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The old committee system was not wonderful in all places. In some places it worked very well and in otherssuch as Lancashire County Council, of which I used to be a memberit was not all that good. But a huge amount of scrutiny took place. That was the function. Far better scrutiny took place under that old system than takes place in the artificial, manufactured way in which overview and scrutiny committees work nowadays.
I am not saying that all the new arrangements are bad and that they do not work in many places. They do. We are saying that people should be given the choice to do what is best for their council in their circumstances and to evolve the structures that they want. If the Government really believe in letting go, that is what they have to do.
Baroness Andrews: This has been an important debate as Clause 62 is part of the main architecture of the Bill. I am grateful for all the contributions. I was particularly struck by the excursion of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, into some of the wider issues, because he was exploring, in different ways, some of the tensions between leadership and scrutiny. We shall talk about some of those issues on later amendments.
Clause 62 provides for changes to the executive arrangements that local authorities in England can adopt. It does that by amending Section 11 of the Local Government Act 2000. The three executive models that we propose will be set out in the Bill. I hope to meet the challenge that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, raised about providing evidence, not assertion, on why leadership is important and why we have chosen this route.
Amendments Nos. 113, 113A, 121A and 126 all have the same effect, which is to reject that route and, in different ways, to seek to maintain the status quo, enabling any council, regardless of size of type, to operate any form of governance arrangements as they see fit, including alternative arrangements or other arrangements which do not involve any form of executive.
I shall try to explain our thoughts on Amendment No. 125 to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when I reach that point. Briefly, as I understand it, it seeks to preserve for England the option of all members of the executive being elected to the council, but I shall have a slightly longer answer to give on that. I shall not reiterate what the amendments seek to achieve but will move on to the debate about the system of governance that we are proposing.
The first thing that we can all agree on is that the challenges facing local councils are different from what they were five or 10 years ago. It is not just that the pressures are intensifying or that resources have to be spread wider. As was summed up in the Lyons report, councils are no longer just agents of service delivery. What Lyons said, and what the councils themselves are saying, is that there is more to the local council than simply ensuring that schools are good, hospitals thrive and the streets are clean. It is not just about meeting new challenges that we could not have envisaged 10 years ago, such as climate change, mitigation and anticipation, and all the changes that they imply, or the pressures of ageing. It is about the role of the council in envisaging and developing the shape of the place. It is a good phrase because, although it is slightly elliptical, we all know what the making and shaping of a place means. It is a broader vision that requires different sorts of leadership. In order to underpin this change of culture, about which my noble friend who is not in his place was talking and which we set
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As we stated in our White Paper:
Places need clear vision and strong leadership to deal with constantly changing economic, social, environmental, and cohesion challenges.
The New Council Constitutions:Findings from the 2005 ELG Sample Survey showed that the arrangements that were introduced by the 2000 Act support visible and effective leadership. It was an independent report that was updated in June. It showed that since 2000 there have been changes. Councils have taken on the new freedoms. There are three sets of new freedoms. Some have taken on all of them and others have made cautious progress. Nevertheless, there has been a shift towards more concentrated leadership. The final report of the Long-term Evaluation of the Best Value Regime showed clearly that leadership is the most significant driver of change and improvement in local authorities.
That is one set of evidence, but we also have another very recent set of evidence. At Second Reading, we published a report, Does Leadership Matter. It was a thorough academic report undertaken by the same research team led by Professor Gerry Stoker. The evidence is very comprehensive but it boils down to this:
There is general agreement that the aim of enhancing effective leadership has been met and that the new executive arrangements have bedded down well, thus providing more visible and effective leadership and quicker decision-making which is in turn associated with better service delivery ... Taken together, our findings show a consistent relationship between on the one hand, authorities with a stable political leadership and authorities that have over a period of time given the full range of powers to their leaders and, on the other hand a better service performance and greater citizen satisfaction.
On the one hand we have the challenge of doing things differently because we need to, but we also have the evidence that building on what came in 2000 is a movement for a greater concentration of power. That is the direction of travel and the evidence suggests that it is working.
We believe that the key to success in local government is strong and accountable leadership. We have come forward with what we think is necessary. All the surveys of stakeholders, councillors and officials demonstrate four things: the new arrangements show that decision-making is quicker; the role of the leader has become stronger; the leader of the council has a higher public profile; and the councils relations with partners have improved.
We are in no way pushing the mayoral model to the exclusion of the other three set out in Clause 62, but the mayoral models are perceived to be out-performing the non-mayoral authorities when it comes to effective local leadership. They get higher marks across a whole series of criteria. They also get higher overall approval ratings. More than 50 per cent of councillors and nearly 75 per cent of officers also believe that under the new arrangements the executive has become more effective in articulating a vision.
