At tomorrow’s Extraordinary Meeting Croydon Council will note ‘that a report will be brought to a future meeting of Full Council with the proposed constitutional and governance amendments to enable operation of the new governance model from 9th May 2022, following the first election for the Directly Elected Mayor taking place on 5th May 2022.’
It appears that not there is no standard model among the constitutions and explanation documents of Councils with existing Mayors in post, so it is important that Councillors review these constitutions in order to see if there are elements in them that should be in Croydon’s. They will need to ensure that there is maximum provision for them to hold the Mayor to account.
Role of Councillors
The Newham constitution sets out the key roles of Councillors as follows. They will:
- collectively be the ultimate policy-makers and carry out a number of strategic and corporate management functions;
- contribute to the good governance of the area and actively encourage community participation and citizen involvement in decision-making;
- effectively represent the interests of their ward and of individual constituents;
- respond to constituents’ enquiries and representations, fairly and impartially;
- participate in the governance and management of the Council; and
- maintain the highest standards of conduct and ethics.
Salford has has a similar list but without the sections underlined above. Croydon should consider adopting Newham’s wording.
Given the past failure of many Croydon Councillors to act in this way, perhaps there should be a provision for an annual review of how they have met their roles.
Budget and Policy Framework
While Mayors are elected to lead the community, speak up for their Borough and make key decisions about local services, they propose a budget and a policy framework. It is for the full Council to agree or change these. Lewisham explains that ‘Once the framework is set, the mayor can make decisions, within the framework, on implementing the policies.’
Tower Hamlets sets out dispute resolution procedures where the Council does not agree to the Mayor’s proposals in respect of budget and policy framework reports.
The Mayor’s Powers
Limitations are placed on the Mayor. Newham explains that the Mayor is a member of the Council and ‘is subject to the same rules as Councillors. S/he can attend and speak at any meeting of the Council, its committees and sub-committees, except for the Council’s Standards and Overview and Scrutiny Committees and the latter’s Commissions.’ The Mayor can only attend the latter if invited.
At present Croydon’s Leader appoints the members to the Cabinet. In Councils with Mayors there is provision for an Executive or Cabinet. Doncaster, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets provide for the Mayor to choose between two and nine councillors to form the Cabinet. Bristol provides for between one and eight. There is a strong case for nine given the complexity of the portfolios. If Croydon’s Mayor chooses less than nine it is to be hoped that the full Council will reject it.
Only Councillors can be appointed to the Cabinet. Newham explains ‘There may be no co-optees, deputies nor substitutes of executive members.’
The Chair and Vice Chair of the Council and Councillor members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee nor any of its Commissions cannot be members of the Executive.
Newham shows that the Mayor has some flexibility. The size and composition of the Executive is ‘solely …. a matter for the Mayor to decide. S/he may choose to appoint councillors from any political group on the Council or those not in a political group. The Executive need not reflect the political balance of the Council as a whole.’
If this applies in the future in Croydon then it will be interesting to see if a Tory Mayor only appoints Tory and a Labour Mayor only Labour Councillors. An independent Mayor is more likely to appoint from across the parties.
Newham makes it clear that ‘The Executive must make its decisions in accordance with the Council’s budget and policy framework, where the decision proposed is not in line with the agreed framework the matter must be referred to full Council to decide.’
Doncaster makes it clear that ‘A motion of no confidence in one or more Members of the Cabinet by the Full Council is NOT sufficient to terminate the office of that Member or those Members.’
Apart from the statutory Committees like planning and licensing, there are some differences as to what Committees operate. All have Scrutiny Committees, and rightly their members cannot be Executive/Cabinet members.
Lewisham provides for Councillors to form select committees to examine specific issues, co-ordinated by a business panel coordinates the select committees, ‘which has the power to call-in any key decisions made by the mayor and cabinet.’
