Memorandum by Rochdale Metropolitan Borough
SECTION 1: LOCAL GOVERNANCE SUMMARY
Rochdale Council welcomes the Government's proposals
to enhance the community leadership role of Local Authorities.
However, we have concerns about several aspects of those proposals,
1. The legislation needs to recognise that
the key responsibilities of the Executive may not be same for
2. Councils should be free to determine
whether the Executive is politically balanced or one party and
the maximum size of the Executive should be increased if it is
to be politically balanced.
3. Meetings of the Executive should be held
in public (except in relation to exempt items).
4. Maximum flexibility needs to be available
to Councils in determining its proposals for the scrutiny function.
1. Historical Background
Rochdale MBC was formed in 1974 as a result
of the amalgamation of the County Borough of Rochdale, the two
Borough Councils of Middleton and Heywood and the three Urban
District Councils of Littleborough, Milnrow and Wardle. The separate
identity of the local communities living within those historic
local government units is extremely marked, and has a much greater
significance in the Borough than in other, outwardly similar metropolitan
Reflecting those strong feelings of commitment
to local communities all political parties on the Council have
been working for the last 10 years on the development of a devolved
decision taking structure for the Council. In 1992 four Township
Committees were established (Heywood, Middleton, Rochdale and
Pennines). Each one comprises all the Councillors representing
wards in the Township. Two Townships are Labour controlled, one
is Liberal Democrat controlled, and in one there is no overall
control with Councillors from three political parties. The overall
approach to maximising public involvement via Townships and devolving
power is called "Community Partnership". The Township
Committees have been a great success. Gradually more and more
decision taking powers have been devolved to them (for example
90 per cent of all planning applications are determined at Township
Township Open Forums are held at the start
of each meeting and regularly attract significant numbers of the
public who ask questions, raise issues or just listen. Public
involvement in the Townships is extensive and achieved by individuals
and groups taking part in Township Working Groups dealing with
particular issues (eg Environment, Children and Young People,
Housing). There is also good local media interest.
Recently Township Committees have begun to take
a leading role in proposing of bids for capital and revenue spending,
taking over this role from service committees of the Council.
At Township level Members of the Council have
started to participate in service review monitoring, which will
ultimately form part of the Council's Best Value framework.
It can be seen therefore that in this Borough
the role of a Councillor as a Township representative is regarded
as fundamentally important.
3. Political Balance
Since 1974 the Authority has experienced a change
of political control on seven occasions. Administrations have
In this context it has been important for the political parties
on the Council to adopt a process of decision taking which is
(relative to other "similar" authorities) more open
and participative particularly in relation to key priorities such
as Regeneration and developing Community Partnership.
There are clear political and policy differences between
the political parties but as far as possible a shared vision is
pursued, focused around the Council's six corporate challenges.
This enables the authority to present a unified face to important
outside bodies and partners within the Borough which is essential
to its credibility and to secure access to external funds.
4. Changing Political Management Framework
Prior to the publication of the White Paper "Modern
Local Government" the Council was already progressing a change
to its structure. Service committees had been substantially reduced
in size and it was intended to move towards making Township Committees
the focal point of the Council with service committees being discontinued.
This process has been overtaken by the White Paper and a
new structure has been developed with involvement and support
of all political parties, which will be introduced in May 1999.
This new framework blends the devolved Township framework with
the modernising aspects of the Government's proposals. Hence it
involves a small Executive (10 members), a Policy Committee, Township
Committees and a series of Policy and Review Panels in which all
Members of the Council are enabled to play a role in both the
development of policy and the review of performance. It should
be noted that the option of an Elected Mayor for Rochdale Borough
has not found favour with any political party and would be unlikely
to be popular with the Borough's residents because a substantial
proportion of them have a very limited affinity to "Rochdale"
as an entity, preferring to regard themselves as citizens of their
Township. Appendix 1 indicates the form of our new framework together
with a note as to the responsibilities of each part of the structure.
The reason for this submission to the LGA hearings in relation
to the consultation paper "Local Leadership, Local Choice"
is our concern that the Government's proposals for legislation
may not allow us sufficient flexibility to pursue our modernising
and devolving agenda which is uniquely tailored to our Borough.
B. POINTS OF
CONCERN1. Executive to
Lead on Policy Development
The consultation paper emphasises the lead role of the Executive
in the preparation of plans and strategies. Whilst it is obvious
that the Executive should play a co-ordinating role in developing
plans and strategies, Rochdale MBC is concerned that all Members
of the Council should have an important role in leading their
development. Under our structure all Members will participate
in a Policy and Review Panel for one of nine cross-cutting policy
areas (eg Regeneration, Social Inclusion). Each of these Panels
will be politically balanced.
Members will bring a wide perspective to these Panels by
virtue of their Township representative role, thus consolidating
the bond of trust between the community and those who represent
A "Lead Member" will Chair each Panel, who may
or may not be a member of the Executive. These Panels will be
responsible for developing plans and strategies in consultation
with interested groups and residents of the Borough. We find it
difficult to believe that an Executive of only 10 Members (with
in our case at least four opposition Members) could possibly handle
being the "lead" of all the Council's plans and strategies.
