Headlines: December 18th, 2000

New advice has been issued to local councils grappling with major constitutional change as a result of the Local Government Act.The act aims to make councils more efficient and accountable by getting rid of endless committee and sub-committee meetings taking a long time to make decisions.

Although these meetings are held in public, in reality the real decisions, especially in areas with strong one party control, are made in party gatherings ahead of these committees.

The New Local Government Network, an organisation made up of modernisers within local government, has commissioned Professor Steve Leach of De Montfort University in Leicester to advise on how to make new systems transparent and accountable.

A paper from him in the same name recommends that councils be clear about when the new ‘cabinet’ meetings of key councillors should meet in private and when in public.

The law requires a minimum of meeting in public for ‘key’ decisions. Meet too often in public and the whole process becomes too bogged down, the paper advises.

The paper also recommends clarity about the powers of individual cabinet members, who may have considerable individual powers at their discretion. What is recommended here is that ‘scrutiny’ committees should be set up which mirror the areas of responsibility of individual cabinet members.