Examination of Witness (Questions 660
TUESDAY 13 JULY 1999
660. I have two questions. Do you think there
is a problem at the moment with the low turnouts at local elections
and the lack of interest? Is that not what this Bill is supposed
to be addressing? Do you think that the elected mayors will help
with that? If not, why not?
A. There is a problem about low turnout. There
is a problem with low turnout in a large number of elections and
a problem with low turnout in local elections. Sometimes I think
the advocates of elected mayors believe in a piece of magic, wave
this wand and all will go well. I prefer to look at the evidence.
We have tried to assess the evidence and it points both ways.
Clearly turnout in America is lower than in this country so the
elected mayor is not a piece of magic that will automatically
improve turnout. In Israel the turnouts went down. In Italy in
the first elections it went up but Italy approaches compulsory
voting as is pointed out in Local Leadership, Local Choice.
In Hessen turnout went down. I would say that the evidence from
abroad is inconclusive. There is no firm evidence that elected
mayors would have an effect in increasing turnout. My guess would
be that in the first election it probably would because there
would be interest in innovation. It would be rather like the poll
tax election which aroused a lot of interest at that time but
I suspect that after that first election we will be back to roughly
the same turnout as now.
661. What do you think we can do about it then?
A. I think we should do two things about it,
some of which are in the modernising programme. We should make
voting considerably easier to do. There is concrete evidence that
an increase in postal voting does increase turnout. New Zealand
gave every local authority the option of conducting local elections
in their own way or conducting them through the post. At first,
as you can imagine, very few authorities went for the new way.
Now every single authority in New Zealand goes for the new way
and it has increased turnout by 10 to 20 per cent. The second
thing I would urge is an emphasis upon increasing participatory
democracy, involving the public in many ways. Involvement tends
to breed involvement. I am not convinced that changing the structure
of local authorities would in fact make that much difference.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
662. Do you think that any change in the financing
would be an option. In the great days of Birmingham when Chamberlain
was there, they controlled a lot of money and they could transform
the city centre. Would you go for a radical solution of giving
them more control over the finances than they have at present?
A. Of course they did not spend anything like
the amount of money in those days though they raised most of it
themselves, which is your point. The interesting thing of course
is that in those days Birmingham and big cities had in effect
what is the power of general competence. They did not exercise
it in that particular way but through private Bill legislation
that was the way by which Joseph Chamberlain municipalised the
water and gas undertakings and by which his son Neville created
a municipal bank, so in a sense they had a wide-ranging power
which is one of the things it is a matter of regret is not in
the Bill. I feel very strongly that the new duty of community
concern and the powers that go with it should be part of the Bill,
indeed otherwise the Bill ends up being a piece of structure for
its own sake. I believe that structure should follow purpose and
you should state the purpose in the Bill and think about the role
and the way of working. However, I am not certain how it would
affect turnout if you gave local authorities more finance. I am
very much in favour of local government having a much stronger
local financial base. I believe it is about necessary for local
accountability but we do have to face the fact that the turnout
in Britain even in the 1930s when local authorities raised much
more of their income from local taxation was in the 40 per cent
area. There was no golden age of turnout. There probably was in
the Chamberlain period because very few elections were contested
and when they were contested they were contested on a smaller
663. We have already touched on one of the subjects
I wanted to raise with you and that is what has transmuted from
the power of general competence through to the power of community
initiative through to the power of promotion of economic, social
and environmental well-being. You mentioned that you believe that
that should have been in place first, I think it is fair to say.
How do you think such a power would affect the programme and the
ability of an elected mayor to function? Do you think it is important
or do you think it would make no difference?
A. If you take the arguments for an elected
mayor the argument for an elected mayor is that the elected mayor
will be elected by the whole authority and seen as leading the
area. If this approach is to flourish, the mayor is going to have
ideas about things beyond the specific powers of the authority
so I would see a power of community initiative as important. What
is important is that use of that power should be subject to the
council in a way that it is not to be subject in London. The mayor
in London has been given very, very extreme powers without what
you would find in most other countries which is the need to put
the exercise of those powers to the council.
664. So you would define that as policy framework
which I think in the models set out in document is clearly in
the hands of the council?
