This paper uses the concept of path dependency to examine the changes to the political management structures of English local government. We note how the possible experience of decreasing returns among some local authority actors combined with the powerful intervention of politicians within New Labour at the national level led to a significant break from past policy and the imposition of measures to establish a separate executive that was claimed as a radical step forward for local democracy. Using survey data from the Evaluating Local Governance research team (http://www.elgnce.org.uk), we explore the establishment of a separate political executive in all major local authorities and map out the style of decision-making that is emerging. We find that some established institutional patterns reasserted themselves in the process of implementation, but that increasing returns are not as great as some theorists of path dependency would suggest and they may be a force for system change as well as for stability. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2005.