Memorandum by the TUC
The TUC welcomes the publication of the local
Government White Paper Local Leadership, Local Choice and
the Draft Local Government Organisation and Standards Bill.
The TUC supports the Government in its aim to
ensure that all councils provide strong vision and leadership
for their local communities, uphold the highest standards of ethical
behaviour and deliver high quality services to local people.
Many local authorities are already reviewing
how their elected member structures work in response to the new
challenges of community leadership, partnership and Best Value.
The TUC therefore welcomes the publication of the Bill in draft
form as this will encourage local authorities to review their
progress, and will allow councils, employees and their trade unions
to contribute their experience of introducing new structures and
ensuring probity. It is in this spirit of the pursuit of common
aims that the TUC makes the following comments.
The TUC supports proposals for action to improve
the proper representation of local communities by increasing the
number of women councillors and of ethnic minority councillors
The TUC supports measures which would increase
voting in local elections (para 1.18). However, there is a direct
link between local election turnouts and the ability of local
government to control its own revenue. Achieving the full modernisation
of local government will necessarily involve giving more financial
freedom for local government.
4. NEW FORMS
Chapter Three of the White Paper identifies
three broad models which local councils must adopt in the future
a directly elected mayor with a cabinet;
a cabinet with a leader;
a directly elected mayor and council
The aim of these models is to provide strong
leadership for communities and a powerful role for all councillors.
The TUC welcomes the proposal that local people
should be given a choice of constitutions for their local authorities
(para 3.7). However, the TUC considers that local authorities
should also be able to propose their own models to the DETR, as
this would further extend local choice.
The TUC is confident that the three models proposed
in the White Paper have the potential to revitalise democracy
in the best councils. However, there are some elements in the
models which may need further study to ensure that they will always
produce the desired results.
First, the TUC is concerned that the executive:scrutiny
split proposed in these models may concentrate power in the executive
to the extent that scrutiny will be weak in some councils. For
example, scrutiny of decisions which have already been made is
not likely to be very effective. Scrutiny needs to take place
throughout the decision making process.
Second, the proposed models may allow executive
decisions to be made in secret. This would, again, lead to the
concentration of power in a few hands. At the moment, committee
papers must be published a week before decisions are made, giving
time for all councillors and interested members of the public
to bring some influence to bear on the decision makers. Secret
decision making would conflict with the Government's aim of making
local government more open and accountable.
Third, the scrutiny function would need to be
free of the party whip to be effective. This may prove difficult
to achieve since it would clearly be in the interest of any controlling
political party to ensure that their programme is implemented.
Fourth, the TUC believes that the delivery of
a more accountable and more effective local government will rest
on the necessary resources being made available. Whilst the proposals
for new local government forms imply the reduction of existing
committee structures, a proper scrutiny function will only be
achieved if a number of properly resourced new scrutiny committees
The TUC recognises that many local authorities
are modernising their governance arrangements in advance of legislation,
and supports this process. However, the TUC believes that the
Government should take further steps to ensure that the scrutiny
function in the proposed models will be strong enough. The scrutiny
function will need to be strongly integrated into a decision making
process which is based on high quality, comprehensive consultation.
It must also be politically independent from the executive and
it must be properly funded.
5. NEW FORMS
The new local governance models, which include
a scrutiny role for many councillors (para 3.15), will have an
impact on the way in which council employees will be required
to operate. There should be full consultation with the relevant
trade unions about the implications of such changes.
The TUC welcomes the recognition that the emphasis
on direct consultation with local people will generate new demands
on council officers (para 3.87), leading to a need for training,
facilities and officer support. There will also be a need for
all council employees to be trained to maximise the potential
improvements in decision making envisaged in the consultation
paper. Employee involvement in work organisation and improving
service standards, and the developments of user/employee engagement
are vital to achieving the optimal success for local government
modernisation and must therefore be properly resourced.
The organisational models proposed in the White
Paper would significantly change the role of senior officers in
local government in the cases where they would be appointed by,
and responsible to, the executive rather than the whole council.
There is a clear danger that this particular arrangement would
politicise the roles of council officers, lead to conflict between
officers and elected members, and impede the development of the
The TUC is also concerned about the proposal
to allow directly elected mayors a veto (para 3.66). In the worst
case scenario, a mayor who had suffered a dramatic loss of public
support shortly after their election would still be able to veto
popular measures. In our view, this proposal would undermine the
proper accountability of elected mayors between elections.
The TUC supports the proposition that councils
should consult their local communities (para 2.2), including representatives
of the voluntary sector, about how the community is to be governed.
We would suggest that local trade unions should also be consulted
as part of this process.
First, there is a clear need to consult local
authority employees and their trade unions about improving service
standards and work organisation issues. For the Best Value initiative
to produce optimal results, trade unionists who are employed in
local government will need to suggest improvements to local services.
Their ability to do this rests on the development of a high trust
partnership approach by the local authority. The mutual benefits
of the partnership approach in employment relations are well known,
and have been acknowledged by the Government. However, in order
to develop such a relationship, staff must be properly consulted
about all changes in the way that their employer operates, which
clearly includes the changes in governance proposed in Local Leadership,
Local Choice and the Draft Local Government Organisation and Standards
Good consultation with local authority employees
and their trade unions underpins the development of partnership
relationship between the authority and the workforce. The local
government employers' organisation and the local government trade
unions are addressing this issue and are currently discussing
a draft code on employee involvement. Partnership working and
good consultation are supported by frequent face-to-face contact
between the partners. Therefore, it is important that the proposed
restructuring of committees should not reduce the contact between
the trade unions and elected members under the present arrangements.
