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SOUTHAMPTON OPTS FOR LEADER

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Southampton City Councillors have unanimously voted for a new structure of local democracy headed by a leader suppo...
Southampton City Councillors have unanimously voted for a new structure of local democracy headed by a leader supported by a cabinet of senior council members.

The decision follows the government's paper, Local leadership, local choice, which asked councils to come up with ways of making local government more innovative and accountable. The proposed Bill on the subject was previewed in the Queen's Speech at Wednesday's state opening of Parliament.

The decision means that, in future, the authority's leader would normally be the leader of the party with the most seats on the council. Decisions reached by the cabinet would be subject to scrutiny by other councillors who would closely monitor decisions across a range of areas, and suggest ways of continually improving services.

The decision followed extensive consultation with Southampton residents, community forums, businesses and Council staff. The process produced one of the highest response rates in the country.

The detailed, three-stage consultation attracted almost 7,000 written responses - a return rate of over 8% on a mailshot of 85,000.

Fifty-five per cent of respondents opted for the leader-plus-cabinet option. The next most popular options were for a directly elected mayor with cabinet and directly elected mayor with council manager, both of which polled 19%.

Changes will come into force on an experimental basis following next May's elections. Legislation is expected to go before Parliament and permanent structures are expected to be in place from April 2001. The council would choose a leader who will choose a small number of councillors to help develop council policies.

Paul Jenks is chair of the democratic innovation task group which brings together council members and officers with business and community partners. He said: 'I am delighted that members from all three political parties have voted for this proposal. Since opposition parties would be unlikely to vote for a structure which gives them less access, I think this shows that the system we are designing will be open and accountable.

'It was important that we consulted residents and a range of groups in Southampton in formulating our proposal. Once again, on behalf of the task group, I would like to thank the many people who responded - and who produced one of the best returns in the country. We now have a major task ahead to turn the principle into workable practice.'

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