A. Yes if we are to have a separate executive.
I welcome what is said in Local Leadership, Local Choice
about the role of the council. Many people outside have not realised
that the Government has gone further in defining it in this paper.
The council would have to approve each of the key policy plans,
the council would have to approve the budget and the council would
have to approve any changes in policy from that. I think some
of the opponents would have been more willing to consider a separate
executive if it had actually been made clear that the division
was between the council as the makers of policy and the executive
as advising the council on policy and implementing that policy.
If I go abroad and ask people do you have executivescrutiny
split, they say, "We do not understand what you are saying.
We have the council as the policy-makers on the advice normally
of the cabinet, and the executive carries it out " and that
is a much more understandable split than the one that is being
talked about here. In America the council is called the "legislature",
and for a large part of business it has its own legislative procedure;
they will have a first reading debate on a proposal, refer it
to a committee to appraise it hold public hearings and then bring
it back for a second reading. It is the emphasis on the role of
policy which I think is neglected in some presentations and has
not yet been fully understood in authorities.
665. I am very glad you have emphasised that
point because what actually is on offer is a council that makes
policy, but, shall we say, the side-effect of that is a possible
confusion between what is policy framework, what is implementation,
what is executive action and what is policy itself, ie, the policy
of the daily work of the council. Do you believe that the document
as it stands has sufficiently clarified those different roles
and do you think any work needs to be done on that or will it
come out in the wash?
A. Local Leadership, Local Choice has gone some
way to clarifying that by specifying certain documents that they
regard as policy, although not necessarily saying the content
of them. It is going to be an incredibly difficult matter to define
what is policy. What is policy in a big city is different from
what is policy in a small rural area. I would actually like to
see it come out in the wash. I would like the council to have
the right to call in decisions which they believed were contrary
to the policies of the authority.
666. A supreme court function?
A. A supreme court function, if you like, but
I was not exercising a legal approach.
667. You referred to the role of the back-bench
councillor and the emphasis that has been placed on the scrutiny
role as opposed to other roles. We have heard very little as a
committee about what the new roles of, what I prefer to call,
the community councillors or the non-executive councillors would
be. You have said something about that, but could you say a bit
more about how you see their roles developing, particularly in
the context of the new powers which we hope local government will
have either in this Bill or subsequently?
A. In an article, which I have supplied to the
Clerk, we did suggest about 14 different roles that the back-bench
councillor would play, and I will outline some of them. These
roles will only develop if the legislation and the regulations
made under the legislation are not too prescriptive, and they
allow considerable freedom for councillors to develop new roles.
First of all, the scrutiny role involves a number of different
things and I prefer different words: policy development; appraising
proposals which go to the council, and if that becomes the role
of the councillor, the council are not going to do it just at
a meeting if they are acting properly, but they should have a
procedure to refer it not to a select committee, but to the equivalent
of a standing committee to look at and this is the practice you
find in quite a number of models abroad; advice to the cabinet
or to the mayor, which is one of the functions identified in the
Paper. Councillors could serve on cabinet committees, because
it is clearly envisaged that the cabinet would set up committees
Obviously you would not want somebody to scrutinise the work of
a cabinet committee in developing policy that they had served
on. There are the wide variety of support roles that can be developed,
such as deputies, reference groups of councillors, advisers on
a particular subject. Once we get away from the idea that in order
to give a councillor a job, they have to chair a committee, you
can be very imaginative. For example, the council or the cabinet
might want to appoint a councillor for the disabled whose job
is to make contact with disabled groups outside and to advise
the cabinet and the council upon their needs. In Europe you have
what is known as the rapporteur Where a proposal is coming
forward from the officers, or from the cabinet, a particular councillor
could be appointed to appraise it. There will be a lot of partnership
work developing, and I do not think all that partnership work
can be done by the cabinet, but they will need to involve other
people. Indeed quite a lot of authorities are creating what are
known as civic fora to bring together all the main partners in
the area and they have the opposition represented on them. Birmingham
has the City Pride Board where the opposition sit with members
of the majority party. There are roles as the representative and
here I want to make an important point. The separation of the
executive can become an obsession and carried too far. It is very
common in Europe when you have the centralising effect of the
cabinet or the mayor that at the same time you decentralise a
whole series of local decisions. In Barcelona, for example, which
is much quoted in these debates, there are ten area committees
which spend 20 per cent of the budget. Area committees exercising
executive powers has two effects: one, it actually means that
you know you are not over-burdening the executive with what are
purely local decisions; and, secondly, you are giving a meaning
to the representative role. It is very important that any legislation
does not rule out that possibility. There are authorities at the
moment, like South Somerset, which have already got most of their
work done in area executive committees and it would, I believe,
be tragic if South Somerset were forced to centralise everything.
