We can't go on meeting like this - Audit Commission report from 1990 on the committee system
The Audit Commission produced an analysis of the operation of the committee system in local government in 1990. Some people have expressed an interest in seeing it to inform discussions in their authorities around a return to the committee system
In September 1990, the Audit Commission produced a report called, "We can't go on meeting like this", an analysis of members' roles and, specifically, the operation of the committee system in local government.
A number of authorities are expected to take advantage of government proposals to allow councils to return to the committee system. The Audit Commission's report represents the most recent non-academic, practically-focused analysis of the committee system as it used to exist, and as such is required reading for anyone interested in this subject.
To explain some of the terminology in the report, which may be unfamiliar to the uninitiated, the two things mentioned the most that may be unfamiliar to people not around at the time are the Widdicombe committee and CCT.
The Widdicombe committee reported in the mid-eighties on the role of elected members in local authorities. Concern had been raised in some authorities about a perceived politicisation of the officer corps and the need for a clearer definition of mutual roles and responsibilities. The committee's findings led to the Local Government Act 1989 and the subsequent rules against twin-tracking (people being councillors and holding officer positions in the same authority) and rules politically restricting certain posts.
CCT was compulsory competitive tendering, the process by which local authorities were compelled to go out to tender for the delivery of certain services (initially, highway maintenance). CCT was controversial as it tended to compel authorities to accept the lowest bid irrespective of the likely quality of work to be carried out. CCT was replaced by Best Value in the late 90s and subsequently merged into the Audit Commissions wider inspection regime. DSO stands for direct service organisation, a body wholly-owned by the council that was in a position to bid for contracts under CCT.
Other than these, and a couple of other archaic pieces of terminology, the report remains relevant and useful. We are following this up next week by publishing our own analysis of the issues as part of our "Policy Briefings" series and by undertaking a short survey of all local authorities in England to assess the likely number of councils thinking of returning to the committee system.