If consultation and involvement of partners and public is to be
real and meaningful a much greater level of Councillor involvement
will be essential.
2. Executive to be the focus for forming Partnerships
Again, our concern is that this crucial area of work is identified
as the exclusive responsibility of the Executive. This would be
an impossibility in Rochdale MBC with (currently) six controlling
group Executive Members. This role could not be successfully achieved
given the large number of successful and developing partnerships
in which we are involved. Our structure enables the Policy and
Review Panels to take this lead role, with the "Lead Member"
(Chair) taking a particular responsibility. The Panels will include,
in many cases, representatives of partner organisations.
We are keen to ensure that legislation does not prevent this
Council adopting this sort of approach. There needs to be a recognition
that it may not be appropriate for the Executive to operate in
a similar way, with exactly the same responsibilities, in every
3. Political Balance on the Executive
The consultation paper indicates that the Executive "would
not normally reflect the political balance of the authority but
be formed by the majority party".
In this authority Members may wish to continue the arrangements
determined for 1999-2000 which is to have a politically balanced
Executive. As explained in Section A of this paper, the successful
operation of a Council which changes control from time to time
may well require different arrangements for those with a permanently
dominant party. Although the Council has not yet decided whether
it would prefer a politically balanced or one party Executive
once the legislation is in place, it would definitely wish the
option to be available to reflect the different circumstances
which can occur in an authority like this one.
It should also be noted that, with a politically balanced
Executive the restriction on its size (nine in Rochdale's case)
may cause difficulties.
Councils should be free to determine whether the Executive
is politically balanced or one party and the maximum size should
be increased where an Executive is politically balanced.
4. Open GovernmentProposal that the Executive should
be held in private
The consultation paper appears to suggest that the Executive
will be held in private. This appears to be contrary to the growing
expectation of openness and transparency in the decision taking
The paper suggests that all the factual and background papers
and officers' advice would be public information which makes the
proposal for a closed meeting rather strange. Paragraph 3.61 suggests
that the Executive "must be able to determine its political
view on an issue and weigh that in private against the other relevant
factors in the decision" but does not explain why that is
so. Certainly in this Borough secret meetings of the Executive
would be regarded by the press, our partners and the public as
rather inconsistent with our stated policy (and practice) of involving
them as much as possible in decision taking.
This Council believes that the Executive should be held in
public (except in relation to the usual exempt items).
5. Requirement for Overview and Scrutiny Committees
The consultation paper suggests that there will be a requirement
for "overview and scrutiny Committee(s)". As explained
above, our new structure which involves political balance on all
committees and panels and involves all Members of the Council
on a Policy and Review Panel and a Township Committee makes the
need for formal scrutiny much less obvious. Both the Policy and
Review Panels and Township Committees will be scrutinising performance
as part of their remit.
One possibility would be for us to make the Policy and Review
Panels the "overview and scrutiny" committees. However,
the consultation paper proposes that members of the Executive
would be unable to participate in "overview and scrutiny"
committees. This would therefore prevent leading Members from
being involved in the Policy and Review Panels.
There is a limit to the number of experienced Councillors,
with time available, to take part in Council activity. Strict
demarcation will make the new proposals unworkable.
Maximum flexibility needs to be available to Councils in
determining its proposals for the scrutiny function.
The Central Government model of backbencher, select committee
and executive/cabinet cannot successfully be applied, in all cases,
directly to Local Government with its varied geography, political
differences and local circumstances. In Rochdale we believe we
have bridged the democratic gap inherent in the separation of
roles model, by ensuring that all Councillors have a Township
Committee role as well as a Policy and Review one, with the opportunity
to have an Executive role.
As far as local people and communities are concerned this
is what makes for openness, transparency and clarity in the democratic
SECTION 2: THE
1. With regard to the Government's proposals to establish
a new regulatory framework, the intention to provide clarity and
consistency of the rules and responsibilities of Councillors is
welcomed. The full implications of the proposals will only become
clear when the proposed National Code and the legislation for
the new offence of Misuse of Public Office are published.
2. It is important that the welcomed abolition of surcharge,
which is linked to the introduction of this new offence, happens
as soon as possible.
3. It is also important that there is a national Code
of Conduct for Councillors and employees. This will ensure national
consistency and enable both Members and Officers to be given consistent
4. It is noted that the Council's Standards Committee
must have at least three Members, one of whom should be independent
of the Council. Not more than one should be an Executive member.
This could prevent, however, leading members of the minority parties
being represented on the Standards Committee. It is therefore,
suggested that the Standards Committee should include a representative
of all parties of the Council.
5. The Standards Board will have an important role. It
is important that investigations are carried out under the rules
of natural justice and the rights of those under investigation
protected. The relationship between the Standards Board, the District
Audit, the Police and the Ombudsman also needs to be made clear
in relation to complaints about Members of the Council.
6. The Government is also requested to ensure that the
rules and procedures relating to Standards Committees and Standards
Boards are kept simple, and are not costly to administer. It would
be a great pity if significant sums of public money were to be
devoted to a complex new ethical standards framework, the result
of which would probably be to incur large legal costs for those
involved in the process. In effect, the framework established
should be proportional to the problem which is not large.
2 June 1999