I would not dispute that the best leaders can be successful in any system, but the executive governance arrangements that we have set out are most likely to
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Noble Lords have spoken with great eloquence, but with a little scepticism too, about the old committee system. It found few friends. Even Simon Milton has been quoted as being critical of the system and saying we would not want to return to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that it was not perfect. From reading the deliberations in another place and from what people said, it was virtually invisible to most people. Nobody knew who were on these committees. When I was working in the voluntary sector it was extremely hard to find out whom one should approach and how, or what the process was.
Lord Greaves: Perhaps I may invite the noble Baroness to have discussions with her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who was chairman of the education committee of Lancashire County Council. She was one of the best known politicians in the county; she had a presence and was highly respected throughout the county. I give that as one extremely good example, but what the Minister is saying is not actually true.
Baroness Andrews: If we had had a Labour council and Josie Farrington in East Sussex things might have been very different. She is an outstanding example.
Very few people knew what the remit of the committees was. In the other place, a whole raft of arguments was given from first-hand experience about the obstructive nature of some of the committees and the obscure nature of some of the work. I do not want to denigrate the committees, nor, God forbid, the people who served on them, because they worked very well over many years. But the 2000 Act recognised that things had to change. The noble Lord seemed to suggest that they worked better for smaller authoritiesthe fewer than 85,000than for larger authorities where there was a bigger challenge. We began to explore the tension between leadership and scrutiny. That is the balance expressed in the White Paper and the Bill. Yes, we have to have stronger leadership, but we also have to have greater powers of scrutiny. This is an opportunity for the ward councillors now to develop their own profile in a way that has not been possible before. We shall come to the role of the overview and scrutiny committees and the community calls for action, and so on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that the committee system brought on trained people but I fail to see why that cannot be developed under the existing and future system. Many of the overview and scrutiny committees themselves are turning into policy and development committees as they review the work of the council. As my noble friend said, it feeds ambition.
In the three models that we have set outthe leader and Cabinet executive, the mayor and Cabinet executive, and an elected executivewe are allowing for choice,
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I turn briefly to Amendment No. 125, which seeks to preserve the option of a council being able to elect all the members of the executive. As we have previously discussed, the new leader and the cabinet model, which the Bill introduces, removes that option. In future the cabinet will be appointed by the leader. We shall debate that on the next amendment. In this way, as I have explained, we think that coherent and stable leadership is more easily created.
Noble Lords might have asked why Welsh authorities appear to retain the option of electing their leadership groupI know that I am giving the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, even more ammunition for a future exchange. Clauses 62 and 63 seek to modify the 2000 Act provisions in relation to English authorities but we intend to leave unchanged the detailed provision in relation to Wales, as that is obviously a matter for the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government.
While I suspect that we may not agree, I hope that, with that statement of principle, I have been able to provide at least more than an assertion of why we are doing what we are.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I thank the noble Baroness and wish to continue the debate with a few further points. First, I want to put on record that no one on these Benches is suggesting that leadership is not important. As someone who worked for some years undertaking assessments of councils for the Audit Commission, I was always absolutely clear that the highest performing councils were those with the most effective leadership.
The point at issue is that the 2000 Act brought in some changes to the governance of councils. My own council at the time, Suffolk County Council, made an early move away from the committee system towards a cabinet style because we felt it a better system of governance. At that stage, it was our decision to make, based on our assessment of what was best for our area.
That philosophical point underpins the fundamental problem that the Liberal Democrats have with the Governments position. The Government say that the various challenges faced by local authorities are so dreadful that they absolutely must have strong leaderssuper-people, who will appear to lead councils and sail through all the challengesbut that none of those people can be trusted to decide how their own areas should be governed; they can only have a range of options from central government. The Government seem to have a Janus-type attitude, saying on the one hand, We want strong, powerful councils and, on the other, You are not sensible enough to choose your own model of governance.
If some systems of governance have clearly better outcomes than others, councils will move to those themselves having seen the benefits. They should not
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Baroness Hamwee: I am sure that we will continue this subject through the subsequent stages of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, suggested that I wrote down Too soon to change, and then I wrote Exactly! for the benefit of Hansard, there is an exclamation mark after that.
My noble friend Lady Scott has made the point well that effective leadership is not the same as so-called strong leadership. Leadership can be shown not merely through the Governments formal leadership models; there were some good examples of it under the old style. We are told that the new models will help withit is so full of jargonplace-shaping. The noble Baronesss description of that as moving away from local administration of services dictated centrally made me think, Yes, that was what we had before there was so much dictation from the centre. I agree with her analysis that there is a problem there, although not with her solution.