When I went to Oslo, they had introduced the cabinet system, but
at the same time they had introduced neighbourhood committees
They said they would not have wanted to introduce the neighbourhood
committees without the cabinet because that would have been too
decentralising, and they would not have wanted the cabinet without
the neighbourhood committees because that would have been too
centralising. One of the things I urge on all authorities is the
need to think about the whole authority, not just the cabinet
and the scrutiny.
668. Just following on from that point on the
decentralised structures, can you foresee, with the way the Bill
is structured at the moment, a separation of functions in each
area committee that each committee could continue to operate?
Do you not believe that they would have a valid scrutiny function
and other functions?
A. There is no doubt within the Bill that they
would have a valid scrutiny function. What is uncertain in the
Bill is whether they could have an executive function.
669. I wanted just briefly to cover one of the
models, the elected mayor model, and see if you have any views
about whether or not, if we were to move down the road of elected
mayors, there would be a need to introduce systems of recall as
a counterbalance and if you do, whether there are any particular
models of recall which you particularly favour.
A. If you go for the elected mayor model, I
think it is important that there would be a way of removing them
other than on legal grounds. Clearly there would be a way if they
were guilty of corruption or breaking the national code of conduct,
but it is quite likely we will have some totally incompetent mayors.
We will have some very good mayors and we will have incompetent
mayors, and there has, I believe, to be some way, (not easy to
operate, otherwise it would be used for trivial reasons), to remove
a mayor or to force the mayor to stand for election again and
there are two broad ways of doing it. One is to have the right
of recall which is that a certain percentage of the electorate
can sign a petition requiring that the mayor stand for election
again or that a poll be held as to whether that should actually
happen, and the other alternative is that a special majority of
the council could so move. Unless that provision is made there
it is going to be a unique constitutional provision in this country.
There is no other political position exercising executive power
from which there is no means of removing them. I am not saying
the Prime Minister is often removed but it is in the power of
the House of Commons to pass a vote of no confidence in a Prime
Minister. I think it is very important that there is some safeguard
otherwise you are creating a situation where a bad mayor has an
unchallenged period of office, and the precedents are there in
most countries. The states in Germany that have been introducing
a directly elected mayor have spent quite a lot of time considering
and debating this issue.
Mr Burstow: Would you be able to let us have
some further material after this committee hearing dealing with
670. Cronin's Direct Democracy.
A. Yes Cronin's Direct Democracy which
I can send, if required.
671. I have another question quickly. In the
White Paper published last July In Touch with the People
prior to its publication there was some talk of the possibility
of citizens' initiatives being introduced as one of the elements
within the framework that was being proposed. When the White Paper
was finally published it boiled down basically to citizens to
take the initiative for directly elected mayors. Do you see any
scope for widening that out so that citizens' initiatives in their
genuine form raising all sorts of topics could become the subject
of legislation in this country?
A. It could be. The legislation would have on
the whole to be carefully worked out because it is a question
of whether a citizens' initiative is binding, and how you regulate
it. There is the experience of Switzerland in this. On triggers
for initiatives, because we are talking about initiatives in relation
to a mayor, five per cent is low to trigger an initiative, one
per cent would be ridiculously low. There is one danger about
the trigger mechanism. I do not know if anyone has drawn it to
your attention but in one or two of the authorities I have visited
there is deep concern amongst the council that the mayoral election
would be triggered not because anyone necessarily wanted an elected
mayor but as part of a campaign against the authority. One authority
has got a pressure group about town centre development and they
have already heard that if the group do not get their way on this
they have said they will trigger an elected mayor referendum particularly
if it is a very small percentage. There is a danger if the trigger
is not high enough that it can be used for all sorts of purposes
not related to directly elected mayors.
