The Local Government Act 2000 made sweeping changes to the constitution and working practices of County and District councils. It created a leader (or mayor) and cabinet system which is now broadly similar to that of central government. The leader is empowered to choose his/her own cabinet members, each of whom has significant executive power without recourse to debate or approval by the full council. This puts enormous power into the hands of the 9 or so members of the executive, which by virtue of the selection process are all of the majority political party. The large number of elected councillors not so chosen are relegated to seeking positions on one of the scrutiny committees, which have only the ability to make recommendations to the appropriate cabinet member; this member has no obligation to respect or abide by such recommendations, and can only be over-ruled by the full council should such a matter be brought before them by the executive.
Under the previous system, councillors in their committees (comprising members of political or independent persuasion in proportion to the election result) would consider policy issues and put their recommendation to the full council for the vote.
I propose a return to the previous system.
Why does this idea matter?
It has long been a source of frustration to observe the powerlessness of the average back-bench MP, the growing weakness of our parliamentary system as our executive assumes greater power and authority, whilst also being aware that parliamentary select committees have a more democratic composition, show considerable wisdom and commonsense but lack power. This Act by its very design has seriously lessened the democracy previously inherent in local government, and replaced it with the same problems as in central government. Thus, local government is now too party based, favours cronyism, is prone to bad decision making by an overpowerful executive, and is more autocratic than democratic.
Rather than ruining local government by making it more like central government, we should have done the reverse. Let us now take the opportunity to correct this mistake and restore the people's confidence in our democracy.