Such contact is valued by trade union representatives because
it allows the discussion of broader policy issues as well as matters
which directly affect the terms and conditions of the workforce.
Although Joint Consultative Committees (JCC) may soon be superseded
by better partnership mechanisms, it is important that those mechanisms
are actually in place, and that the Code of Employee Involvement
is implemented, before any reduction of the JCC role occurs.
Second, although the role of local government
employees and their trade unions will be crucial in achieving
the best local government possible, local government trade unionists
are only one part of the broader trade union movement. Other trade
unionists are both citizens and consumers of local services in
their own right. We would therefore support the proposal that
the local voluntary sector should be consulted about any changes
to local governance but would suggest that the need to consult
with all the local trade unions should also be formally recognised.
Third, the TUC supports the proposals that councils
will be able to choose the form of consultation that best suits
its needs (paras 2.8, 3.26) and the move towards greater public
involvement in local authority decision making (para 3.22). There
will need to be some mechanism to ensure that local consultation
is of a suitably high quality to lead to genuine engagement with
Fourth, both consultation itself and the subsequent
changes to local governance will need to be supported by new facilities
and support for officers and training for all employees if they
are to produce the best possible results. Consequently, the resource
implications of the changes will need to be fully considered and
appropriate resources will need to be made available.
7. THE DUTY
The TUC supports the proposal for a duty for
local authorities to promote the economic, social and environmental
well-being of their areas (para 1.8). When linked to a high-quality
consultation process, this proposal would allow local initiatives
to flower and has great potential to foster strong leadership
by local authorities.
The TUC welcomes the assurance given in the
appendix to Chapter Four of the White Paper that work is being
carried out on changing the audit and surcharge regimes. We regard
this work as important because the current arrangements may lead
to councillors and officers being punished for making honest attempts
to improve services, and may inhibit the innovation which will
be necessary to make Best Value a success.
The TUC supports the proposals for a new ethical
framework, with the establishment of an Independent Standards
Body to investigate alleged breaches of conduct. The TUC agrees
that local authorities should be able to determine the size, membership
and political composition of their own standards committee (para
The proposed legislation will give enhanced
powers and responsibilities to the monitoring officer. It would
be logical for this post to be a distinct statutory role which
could not be held by the head of the authority's paid service.
The TUC suggests that the planned relationship
between the Standards Board, the Ethical Standards Officer and
the adjudication panel (para 4.18) should be reviewed after a
proper period of time to monitor its effectiveness.
The TUC supports the attainment of the highest
standards of conduct in local government, as indeed it does throughout
public life, and in the corporate, business and voluntary sectors.
To support the achievement of this goal, there must be proper
protection against reprisals for those employees who wish to identify
improper practices in local government and are prepared to submit
their allegations of impropriety in writing (para 4.27).
The White Paper proposes the establishment of
a statutory code of conduct which will cover local government
employees (para 4.37). This code would form part of their contract
of employment. We support plans for a code of conduct and welcome
the acknowledgement in the White Paper that most local government
officers are diligent, honest and committed to providing a thoroughly
professional service to the public.
The code should make the respective roles and
responsibilities for both councillors and officers explicit, and
should protect officers from any conflicts of interest which may
be generated by the new political models.
We note that the Government plans to consult
employers and employees on proposals for a code of conduct. As
local government employees' terms and conditions are negotiated
by the relevant National Joint Council (NJC), formal consultation
should take place in these established fora.
We also note the reference to consultation with
the Local Government Association on the principles that will form
the basis of the national code of conduct (para 4.11). This proposal
is welcome, but it would be useful if the unions which represent
local government workers were also consulted at this stage.
The TUC welcomes proposals to increase the threshold
for politically restricted posts (para 4.38). These proposals
should also be subject to consultation via the relevant NJC.
The TUC also believes that the definition of
political activity should be drawn more narrowly. It is currently
so broad that it prevents officers from becoming involved in many
of the central issues in their communities, thus unduly restricting
their civil liberties.
The TUC would suggest that the Bill on local
authority ethics should also repeal section 28 of the 1988 Local
Government Act. Ministers have given repeated assurances that
section 28 will be repealed when an appropriate opportunity arises
and this Bill offers such an opportunity. Section 28 acts as a
barrier to the development of adequate social, medical and educational
services for lesbians and gay men and it has been shown that the
restriction of services by many local authorities for this section
of the community has been far wider than the terms of the statute
itself as a result of the climate of uncertainty created by the
legislation. It is clearly unethical for local authorities to
continue to be directed by statute to discriminate against a section
of their community.
14. THE BOUNDARIES
The Bill should be clear on how the proposals
for local authorities interrelate with existing legislative framework
for Local Education Authorities (LEAs), to schools, or to school-based
staff. It is not clear from the White Paper whether the proposals
will have an impact on LEAs. The TUC believes that it is essential
that LEAs will continue to have an important role in the future.
Second, it is not clear from the White Paper
whether the Statutory Code of Conduct is intended to apply to
schools where governors have delegated powers, whose staff are
covered by separate legislation and regulations, or indeed if
it would apply to school-based staff in general. It is likely
that the General Teaching Council would want to have an input
into any code of conduct which applies to teachers.
The TUC favours a strong local democracy with
high ethical standards. We therefore support the aims of Local
Leadership, Local Choice and the Draft Organisation and Standards
Bill as part of the broader programme for modernising local government.
The proposals for new forms of local governance
and new mechanisms to ensure high ethical standards will have
a significant impact on local government employees. To ensure
the success of the proposals, local government employees and their
trade unions must be properly consulted about all aspects of change,
using the existing mechanisms for consultation wherever possible.
These changes must be properly funded and all employees must be
properly trained to deal with their new responsibilities.
19 May 1999