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Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - First Report


Memorandum by Manchester City Council


  1.  Manchester City Council welcomes the principles of Government's Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill. The City Council is fully committed to providing the best possible services to, and most effective advocacy for, Manchester residents, in a way that is effective, transparent, responsive and accountable. Existing local government structures are obsolete, and fall well short of achieving these objectives.

  2.  In recognising the need for modernisation, and fully embracing Best Value, we also look forward to legislation which can deliver effective structures and high standards. In particular, we would like to see a duty placed upon local authorities to promote the social and economic well-being of their areas.

  3.  Changes in structure alone will not, however, make local government more effective: changes to powers and responsibilities are much more significant, as evinced by Best Value.

  4.  The City Council has a very strong track record in partnership working, established over many years. In particular, we have provided strong and effective leadership within partnership. This is widely accepted in the city, in local communities and by the private sector. There is, we contend, no deficit in legitimacy in Manchester. We consider that the best way forward is to continue to build upon this in an evolutionary way, working with our partners.

  5.  We have already carried out extensive consultation with residents, and are currently implementing major changes in structure, within the constraints of existing legislation.


  6.  The City Council has established an Executive Committee, with extensive delegated powers. Five Scrutiny Committees have also been established. The Council itself will remain the ultimate decision-making body, and will determine major changes in policy. This proposal means that all councillors will have a role to play. In particular, we want to ensure a focus on local residents' needs and aspirations, and we have thus decided that individual ward performance plans will be drawn up and monitored, in consultation with local councillors and the communities they represent.

  7.  We consulted widely over three months on these proposals with the local press and radio, displays and posters, direct leafleting and residents and other stakeholders, following a Local Democracy Conference held in December last year. Over 2,500 responses were received, with the overwhelming majority agreeing that we should reduce committee meetings, appoint a Cabinet, and continue to meet in public.

  8.  In welcoming Government's proposals we do, however, have a number of concerns about the apparent prescriptiveness of the Bill.

    (i)  In placing a duty on a local authority to discharge its executive functions only through three forms of executive arrangements, the Government would be compounding the current confusion and lack of clarity in relation to the powers of Councils to enter into partnership working arrangements and participating companies.

    In addition to making it clear that the provisions are not intended to derogate from Councils' existing powers to enter into such arrangements it would be a pity if the opportunity were not taken to address this issue, as partnership working is essential to effective local governance and ensuring the success of the Councils' strategic community leadership role. Presumably, it is intended that the current powers to discharge functions jointly with other local authorities will remain.

    (ii)  The provisions are very prescriptive in relation to detail, such as the number of members of the Executive Committee.

    (iii)  The legislation should clarify the powers of the Standards Committee in relation to individual cases referred by the Standards Panel to them to deal them. A hiatus in this regard would lead to difficulties in dealing effectively with such cases. We believe that Councils themselves should be responsible for upholding high standards, and have already established a Standards Committee which has no representation from the leadership of either political party represented on the Council and has an independent member.


  9.  We did consider very carefully the option of introducing a directly-elected mayor. We believe that this option has some merit when there is an existing democratic deficit, such as has been the case in London. No such democratic deficit exists in the city of Manchester, and our current proposals are a good start in modernising the city council and providing a strong and accountable democratic focus.

  10.  We do believe, however, that there is a democratic deficit across Greater Manchester as a whole. The arrangements for services such as the police, fire and civil defence, public transport, waste disposal and others are derived from those arising from the abolition of the former county council in 1986. Whilst the 10 district councils have generally worked well together, the current arrangements should be reviewed.

  11.  This could be addressed by the introduction of a London style assembly for the whole of Greater Manchester, with powers to deliver key conurbation-wide strategic issues. These would include economic development, transport, the fire service, waste disposal, and the police. There is a particular lack of accountability, and a real democratic deficit, in respect to the Police Authority, which has led to the disengagement of the police's priorities and resource allocation from the needs, aspirations and priorities of local people. Notwithstanding the requirements of the Crime and Disorder Act, the objectives of both Government and local councils will be much easier to achieve, if this democratic deficit is addressed.

  12.  We also believe that the concept of a directly-elected Mayor should be approached with a little caution, especially in relation to comparisons with US models. Most cities in the USA do not have directly-elected mayors. Where they do, and have a high profile, as in New York, attention is usually focused on specific issues, such as success in reducing crime. The point here is that the mayor of New York has direct control over the policies, priorities and resources of the police. An elected mayor would be no more successful than a Cabinet or the existing system without such control: again, it is giving local authorities effective powers and duties which gets things done.

  13.  In relation to the Bill's proposal to require Councils to hold a referendum if 5 per cent of the population ask for one, the City Council believes this percentage is too low. A genuine strong desire amongst local people for an elected mayor would be reflected in a much higher percentage; the lower figure offers scope for political distortion.

  14.  However we strongly endorse a position that allows communities themselves to decide how they want to be governed, and will do all we can to continue to promote discussion and debate in Manchester about all the options available, and then to build consensus on the way forward.


  15.  The City Council has always opposed Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 relating to the "promotion of homosexuality". We believe that this Section is discriminatory and long out-dated, and should be removed.


  16.  We want to be able to develop much stronger accountability in terms of the money we receive, raise and spend. This is a particularly pressing issue in relation to core cities such as Manchester. We have a very high proportion of socially excluded residents on low incomes, who make high demands on our services. Our low tax base means that, notwithstanding our pursuit of Best Value, it is hard for us to deliver this. As the regional centre, we provide services and make investments to the benefit of people and other local economies for beyond the city itself. We have already made the case to Government for greater flexibility in raising revenue, particular in relation to the business rate and the introduction of Business Improvement Districts, and will continue to do so.

  17.  The introduction of an elected Mayor or Assembly for Greater Manchester could also strengthen accountability if a conurbation-wide economic development function was underpinned by county-wide fiscal arrangements.


  18.  The new structure we have introduced will, we believe, succeed in improving services and strengthening accountability. It is, however, a learning process for us all, and we will keep the structure under review to ensure that lessons are learnt. It is vital, therefore, that the forthcoming Act allows sufficient flexibility for us to do this, and to respond effectively to changing circumstances with our partners.

28 May 1999

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