672. Finally, with the referendum procedures
set out in the document who should set the question on the elected
A. Questions on elected mayors are a very interesting
issue about MORI polls as well. Clearly, if we had an Electoral
Commission, which has been proposed, then I believe that it should
set the question. I do not believe the Government should set question
for the same reason that they argue local authorities should not
set the question. The Government have a view on this and they
are an interested party. I believe ideally it should be the Electoral
Commission and attempts should be made to set up an independent
commission in the meanwhile the Electoral Commission has not come
Mr Pike: Can I just say if you did feel in response
to Mr Burstow you would send in some information it is an extremely
tight time schedule because we start to look at our report on
Thursday afternoon this week and the intention, the target is
to finish the report two weeks today so it is an extremely tight
time schedule. Baroness Hamwee?
Baroness Hamwee: I have three questions but
if the Chairman would prefer me to leave one until later to give
everyone a chance, I will do that.
Mr Pike: Take all three.
673. Thank you. Could I say now that if I walk
out immediately after you have answered it is nothing to do with
your answer but my pager has just gone off. You talked about area
committees and form following function. Would you make similar
pointsI am thinking again about Somersetabout the
partnership that has been developed there between the district
and the county where I know there is a concern that they may be
precluded by the Bill from continuing in the same sort of fashion?
A. I would make exactly the same point about
674. Thank you.
A. A general point. All sorts of experiments
are taking place and it is very important that the Bill does not
kill off experiments at a time when we are trying to encourage
675. Absolutely, thank you. The second question,
you have talked about the different progress that has been made
in different authorities in taking forward models. I do not want
this question to sound disloyal on my part to local government,
but I can see that some authorities may be struggling and may
in the future struggle. Is there an argument for working up detailed
models, best practice and so on and, if there is, how should that
relate to legislation? Should it be something which is quite apart
A. Yes and no or no and yes. No, there should
not be best practice because I do not believe there is best practice.
I believe there is a variety of practices some of which suits
some authorities more than others. But yes there should be more
knowledge of what different local authorities are doing. I do
not think it requires legislation. I think the LGA and IDA are
already engaged in that. We have been commissioned by the IDA
and DETR to carry out an evaluation of six of these authorities
and that of course will be published as well. There is a lot of
information about on developing practice.
676. So could you extend that argument to, if
you like, the models in the Bill and say that as long as the local
authority meets particular minimum criteria then it should be
free to work up the thing?
A. I would agree. If options are to remain I
would actually want to issue options as well. I would want an
option that actually showed how an area executive system could
be made to fit within this approach. I believe the LGA have been
working on such a possibility. I also think that there is a case
for another option if only to demonstrate other options are possibleand
it is the least popular of the options partly because it is misunderstooda
council manager option but without a directly elected mayor. In
America authorities have the choice of the two. They either have
an indirectly elected mayor or in effect a leader of the authority
with the council manager. That was the original council manager
system. I think the combination of party system and directly elected
mayor with council manager is a very confusing one because directly
elected mayor will not have executive powers under that model.
If they cannot command a majority on the council they are in a
very strange position, a much more acute position than a directly
elected mayor who is an executive. If I were a council manager
I would be more concerned about the leader of the council than
the directly elected mayor. We are taking a model from America
and New Zealand where party systems are undeveloped as compared
to ours. I think there is a case for looking at the council manager
system with a leader and a cabinet. Interestingly, although people
have not liked it because the phrase puts people off, it sounds
as though you are appointing somebody to manage the council, it
is the one that is actuallyand this is not an argument
for it necessarilyclosest to our present system. There
is a separation but it is not executive separation so much; it
is a separation of the administration. The council manager runs
Earl of Carnarvon
677. The problem with going round the room,
which we have always done, is that sometimes you cannot follow
a question through when someone else has thought of a very good
point as Lady Hamwee has and the answer Professor Stewart gave.
It is entirely the relationship between the council manager and
the chief executive officer which people generally get extremely
muddled about. If you have a council manager, the council manager
is in effect chief executive. He is a paid officer.
A. Yes, he is a paid officer.
678. Who is his boss?
A. The council.
Earl of Carnarvon: Who is the boss of the council?
679. The electorate!
A. I take that answer. If I can just explain
one characteristic of it, in the council manager model, the council
employs one individual. The council employs the council manager
and the council manager employs all the other staff, but the council
manager carries out what the council actually decides on.