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


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 (para 1.17).


  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.


  Chapter Three of the White Paper identifies three broad models which local councils must adopt in the future (para 3.4):

    —  a directly elected mayor with a cabinet;

    —  a cabinet with a leader;

    —  a directly elected mayor and council manager.

  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 are formed.

  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.


  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 scrutiny function.

  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 Bill.

  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 those consulted.

  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.


  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 4.17).

  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.


  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

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