Memorandum by the London Borough of Sutton
Sutton Council pride themselves on the mechanisms
it has already put in place to encourage local decision making
and fairness and transparency in the way it conducts its business.
Sutton has four Area Committees where local residents are able
to speak. It has a Monitoring and Scrutiny Sub-Committee which
challenges the way services are provided. It has a requisitioning
process whereby any four Members or a quarter of the members of
the committee or sub-committee concerned can requisition any decision
made. Sutton Council also has a system whereby the choice of order
of business in a Council Meeting is rotated between the three
political parties. It has a relatively small number of Committees
in relation to many Authorities and Sutton believes that the proposals
contained in the Consultation Paper will not necessarily speed
up decision making or transparency. This response has the agreement
of all parties apart from where it relates to the Chairing of
Scrutiny Committees. The Conservative Group believe that any scrutiny
committees should be chaired by the opposition. The Labour Group
believe that some Scrutiny Committees should be chaired by the
Opposition. Sutton has not made any firm decision on this point.
Sutton Council is strongly committed to consulting
the local community on a wide range of issues and is preparing
to consult on a series of models for a new political management
structure in May 1999. The Council believes, however, that how,
when and on what the community is consulted should be a matter
for local councillors.
The Council is concerned about the lower threshold
to trigger a referendum for an elected mayor and believes that
this should be reviewed whilst accepting some right of Citizen's
Initiative with regard to the calling of referendums on a defined
range of subject with perhaps a petition trigger threshold similar
to the 20 per cent figure used for grammar school ballots. Sutton
does not believe it is necessary or desirable for the Secretary
of State to have the power to compel a binding referendum if a
council does not move to a new model or does not put proposals
to a referendum. It believes the Secretary of State should instead
trust local residents to decide whether there is a need for change.
The Council has no objections to the Government
having a view about how Local Government should be organised.
It does, however, firmly believe that the type and style of the
political management structure should be a matter for local councils
to work out with their communities within a broad legal framework.
It strongly objects to the narrow number and prescriptive nature
of the options that the Government is proposing.
Sutton is already considering a number of the
proposals set out in the consultation document. In particular
the Council is attracted to the notion of:
the executive functions being split
from the overview and scrutiny roles;
the existence of a "cabinet"
chaired by the Leader of the Council;
the need for transparency and local
accountability in decision making;
considering ways of ensuring greater
involvement by the community in the running of the Council.
However, the Council has the following comments
in relation to other aspects of the Consultation Document:
It does not believe that greater
accountability can only be achieved by the three models outlined
in the Government's White Paper "Modern Local Government:
In Touch with the People".
Sutton does not believe that the
three models in themselves will achieve transparency and greater
It also objects to the proposal that
the "cabinet" should be composed only of Councillors
from the Administration. Among other proposals, Sutton is going
to consult the community on the proposition that all three political
parties should be represented in the "cabinet" according
Sutton urges the Government to allow
Authorities the freedom to have all parties represented on the
Cabinet. It is also important to acknowledge that there are Authorities
where genuine inter-party debate is a culture which ought not
to be stifled.
The Council is disappointed that
the Government has not given any clear lead on setting up Area
Committees. Sutton has had four Area Sub-Committees in operation
for three years and is proposing to include them in its new model
of political management. Area Committees perform a valuable function
because they have powers to take decisions at a local level. Any
model the Government finally decides should encourage local decision
The Council strongly opposes the
notion that the Government should prescribe the number of Councillors
sitting in the "cabinet". It believes that this is a
matter for local choice.
The Government has made it very clear
that it wants Councils to adopt the models incorporating an elected
Mayor. The Council is concerned about the potential dangers associated
with the concentration of power in the hands of an elected Mayor.
Where Councils do adopt such a model, the Government should ensure
that there are adequate safeguards to prevent abuse of power.
Sutton believes that elected Mayors may be more appropriate for
big "city" authorities rather than smaller suburban
or rural boroughs.
For Authorities that have a large
number of Committees, the proposal will streamline the process.
For Authorities like Sutton who deal with a number of matters
through Panels, Forums, Working Parties etc, this will not speed
up decision making. On the contrary, Sutton believes there may
be a requirement for more meetings and more Officer support. Sutton
recognises that the proposals imply greater delegation to officers
and again, Sutton is not convinced that this will lead to more
Sutton Council have high expectations of both
their officers and Members in respect of their conduct. It has
already adopted a Sutton Code of Conduct for Members and a Code
of Conduct for Employees. Sutton believes that the content of
the Code should be a matter for individual Councils and that the
Government should not be too prescriptive on what they will require.
Sutton have already set up a Standards Committee.
It believes that the membership of that Committee should be a
matter for Local Councils to decide. Sutton's Committee is currently
made up of the Leaders from the three parties.
The relationship between the Standards Board,
the Ombudsman and the Council's External Auditors is not clarified.
Sutton believes thought should be given to the potential overlap
of roles. Clear guidance should be given on who will be responsible
Sutton believes that most Local Authorities
have high ethical standards. It believes that setting up of Standards
Boards, the appointment of Ethical Standards Officers and the
appointment of an Adjudication Panel are unduly complex and bureaucratic
and don't make for speedy decision making in an area where it
is very important. The whole process smacks of the twin tracing
requirements arising from the Widdecombe Report. The machinery
set up to deal with appeals or requests for dispensation has not
been widely used. The responsibilities for reporting and investigation
could be given to Councils' External Auditors or Ombudsman.
The powers of suspension with an appeal to the
High Court are draconian, potentially very expensive and liable
to delay. Thought needs to be given to how the local residents
will be represented during any suspension period. Disqualification
allows for replacement, whereas suspension doesn't.
29 April 1999