based on tests
carried out by friendly Labour councils and no doubt focus groups.
It assumes that the public will like the sound of elected Mayors
and vote for them, largely on the assumption that they cannot
be worse than most poorly performing councils. However, it is
quite unrealistic to expect the public to understand the full
implications of the new systemafter all it has never been
tried. They probably have expectations that the Government will
not be suggesting options that involve curtailing access and openness
in the severe manner outlined above. The public cannot be expected
to understand the procedural and organisational details of a complex
multi-functional agency like a modern council, with a gross annual
revenue stream of perhaps £0.5 billion. It is quite ridiculous
to suggest that the whole range of varied implications, from loss
of openness, to the sweeping away of statutory social services
committees, etc. could be encapsulated in a single referendum
31. Quite apart then from the fundamental
con trick of mounting a referendum on something the public cannot
reasonably be expected to know about (or in fact speculate about,
since there is no experience), there are many practical concerns
about the referendum.
32. Until regulations on the referendums,
etc are available it is not possible to comment in detail. However,
concerns must be expressed about:
(a) the likely costs of referendums;
(b) rules about publicity: will councils
seek to influence local public opinion and hence invalidate the
(c) difficulties in vetting petitions. Presumably
petitioners will need to be identified by their electoral register
number, but even then the labour of checking 10,000 names (or
many more for an authority like Birmingham) must be questionable.
Even then impersonation or fraud cannot be ruled out, since the
referendum returning officer would be unable to readily authenticate
10,000 signatures (unless features such as national identity cards
33. Proposed Ethical Framework
The proposals for Standards Committees and a
Standards Board and Adjudication Panel represent a development
of the Government's previous thinking, which the Council has criticised
as being bureaucratic and over-complex. The undesirable feature
of a multiplicity of local codes of conduct is still included,
whereas the Council has supported the idea of a clear single national
code that could be universally applied and understood.
34. The Government's argument that the apparently
tougher and more extensive regimes for monitoring ethics will
prop up and make acceptable the weakness and risks of the executive
model is not valid. No bureaucracy is likely to be at all effective
in minimising the much greater risks of "closed doors"
decision taking by executives and Mayors, simply because so much
more will be invisible.
35. I propose that the Council should welcome
the positive features of the ethical framework as before, but
continue to argue for a single code and local flexibility to decide
whether ethical matters require a separate local standards committee
(likely to marginalise these issues) or could be dealt with as
high priority at Policy and Resources Committees.
36. Clearly the Council will need to establish
a standards committee at an appropriate time if the proposals
go throughmeanwhile the Council should continue to give
the highest level consideration to ethical matters via the Policy
and Resources Committee, as it has always done.
The Leader of the Council proposes that the
views expressed by him in paragraphs 22 to 36 above form the basis
of the Council's response to the Secretary of State for the Environment,
Transport and the Regions. The Committee should also note in particular
that the Leader of the Council considers that his comments on
the inconsistency between the proposed arrangements for publishing
professional officers' advice on Mayoral decisions under the GLA
Bill for the Mayor for London, and those for elected Mayors in
the draft Organisation and Standards Bill (paragraph 25) should
be specifically endorsed and drawn to the Secretary of State's
attention. It is further proposed that the Leader of the Council's
suggestion that all matters of ethics continue to be dealt with
by the Policy and Resources Committee for the time being, but
that steps be taken to set up a Wandsworth Standards Committee
as soon as clear guidance and a timetable for these new arrangements
23 June 1999