Memorandum by Ashfield District Council
LOCAL GOVERNMENT (ORGANISATION AND STANDARDS) BILL
Members welcome the recognition that Councils,
in partnership with others, have a vital role to play in improving
the quality of people's lives. This Council certainly expects
to play its full part in providing the vision and leadership for
the communities of Ashfield, as well as delivering high quality
services to local people. In order to achieve this vision, Members
would urge the Government to find Parliamentary time at the earliest
possible opportunity to introduce legislation establishing a duty
for Councils to promote the economic, social and environmental
well being of their area.
The draft Bill itself, in some parts, is felt
to be unnecessarily prescriptive and will probably inhibit the
development of alternative Executive models over time. Clause
2(5) does allow for the Secretary of State, by regulation, to
prescribe alternative Executive models. Clause 2(7) however appears
to place in primary legislation the maximum size of the Executive.
The Executive model involving an elected mayor
is not felt to be easily applicable outside of large conurbations
or to Districts such as Ashfield where community allegiance is
most pronounced at a much more local level. Whilst applauding
the community's right to determine the most appropriate model,
Members are entirely confident that any form of governance that
placed personality above community service would therefore not
The reason for the prescription of a maximum
size for the Executive is understood (but only partially supported)
although the detail of calculation at 15 per cent rounded down
is felt to be insufficiently flexible. It does not allow for the
wide variation, nationally, in the number of Councillors representing
similar sized population. This Council currently comprises 33
Members representing approximately 86,000 electors. A ratio of
2,606/1 as compared to a national average of 1,803/1. It would
appear that the draft legislation will effectively "penalise"
authorities such as Ashfield that are highly "efficient"
in these terms by restricting the Executive to just three Members
(15 per cent of 33, rounded down to the next odd number). Amending
the proposed legislation to allow rounding to the nearest odd
number (five in Ashfield's case) would appear to achieve the Government's
intention, without such penalty.
Further, given the diversity of duties and arrangement
of portfolios implicit within the planned duty to promote the
economic, social and environmental well being of the area, my
Members do not believe that a cabinet of three is sufficiently
representative or workable and would urge a minimum of five members.
The separation of roles is understood and accepted
and the impartiality of the Chair welcomed as is the flexibility
in determining the membership of Overview Committees, including
the possibility of non-voting co-opted Members.
Members also welcome the recognition that regulatory
functions will not be permitted to become the responsibility of
an Executive and trust that regulations clarifying the precise
functions will be published without delay.
In relation to record keeping and access to
information, Members support the move towards freedom of information
legislation and support the planned record keeping for significant
decisions. They see considerable difficulties, however, in expecting
individual members of the Executive needing to prepare detailed
and comprehensive records of decisions made on day to day matters.
They would ask that further thought is given to ensuring that
an additional bureaucrary is not developed unnecessarily.
My Members would urge that Parliamentary time
is found as soon as possible to introduce the draft legislation
(as amended following consultation) and that interim arrangements
under current legislation do not continue for any length of time.
They are however, minded to make progress in advance of legislation
and intend to include simulation of the new Executive and Scrutiny
roles in the programme of training for the new Council later this
month. The experience from this exercise will be disseminated
to interested local and national bodies.
30 April 1999