The core governance arrangements of councils are set in law, although in reality there can be a degree of creativity in how such arrangements are set up. In the strictest sense, the permitted arrangements are:
- Executive – elected mayor & cabinet or leader & cabinet
- Other arrangements prescribed by the Secretary of State (none as at October 2020)
However, within the executive or committee arrangements, some councils have adapted these to bring in characteristics of both forms of governance – a ‘hybrid’.
Leader and Cabinet
Mid Devon District Council currently operates under the Leader & Cabinet model. The Council chooses its Leader, who then appoints other councillors to a Cabinet. The law divides up the work of the Council into those areas which must be the responsibility of the Cabinet, those which may be and those which cannot be. In very general terms, the Cabinet is responsible for the day-to-day business of the Council and recommends policy and budgetary changes to a meeting of the full Council.
Each Cabinet councillor is assigned to a particular part of the council’s operations e.g. housing, finance, planning and so on. Cabinet councillors do have limited powers to make their own decisions, but in general Cabinet decisions are made collectively at a meeting of the Cabinet.
More information on how the Council works under the current arrangements can be found here.
In the menu to the right, you can also see a diagram of the Council’s current structure.
Mayor and Cabinet
Mid Devon District Council does not have an elected mayor. A change to this arrangement would almost certainly involve the creation of a much larger council in geographic area and population size – in order to secure the agreement of the Secretary of State.
Councils can decide to return to decision-making by committees. In practice, this means that the Council will delegate some areas of work to a number of committees – either with full decision-making powers, or subject to the limits of their delegation. There is no model structure, or fixed number of committees. How these arrangements are set up and work in practice will be for the Council to decide.
Some councils operate arrangements which bring in aspects of both the executive and committee systems. There is no set approach – for example, an executive arrangement may include committees which develop, scrutinise and support the decision-making process. At Mid Devon District Council, the Leader and Cabinet are supported by four policy development groups – groups which then recommend policy to the Cabinet.
Changing Governance Arrangements
Councils can change their governance arrangements, but need to follow the process set out in law. In doing so, councils should establish its key components of effective governance, before looking at structure and the reasons behind any desire for change. In this way, it can evaluate the different models against what might work better for the Council and for the people and businesses it serves.
If a council makes a complete change (e.g. from committee to executive or the other way round), there will be some further work to make it happen – on the Constitution, the delegations in place and members’ allowances to name but a few. The Council cannot change its arrangements for a period of 5 years after making such a decision.
Mid Devon District Council undertook a review of governance arrangements during 2020/20. A working group was established and the Council asked the working group to carry out a comprehensive review of the Council’s governance arrangements, to include – (i) exploring the views of members and other stakeholders; (ii) taking advice where appropriate from experts in the field; and (iii) identifying the cost and value for money implications.
The working group considered a wide variety of views on what works well (and why) and how they could work better:
- How councillors (beyond the Cabinet) are engaged in and influence decision-making
- How the public and wider community are able to engage with and influence decision-making
- How the council publishes information about decisions – in advance and after they are taken
- How work is planned and programmed - balancing the various functions and priorities
- How the councillor/officer relationship works to ensure better outcomes for the Council’s area and those who live and work in it.
Following a report to Full Council on 6 January 2021, the working group presented its final report to Full Council on 17 March 2021.
The full report and minutes of the meeting of Council on 17 March are available at: https://democracy.middevon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=156&MId=1499&Ver=4