Newham has nine Community Forum areas, each made up of 1-3 wards. The Members within those wards are consulted on local issues as part of the decision making process. Each Forum Area has a Lead Member who is responsible for coordinating the work of the Forum Area. Community Forum events festivals, projects and activities are held in each area to enable residents to influence local priorities, services and improve local communities in their areas. They involve councillors for each particular area and their meetings are held in public.’
‘Each Community Forum Area event is supported by an Active Community Team, which are made up of local people who volunteer to support the events and projects that take place.’
Bristol has six area committees which make decisions on how local CIL and Section 106 funds are spent to support improvements in their area. The Committees ‘make their decisions based on the knowledge they have of their community.’ Unfortunately this role is very limited and they only meet once a year, with an option for a second meeting if needed.
Salford has eight area Community Committees ‘to give local citizens a greater say in council affairs’ comprising the local Ward Councillors as voting members and ‘representatives of community groups as non-voting co-opted members who are entitled to make recommendations to the elected members of their Community Committee.’ Each Community Committee ‘has a devolved budget and is responsible for making decisions in relation to this devolved budget’. Members of the public are allowed to address the meeting subject to the approval of the Chair, and cannot vote.
Doncaster has provision for Area Committees but has not set any up.
In Croydon there is a strong case for following the Salford example.
The Role of the Ceremonial Mayor
At the moment Croydon Council elects a Mayor annually to chair the full meetings of the Council and to be a ceremonial figure head. In Tower Hamlets the ceremonial Mayor is called the Speaker, in Bristol and Liverpool it is the Lord Mayor.
Tower Hamlets sets out the Speaker’s duties as follows:
- ‘to preside over meetings of Council so that its business can be carried out efficiently and with regard to the rights of Councillors and the interests of the community;’
- ‘to ensure that Council is a forum for the debate of matters of concern to the local community and the place at which Councillors who are not on the Cabinet can hold the Mayor and Cabinet Members to account in public;’
- ‘to promote public involvement in the Council’s activities;’
- ‘to be the conscience of the Council’.
It is clear that in the past Croydon’s Mayors have not ensured that full Council meetings have held the Leader/Cabinet to account in public. It is not clear what is meant by ‘the conscience of the Council’. It implies a degree of independence from their political grouping. Does it mean that the ceremonial Mayor as Chair can make statements suggesting that the elected Mayor, Executive/Cabinet and Councillors are not operating for the benefit of residents? It is a pity that Croydon’s Mayors did not act as ‘the conscience’ in the past. Interventions may have stopped the fiasco of Brick by Brick much earlier, and the housing maintenance and management crisis. This failure also raises questions about the quality of advice from previous Chief Executives and Borough Solicitors.
Deputy City Mayor
Legislation requires the Mayor to appoint a Deputy. In Salford the Mayor has appointed a second one as well.
Learning From Experience
It is important that lessons are learnt from the experience of the Mayor system elsewhere. The inquiry by a Government Inspector following the arrest of the former Liverpool Mayor, led to the Council agreeing to implement a new code of conduct and associated training for elected members and officers, including a specific code of practice for developer engagement to provide. In June the Local Government Chronicle reported that ‘Liverpool’s improvement plan states that the code of practice provides a “clear framework and guidelines for elected members and officers in relation to invitations from applicants, developers, contractors, agents and investors to meet, sponsor and/or represent the council, the city, or the mayor, including at events (local, national and international), particularly in relation to the risks of perceived endorsement and too close an association in respect of the discharge and functions and responsibilities relating to planning, development, building control, licensing, and environment regulatory matters”.
It also says that all elected members, when meeting with a developer, agent, contractor or investor, must ensure that an officer with responsibility for that area is present for the entire meeting and that a written record of the meeting and any discussions is kept.’
The Government Inspector was also ‘critical of councillors for failing to keep their registers of gifts and hospitalities updated, and the new code says all such offers must be declared and registered properly, as well as all outside interests.’
Does Croydon’s code need to be tightened, especially given the powerful position developers have played in the Borough, and the Council’s past involvement in MIPIM, the developers’ jamboree at Cannes?