Headlines: October 30th, 2000

The most radical reform of local councils for a century is about to sweep through town halls. Legislation is now in place for councils to move away from the committee system of decision taking and to set up systems that separate councillors into those with an executive role and backbenchers.The committee system has long been recognised as inefficient. It has also been criticised because major decisions are often taken by the ruling political party behind closed doors and citizens have no idea who is actually taking decisions. This has led to a popular view of councils as bureaucracy laden, inefficient institutions that are open to corruption. The new arrangements give greater efficiency, they are transparent and the people who take the decisions are accountable.

Councils can adopt one of three new structures: a cabinet with a leader; a directly elected mayor with a cabinet or a directly elected mayor with a manager. A decision on which model to adopt can only be taken after public consultation. A referendum must be held before adopting a model that includes a directly elected mayor.

Some councils have already changed their political structures and set up a cabinet with a leader. Others have announced their intention to hold a referendum on an elected mayor. Many councillors are less than sympathetic to the changes because they see their role being down graded from a decision taking committee member to a backbencher scrutinising decisions taken by the executive.