1.0 Introduction to Task

? Your task is to prepare a 2,000 word essay that addresses the general theme of ?The current organisation and working experience of the local government system in England?. Within this general theme the specific focus of your essay should be oriented towards EITHER:
a) the role of the local government councillor, OR,
b) the work of local government committees (e.g. a scrutiny, overview or an area committee).
? Your essay should demonstrate your ability to draw on and combine desk/screen documentary study with some more specific first hand interview or observation based material. Depending on your chosen focus for the essay (a. or b.), this material should be generated by either an interview with a local councillor, or, by observing a meeting of a local council Select/Scrutiny committee or an Area-based committee. See sections 3.0 and 4.0 below for more details of each of these options.

2.0 Task Specification

? In terms of background material you will need to consult published texts, journal articles, reports, policy statements, agenda/minutes, local newspapers; these may be available in hard copy or on web sites (some documents are published on both; other documents are specific to web sites). These sources will provide you with both general information on local government and material specific to the local council whose councillor, or committee you are using as a case study. It is important that you undertake this background reading as part of the task and that you demonstrate your understanding of it in your essay.

? As explained above, your use of documentary sources should be complemented by some first-hand case study material. Depending on your chosen focus for the essay, this material should be generated by either an interview with a local councillor, or, by observing a meeting of a local council Select/Scrutiny committee or an Area-based committee. The Select/Scrutiny committee should have a planning/environment/regeneration/transport/housing & community safety related function; the Area-based committee will usually have a wide-ranging agenda including some of the above and other neighbourhood matters.
? You may find it useful to consult books such as The Good Research Guide by Martin Denscombe (2007) for guidance on conducting interviews and observations.

3.0 Option (A) – Councillor Interview

? The councillor (or, recent ex. councillor) interviewed may be either a ?leader? or a ?back bencher; either way the emphasis should be on the councillor?s political role and experience. The interview should take the form of a half-hour discussion with the topics guided by a simple open-ended list of questions prepared by you beforehand.The topics covered could include, for instance:

o the councillor?s recruitment into politics (e.g. why did they decide to stand for election?) and their experience to date;
o their local ward and its political background;
o their current involvement in the Council, its committees, in local party bodies and, in other outside interests;
o their view of recent reforms to the local government system (e.g. moves towards elected mayors and city regional structures);
o how they see their role as a democratic representative in the context of moves towards more direct forms of democracy (e.g. local referenda on Neighbourhood Plans).

4.0 Option (B) – Observation of Committee Meeting

? The committee organisation of local authorities varies a good deal from place to place. It is a good idea to check on your preferred council?s current organisation through their web site, which can also be used to provide a list of dates/times/places of future meetings, to see which would be of interest to you. Most councils also include agenda papers and minutes of previous meetings together with supporting papers/
reports where appropriate. It will be useful to have a copy of the
?agenda? of the meeting you are to attend in order to follow the business being discussed. Topics to be covered in your essay could include, for instance:

o the layout of the meeting room;
o the current party representation on the council and committee;
o roles of and interaction between political leaders (e.g. chair, executive member, minority leader) and back benchers (including the extent of their participation and interests);
o interaction between the councillors and staff and members of the public and press (if any);
o the issues of the day and how they are treated (but this not the main focus of the assignment ? so be careful not to focus exclusively on this!).

6.0 Suggested Sources and Reading

6.1 Governance

BEVIR, M. (2009), Key Concepts in Governance, London, Sage.
COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (2011), A plain English guide to the Localism Act,
COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT, (2009), Strengthening Local Democracy ? Consultation, July 2009,

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (2008), Communities in Control ? Real people,
real power, Communities and Local Government, Chapter 5 ?Challenge ? How do I hold to account the people who exercise power in my locality??,
COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT, (2006), Strong and Prosperous Local Communities: The Local Government White Paper, (Cm 6939-I), Department for Communities and Local Government, London.
COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ROYAL TOWN PLANNING INSTITUTE (2007), Planning Together: Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) and Spatial Planning: a practical guide, DCLG, London.
Available at:

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (1998) Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People
(CM 4014), London, TSO, at: SJLib: J301.A2.E51, and,
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (1999) Local Leadership, Local Choice, (Cm 4298), London, TSO, at: SJLib: J301. A2. E51
EVALUATING LOCAL GOVERNANCE PROJECT, STOKER. G. et Al. (2007), The New Council Constitutions: The Outcomes and Impact of the Local Government Act 2000, DCLG.
GOSS, Sue (2001) Making local governance work: Networks, relationships and the management of change, Basingstoke, Palgrave. (SJLib)
OFFICE OF THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (2005) Citizen Engagement and Public Services: Why Neighbourhoods Matter, London, ODPM and at:
MORPHET, J. (2008), Modern Local Government, London, SAGE.

WILKS-HEEG, S. (2009) ?New Labour and the Reform of English Local Government, 1997-2007: Privatizing the Parts that Conservative Governments Could Not Reach??, Planning Practive and Research, 24[1], February 2009, 23-39.

WILSON, D.J. and GAME, C. (2011) Local Government in the United Kingdom (5th. Edition), Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

6.2 Conducting Interviews and Observations

DENSCOMBE, M. (2007) The Good Research Guide for small-scale social science research projects (3rd. Edn), (Maidenhead: Open University Press).

6.3 Useful Journals

The first two items are weekly magazine in format and approach, but provide a good way to keep abreast of current issues, get views and quotes from practice and appreciate different political and professional interests in issues.

? Local Government Chronicle
? Municipal Journal
? Local Government Studies
? Local Governance
? Public Administration
? Planning Theory and Practice

6.4 Useful Websites

Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG)

Local Government Association

Local Government Chronicle

New Local Government Network

Individual government departments, public bodies and agencies and local council web sites can be accessed via the LGA site [go to: ?Links? and click on your sought for council in the alphabetical list] or directly, e.g.: or
[check out pages on ?Your council? and ?local democracy?]
[check out pages on ?Council structure? and ?Meeting agendas and minutes?