Executive Power

August 21st, 2012 by James Goudie KC

In R (Buck) v Doncaster MBC [2012] EWHC 2293(Admin) Hickinbottom J considered the respective powers of an Elected Mayor and his Executive Cabinet on the one hand and the Full Council on the other hand and the division and demarcation between them.  He held that the Executive had acted lawfully in declining to implement a purported direction by a two thirds majority of Full Council relating to the provision of library services.  This was an executive function.  It made no difference that the direction was by way of an amendment by Full Council to the authority’s annual budget as proposed by the Mayor.  The Mayor’s decision not to spend the allocated funds in accordance with the terms of the amendment was not “contrary to or not wholly in accordance with, the budget”. 

The starting point of course is that under the Local Government Act 2000 the default position is that a function being an executive function is the default position.  That is the case save where specific provision provides that they are non-executive.  This generally resolves itself in England into a matter of interpretation of the Local Authorities (Functions and Responsibilities) (England) Regulations 2000, SI 2000/2853, as frequently amended.  The vast majority of an authority with executive arrangements business is executive business. 

There are, however, a range of non-executive functions.  These include approving the authority’s budget and adopting various plans and strategies. 

Nonetheless, the role of the Full Council in the budget process is limited to the allocation of resources to meet the authority’s potential expenditure for a future period (usually the next financial year), which enables it to set an appropriate level of council tax.  This means that executive functions cannot be exercised in a way which means the budget would be exceeded.  It does not mean that the obligation to estimate revenue expenditure that will be incurred by the authority in the following year entails a power for Full Council to prescribe that certain expenditure must be spent by the executive in certain ways.  The legislative regime as to how executive and non-executive functions should be divided cannot be upset by provisions relating to the calculation of council tax.  The budgetary process is geared to ensuring that there is no budget deficit.  It does not allow Full Council to micro-manage the authority’s functions and interfere with executive functions, only to allocate more or less funds to the Mayor. 

As Hickinbottom J put it at para 64:- 

It is open to the full Council to amend the budget, wholly or in some of its constituent parts, downwards, thereby depriving the Mayor of the available funds to do what it might otherwise wish to do in the way in which it might wish to do it. If the budget is cut, that will not of course force the Mayor to perform an executive function only in the way the full Council may wish; he may decide to perform it in a different way, with the reduced funds allocated to him. Similarly, the full Council might amend the budget upwards, making additional funds available to the Mayor to spend in exercising his functions; but, equally, that does not force the Mayor to perform the executive function only in the way the full Council may wish. 

            At para 75 Hickinbottom J concluded:- 

            “If, as I have found, the true construction of the regulatory scheme is that the decision as to how to provide library services is an executive decision for the Mayor, and not a decision for the full Council, it cannot have been improper for the Mayor to come to his own decision, as charged by the statute, rather than complying with the direction of the full Council, who had no proper part to play in that specific decision at all. Indeed, as Mr Giffin submitted, for the Mayor and the Cabinet to have merely followed the direction of the full Council, treating it as binding on them (as the Claimant contends it was) would itself have been unlawful, as it would have improperly fettered the decision-making discretion of the executive in relation to those facilities.

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