Memorandum by South East Employers
South East Employers represents local authorities
in the south east of England in their role as employers of very
significant numbers of local government staff. We also provide
councils with a range of employee and councillor development services.
The following comments on the draft Bill reflect
our role as an employers' organisation. However, as an organisation
which works across all elements of the human resource function,
we have also made some general comments on the organisational
feasibility of some of the proposals in the Bill.
With regard to employment issues, we feel that
the Government will need to address the following points:
1. Where councils opt for an elected mayor,
more thought needs to be given to the mayor's status with regard
to employment law issues. The mayor should not be an "employee"
of the council, but since the mayor will be a paid worker, how
will issues such as pension advice, sick pay, taxation, health
and safety etc be addressed?
2. Whilst we support the proposal that remuneration
for mayors will be pensionable, it would be undesirable, for both
actuarial and ethical reasons, to allow mayors to join the LGPS.
An alternative scheme for mayors should therefore be in place,
and this needs to be easy to join and administer.
3. It might be helpful to have clearer expectations
of when an elected mayor is expected to be "on duty"
or available to residents and senior managers, with some disqualification
sanction for failure to meet these expectationsnot just
the sanction of the next mayoral election. Will there be an enforceable
"Code of Performance" for mayors? Who would take action
to enforce thiseg could breaches be reported to the Standards
4. Notwithstanding the comments in paragraphs
3.55 and 3.56 of Local Leadership, Local Choice, we can envisage
that, often, a change of elected mayor will lead the council to
wish to terminate the employment of the manager and/or associated
senior employment. This will often be on "political"
compatibility, and may not accord well with current statute on
unfair dismissalespecially if the current Employment Relations
Bill removes the ability to include unfair dismissal waivers in
fixed term contracts. In our opinion, the Organisation and Standards
Bill should include specific provisions for the dismissal of the
mayor and his/her senior staff (or the use of fixed term contracts)
which can be applied alongside other statutes. This will need
to be accompanied by a decent compensation scheme for those who
are dismissed in these circumstances. The danger otherwise is
that insecurity in employment will lead to a dearth of good calibre
5. We welcome the intention to reduce the
number and level of posts to which political restrictions apply,
especially as we can see possible conflict between the current
rules and forthcoming Human Rights legislation. In our view, political
restrictions should apply to Chief Officers, Cabinet/Executive
advisers and those providing policy advice either to the scrutiny
committee or full council.
6. Generally we also welcome the concept
that elected members should not be involved in appointments below
Chief Officer and Deputy level. However, there may occasionally
be posts below this level where members have a legitimate interest
in the appointment (eg Members Services Officers). It would be
better to have a "special dispensation" for this type
of appointment rather than to have members attempting to influence
the appointment in a "behind the scenes" way.
7. We welcome the idea of a statutory code
of conduct for employees in principle, but the detailed wording
and application of such a code is a complex issue, on which we
would expect full consultation at a later stage, before any code
The employee and councillor development implications
of new decision making structures are obvious, but this does not
make it any less important that they should be addressed. In particular.
There is no real tradition of councillors
specialising in particular roles or quasi-ministerial portfolios.
All elected members are currently "generalists" and
cover executive, representative and scrutiny roles, and often
move between these roles. This flexibility has some virtues and
it may be that both the residents and Councillors in certain Councils
prefer to retain this, but the new structures required by the
Bill seem to preclude this.
If we accept that the new models
will be introduced, much work needs to be done, therefore, to
prepare them for effective discharge of new, more specialist roles,
including the role of mayor itself if that option is chosen.
Given that members will still be
elected on four year terms, time to prepare them for new roles
post-election will be very limited. One option would be to prepare
candidates for their potential roles as councillors, although
this may be difficult to fund, and would mean that many candidates
were trained unnecessarily. A better option would be intensive
post-election training, but more work is needed on the detail
Looking at the expectations of an
elected mayor as a representative of the Council's residents,
we doubt whether it is feasible to expect a single person to meet
these in large, geographically diverse areas, which may encompass
two or more towns of similar size and some distance apart.
