Headlines: March 16th, 2006

Councillors who are not members of their authority’s ruling executive feel they have no say in decisions and they regret the passing of the old committee system, according to a study by the Local Government Information Unit, published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The study does, though, highlight how many local authorities are helping non-executive members to enhance their role as community leaders.Under the Local Government Act of 2000 most local councils replaced the committee system with new executive structures comprising the full council, the executive, overview and scrutiny functions and, in some cases, area committees or forums. Today’s report shows how the new structures can broaden the involvement of frontline councillors and ensure that they bring the views of local people and their neighbourhoods to bear in decision taking.

Dennis Reed, the Chief Executive of the LGiU, said much still needed to be done before all councils and all councillors understood and used effectively powers within the Act. “Clearly there is a real opportunity for frontline councillors to become community leaders and bring politics to their local neighbourhoods. This report shows very effective ways of achieving this,” he said.

The study highlights examples of good practice, including involving executive and non-executive members in policy development so the full council is not just a rubber-stamping exercise. Other authorities, the report points out, have spread their workload across a greater number of councillors to prevent executive members becoming overloaded and to develop talent. The LGiU also commends a more member-led approach to scrutiny and says some councils have created specific systems to allow members to feed issues and problems directly to the executive or the scrutiny and overview committees from their areas.

The study also looks at the role of political groups in enabling frontline councillors to have greater input into policy decisions and considers how council officers can best support that councillor involvement in policy decisions.