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


Memorandum by the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames



  Within the overall context of broadly welcoming the consultation paper and the Government's commitment to revitalising local democracy, the following comments should be noted with respect to the specific proposals of the consultation paper:

Every Council will be required to consult its local community about what new form of political management structure to adopt

  This Council strongly supports consultation as a matter of principle although it has seen no evidence that choice of political management structure is a matter of significant interest to the local public in the borough, even in this area of highly politically articulate citizens; what is of real concern to local people is the funding of services after years of continual reduction of budgets for the public sector and the consequent decline in local public infrastructure and quality of life (parks, streets, public toilets, school buildings, library opening hours etc) and morale of those working in public services.

Government envisages Councils consulting on a range of options

  Although currently there is no real enthusiasm for any of the models proposed and the Council remains to be convinced that the proposed structures will lead to increased openness, transparency and accountability, it is fully prepared to review continually its working methods to ensure cost effectiveness and to innovate in order to maximise the vitality of local democracy. Once legislation is introduced to support cabinet working, it is likely that the Council will consider a Leader and Cabinet model but until then the Council will be retaining a fairly traditional committee structure since there has been a shared cross-party consensus during the year-long review of the committee structure (which this Council had already initiated before the publishing of the White Paper) that the opportunity for cross-party deliberation and examination of issues in a public forum (supported by regulated procedures for ensuring that decision-making is made in the context of the highest standards of reporting by officers) which the committee system provides, is still of value.

Proposals for a directly elected Mayor will have to be endorsed by a binding local referendum

  The Council has no objection to, and in principle supports, the use of referenda on matters of significant public concern.

  If there is to be an elected Mayor, the Mayor should be elected by proportional representation, as is being done for the GLA.

Local people can petition for referendum on whether to move to an elected Mayor model if 5 per cent of the electorate request it

  The Council values the current non-political role of the Mayor as a representative of all citizens in the borough and the symbolism of civic unity and pride which this reflects. The contribution of such Mayors for expressing the Council's interest and care for the work of voluntary organisations and charities, civic societies, young people and the elderly should not be underestimated. The invention of another title for this ceremonial function is likely to lead to considerable inter-borough confusion, in the short term at least.

A Council can continue with its existing traditional political structures only where the electorate has rejected a clear option for a new way of working in a referendum

  See above and the attached summary (Appendix) of the range of measures which this Council is taking to reform its decision-making system and to prepare for the implementation of a political executive system when the legislation to support this is introduced.

Powers for Secretary of State to compel a binding referendum if a Council does not move to a new model or does not put proposals to a referendum

  If concern about corruption is the main reason for this provision, there would seem to be a much wider range of faster, surer, targeted solutions which central government could explore for rooting out particular problems and an equally wide range of school and community-based methods for encouraging healthy local democracy; a full range of such options should be openly considered, preferably within the context of expert analysis of what are the root causes of corruption, especially within the structures of local party administration. The current confusion in the approach to the Porter/Westminster case with regard to the powers of the District Auditor suggests that there are significant aspects of existing auditing legislation which need tackling.

  If the concern is to encourage councillors to be more active, dynamic, creative and effective, again there are a range of more cost effective options, including councillor job/role profiles (as recently introduced in this Council), effective officer support for Ward Members' surgery work and work on outside bodies, training for Members, even customer feedback forms on councillor performance (in the manner of complaints/congratulations forms) which in cases of concern (or excellent performance) could be considered by Standards Committees.

  The argument for proportional representation should again be considered in this context. If local government elections were conducted in accordance with proportional representation the result would be more representative and pluralistic politics, with local councils which more accurately represented their local communities (for example, in terms of gender, age and ethnicity), which is of course a major objective for this Government; it would also increase voter turn-out at elections (another major objective for this Government), since it would provide more incentive to vote in circumstances where currently there may be too many "safe seats".


The emphasis is on finding a form of local governance to provide strong leadership for local communities; the ways of achieving this have been categorised by the Government under three broad models, as set out in the Modern Local Government White Paper

  Please refer to this Council's earlier response to the "Modernising Local Government" paper (addressed to N Easton) for general observations about empowering local government and raising the status of the role of councillors.

Cabinet with a leader (draft provisions limit the size of the Executive to 10 Members or 1 per cent of the number of Councillors whichever is the smaller)

  While it is unlikely that this Council would choose to have a cabinet much larger than this, it seems unduly prescriptive for central government to set the size of "cabinets" for local government.

They provide a clearly identified and separate executive

  The scrutiny role is critical to the success of political executive models of government; it will be valuable for the LGA to take forward the guidance provided in this paper in some detail to ensure commonly agreed approaches to achieving scrutiny committees with sufficient independence which at the same time do not destabilise or immobilise the executive by splitting the cohesion of Majority Groups.

This chapter provides considerable detail on the way the models will operate and the role of the different constituent parts of an authority: the Executive; "overview and scrutiny committees", and the full Council

  Following the presentation by Professor Jones, this Council has some concerns about the scrutiny committee(s) being used as a rival forum for policy formulation and we consider that their role should be limited in the first instance to review of the implementation of policy.

Councils will draw up a proposal for new political management arrangements—"a new constitution"

  Notwithstanding the comments above, this Council considers that it is a valuable development for local authorities to articulate, publicise and consult on their constitutional arrangements.

The Bill sets out a number of key parameters which such a new constitution must meet, but within these, the precise arrangements are a matter of local choice. (Examples of where there will be local discretion include: scope to add to the function of the full Council, or to delegate from it; to determine locally the structure of the overview and scrutiny functions; to design executive arrangements to suit local circumstances)

  The power of veto of the Mayor to delay implementation of Council decisions which he/she believes to be contrary to the manifesto on which he/she was elected until the Council reconsiders the matter at its next meeting is an important power which should perhaps have been referred to in the summary document.

  Access to information—we still have some concerns about how "local people outside the executive" will get "access to information on the decisions which are being taken" (ref para 3.61), especially since there is an exception in paragraph 3.59 for "political advice"—how will this be defined?

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