Care will need to be taken that,
at member level, the relationship between executive and scrutiny
members does not become damagingly adversarial. Again it will
be important to put in place appropriate Councillor learning and
development to avoid the potential pitfalls.
From an officer perspective, the
new decision making models will radically alter the interface
with elected members. Having "executive" and "scrutiny"'
members could change the important tradition of advising and informing
members impartially, regardless of their status. There are bound
to be tensions between an officer's responsibility to the executive
and to members of the scrutiny committee and much careful thought
will need to be given to new relationships and protocols for behaviour
between officers and committees, with officers needing training
in this area to help them adjust.
There is a danger that those officers
who work most closely with the executive could become politicised
to the degree where other officers see them as agents of the ruling
Officers in Councils which are prone
to political change could well become over-cautious in the way
they advise the current executive, so as to avoid putting themselves
in a vulnerable position when an executive with different politics
The above points lead us to question whether
the government has paid enough attention to the simultaneous impact
of Best Value, new decision making methods, as well as new ways
of consulting and working with the community. Local government
has a good track record on absorbing and coping with continuous
change, but an expectation that the whole "Modern Local Government"
agenda can be created within a very short period may prove unrealistic,
and may deflect the aim of revitalising local governance. Furthermore,
this Bill is one of a plethora of measures introducing requirements
to consult local residents within the next few yearsthere
is a danger that an overload of consultation will alienate rather
than involve the public. There is an issue over whether, in any
case, the decision making structures proposed in the Bill will
offer a real and discernible difference from current structures
to the ordinary resident and voter.
Finally, as an organisation which is very close
to the human resource function in local authorities, we would
question some of the organisational assumptions which seem to
be behind the Bill:
We would question the assumption
that the proposed new decision making models will streamline processes,
cut bureaucracy and reduce paper etc. Having both executive and
scrutiny committees, both able to call for reports and demand
officer attendance may, in fact, increase the amount of resources
spent in servicing and advising the decision making process. Officers
may also have to spend time and resources dealing with conflict
between the executive and scrutiny arms of the council. Support
will be needed for the development of the many panels and focus
We are concerned that, if the executive
chooses to meet in private, decisions taken in a closed "cabinet"
will not help accountability or transparency. It may not be clear
to employees or the public who, within the cabinet set up, is
responsible for taking a particular decision (cp the clear schemes
of delegation which councils currently have). This could mean
that the scrutiny process is diverted to tracking down who is
responsible for a decision (ie a witch hunt) rather than looking
at the decision itself. Employee morale is likely to suffer if
it is not clear who is making decisions. One option would be a
requirement for executives to meet in public, but with a facility
for "Part 2" items, as with Committees at present.
There is no mention about the involvement
and/or control by the party group system, nor of how the executive
will relate to party political groupings in a hung Council; some
guidance on how executives should be formed when no single party
has control will be important.
It would be helpful to have a clear
statement on the role which scrutiny committees are expected to
play within the performance review process under Best Value. We
understand that some Councils have already looked at developing
a positive role for such Committees in this context.
We are concerned that the role of
Council manager in particular could be seen as less attractive
and rewarding than the current role of Chief Executive, as this
role appears primarily administrativeagain this could adversely
affect the calibre of future applicants for Council manager posts.
Our knowledge of the decision making
process in over 70 councils leads us to think that the three decision
making models put forward in the Bill are too restrictive. Many
councils in our region have begun successful experiments with
other types of decision making modelseg area based committees,
and more work is needed on how these can be made compatible with
the three options in the new arrangements. Whilst the three models
may be viable for unitary, urban councils with one-party control,
more thought needs to be given to processes which will work in
large, rural authorities (eg in shire county areas), especially
where no one party has control.
We hope the above comments will help to refine
thinking on the provisions contained in the Bill.
Finally, we must protest at the very short consultation
period allowed on the Bill, especially with both Easter and the
local elections falling in the consultation period. With this
in mind, we hope that there will be further consultation at appropriate
stages on the detailed elements which make up the Bill.
21 May 1999