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CABINET PIONEERS FAIL TO DELIVER DEMOCRATIC DREAM

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Cabinet-style executives introduced by councils ahead of the Local Government Bill have failed to increase transpar...
Cabinet-style executives introduced by councils ahead of the Local Government Bill have failed to increase transparency and community involvement, according to research for the Improvement and Development Agency and the DETR.

A report on six unnamed councils with cabinets says the tendency for them to meet in private made it 'hard to see how executives as currently constructed will contribute in terms of openness and inclusiveness'.

Overall, the councils were 'struggling' to establish effective overview and scrutiny. Scrutiny committees had difficulty establishing a meaningful role and received only limited dedicated officer support.

The report, New forms of political management arrangements, says the role of the public and other council partners in the scrutiny process - particularly by being co-opted onto scrutiny committees - needs to be developed more before the structures can contribute to a greater sense of inclusiveness.

The report, written by a team from Inlogov at the University of Birmingham, says: 'Some of the current opaqueness of the new systems will have to dissipate before real benefits in terms of accountability can be achieved.'

Consultation on setting up the new structures had been 'patchy'. Four of the six councils had not consulted the public at all.

Most of the councils surveyed had failed to fully exploit the advantages presented by cabinets because they had not linked restructuring with modernisation. If this were done, the new structures might strengthen service delivery and community leadership, it concludes.

The government is still confident many of the problems could be solved after the Local Government Bill becomes law. The DETR said: 'The way most councils are developing the new arrangements isn't what's intended. That will come with further experimentation and the publication of guidance . . . We're not going to get it right first time.'

Speaking at the report's launch, local government minister Beverley Hughes said: 'There are many valuable lessons to be learned, not least that you cannot just

put one part of the structure in place and hope the rest fits in . . . It is only by thinking about it, and getting all parts right that you will be able to realise the potential of the arrangements.'

But the report's findings fuelled claims from freedom of information campaigners that local government restructuring will lead to greater secrecy. Campaign

for Freedom of Information researcher Andrew Ecclestone said passing the Bill in its present state would not deal with his concerns about secrecy in the new executives.

New forms of political management arrangements is available from IDeA, tel: 020 7296 6522.

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