As my noble friends and others have said, there is further debate to be had on the role of the ward councillor, so I wish to make only one further comment. It was suggested that, currently, where a strong leader is identified, the councils relations with its partners have been improved. I find that a curious concept. If relationships with partners depend on there being an individual to whom they can relate, that is a poor state of affairs when we are talking about public services. As I say, I am sure that we will come back to this area.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining my Amendment No. 125. I knew that I had a good reason for tabling it. I was confused when I looked at it again today and thought, Arent we letting the Welsh do their own thing?. That would be the right thing to do, but my analysis of it in the first instance was better than I had realised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 113A not moved.]
Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 114:
The noble Lord said: This amendment appears on its own because it deals with a specific issue: who appoints the executive of a council when there is a leader and executive model. Section 11(3)(b) of the Local Government Act 2000 is exactly as set out in my amendment. I am merely trying to maintain the status quo.
The Government are trying to suggest that the executive, in a leader and executive model, should simply be appointed by the leader of the council. When, or if, this provision goes through, and when it
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I do not know of any council with the model that the Government suggest. I am sure there are plenty, but they are perhaps not councils that I know about, which would suggest that they are not ordinary district councils. Most of the councils that I know about around the country, where I have colleagues with whom I communicate quite frequently, tend to be district councils or metropolitan district councils. People will be astonished at the idea that a councils constitution cannot provide for a system in which the executiveby far the most important body in the council nowis appointed or elected at the annual meeting.
When this was discussed in Committee in the House of Commons, there was some fascinating debate. The then local government Minister, Mr Woolas, a Nelsonian gone to other pastures, saidand I paraphrase himWell, it does not really matter, because councillors will get round it anyway, wont they? That is, they will come to their own arrangements, and things will carry on much as before, which may be the case. In my council, if we had a model where the leader appoints the executive, the leader would be appointed only on the terms that the executive is agreed by a much wider group of people than himself or herself. That is how a lot of councils will work; many get round what they saw as restrictions in the 2000 Act arrangements in such a way. They are probably making themselves more efficient and approachable, and better councils with better leadership, as a result. This will be regarded as an absolutely astonishing provision. People will think that the Government and this Parliament have gone mad if it goes through. I beg to move.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I support my noble friends amendment. The 2006 census of local councils showed that 41 per cent of those with the leader and cabinet model had adopted the approach proposed in the Bill; in other words, the leader appoints the cabinet in only 41 per cent of councils operating that system. That means that 59 per cent have a model that will be outlawed by this Bill. Again, that runs counter to all the devolutionary rhetoric of the Government. The Minster has talked about how much local government has improved under the new models. Since the majority are operating this system, it is difficult to see why the Government want to get rid of it. It is hard to see their rationale.
There are issues, particularly in areas where election by thirds will continue. Some councils will continue to exercise that option. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that political control would change but that, unless the leader himself is subject to a vote of no confidence, the council will not have to make any
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Baroness Hanham: I am only half in support of the amendment. It is worth thinking more about it. I come from an authority where the leader appoints the cabinet. There is quite a lot to be said for the fact that a leader who has been elected by the council should then be able to pick those whom they believe will do the job best. I accept that it is possible under an election system within a council for people to stand, be put forward and voted on. However, a leader must have confidence in the people with whom he or she serves. There are enormous advantages in being able to say to your colleagues, I would like you to be part and parcel of this team. It is ultimately a team. If the team does not work, and there are scratchy issues because somebody has been elected into itforced in by other colleagues, as it werethere can be difficulties in how it operates.
I said that I was only half supporting the amendment, but there is probably a rationale for saying, If you dont want to do it that way, dont. You can have another way of doing it, and the authority can elect a cabinet as it elects the leader. I understand that that is what the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is doing, and see some sense in people having an alternative. My own preference would be to leave it as the Government have.
Baroness Andrews: I am grateful for the noble Baronesss supportI think it was actually slightly more than half. I was going to quote her outstanding example of Kensington and Chelsea as having a leader who elects the team. As we all know, her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, runs the council of a county the size of a small developing nation, and it has this same model. So, although the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, says that it is astonishing that we brought this provision forward, I do not think that it is. Indeed, 41 per cent of councils having followed this model is a significant number; I was going to quote that statistic myself. Across the Chamber, we will have disagreements on principle, but much of the logic of what we are trying to do will follow from Clause 62.
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