How should Cornwall Council be governed – Mayor, Leader or do you care?

Cornwall Council is undertaking two reviews on how it is governed. The first is working with the Boundary Commission to look at the numbers of Councillors, which will need to be in place for the 2021 Council election. The other review is how the Council is structured, ie with the strong leader model, Mayor, hybrid system or committee. The reason for both reviews is because we said we would undertake them as part of our devolution deal.

A series of public meeting has been taking place around Cornwall to gather those views. There is also a series of ‘evidence gathering sessions’ who are asking different agencies, partners and members for their views. The questions asked are:

  • Is the current Cabinet and Leader system the best way for Cornwall to be governed;
  • What should Cornwall Council responsibilities be and what should the Towns and Parish Councils responsibilities be;
  • How should decisions about public services in Cornwall be made in the future.

The events outlined the options open to Cornwall and were an opportunity for people to discuss how they think decisions about public services in Cornwall should be made in the future. That feedback and suggestions will be used to help inform the full Governance Review.

The Council has also set-up an online poll. This can be accessed HERE. Please take the time to see the short films and other related information. But importantly, take the survey.

One of the questions is should Cornwall have a directly elected Mayor? much like you see in London and other metropolitan areas. Why is the review asking the question about having a Mayor? The Government has said, powers can be transferred to areas that have a directly elected Mayor. For instance, a Council can lower business rates, but cannot raise them about 2% unless you have a Mayor.

I am not sold on, in fact, I do not believe Cornwall should have a Mayor. Yes, the Mayor is democratically elected by residents one of the true if only plus point on why you should have a Mayor. Whereas A Leader is elected by the members of the Council – the same as town and parish Mayors and Chairpersons. At Cornwall Council the Leader is voted into position every 12 months. This gives the safeguards to make sure the wider membership are engaged and the Leader is not off on his own agenda.  Mayors are for a set election period and unless no-confidence motions are tabled, and other legal reasons, you cannot remove a Mayor. I also believe too much power is in the hands of one person, and lacks accountability.

The Leader and Cabinet system works. I say this as both a former back-bencher, and in the Cabinet now. The biggest challenge is how those not in the Cabinet are engaged. This comes down to culture from both the Cabinet and back-benchers. It is also understanding what you can and cannot do.

I look forward to the outcome of people’s views, and how we can make a governance system that delivers good services in Cornwall.

The Committee and Cabinet Systems

I have been pondering how to start this blog on the different administrative structures a Local Authority can have. It is not easy, and I have tried to start this blog several times. So bear with me, as I will not try to bore you to death in what I have to say. I will start with the basics and the current arrangement at Cornwall Council.

Since Cornwall Council’s formation in 2009, the council adopted the ‘Strong Leader’ model under the Executive System (Cabinet). Under this model, the Leader of the Council is appointed by the full council in one of its first acts post an election. Then, the Leader appoints a Cabinet of between two and ten Councillors (no less, no more). The Cabinet will make just about all the major financial decision apart from the council’s budget, and Councillor’s allowances. So in essence, ten will make most of the decisions affecting the whole of Cornwall. There are also various other types of Cabinet system, but the principle is the same.

To keep the executive ‘in-check’ a series of Scrutiny Committees is set up with various powers of call-in. The main job of the Scrutiny Committee is to scrutinise the Cabinet’s policies. It can also make policies for Cabinet to approve. The power of call-in is an interesting one; as a Scrutiny Committee can make further recommendations for the Cabinet to adopted, but these are not legally binding on the Cabinet, and it could and has, ignore those additional recommendations. Still with me?

The Committee System of old was disposed of in 2000. Apart from small Local Authorities with a population of fewer than 84,000 who could carry on using the Committee System under something call the ‘Fourth Option’? In Cornwall, only one Local Authority ran this system, and that was Restormel Borough Council. Now, under the Localism Act,  a Local Authority could reintroduce a Committee System as one of the models of local government.

So what is a Committee System? Well, it is a style of governance involving councillors sitting on committees which make decisions, receive briefing and commission reviews to develop policy. This means more than ten Councillors can make a decision, or be part of that decision. I should also point out, that if you are not on that committee; you will still not have a vote. Thinking all Councillors will suddenly have a voting say in all decisions is rather naive.

If a Committee structure is introduced at Cornwall Council, I believe the Committees has to be supreme (makes the final decision). I say this because if every decision had to go to full council for a final decision, then nothing would ever get done, and the whole system would grind to a halt. This poor and slow decision-making process was one of the reasons the committees were disposed of in 2000.

Believe it all not; Cornwall Council has panels that report directly to the full council. I have seen it far too often months of work have been thrown out, leaving nothing. Or decisions have been made with no relevant information being present.

All the different administrative systems have their faults. I personally would like to have a system that does take into account the majority of the council’s view in big decisions. The recent Cabinet decision on Shared Services left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Such a large decision, which did not undertake a view from the whole council is not good for democracy.

There are two other options a Local Authority could adopt. These are a Mayor system; much like the executive system’s  strong leader model. The Mayor really is all-powerful, so if you don’t like the Strong Leader model, you are not going to like the Mayoral system. The other system is a hybrid. In theory, you could cherry pick all the best (or worst) bits of the Cabinet and Committee systems and make a new type of administration. This is an interesting concept, but one fraught with danger. Also, any new system has to be approved by Mr Pickles MP.

Any clearer? Want to have your say on which system should be used at Cornwall Council? Here is the LINK  for further information on the review, including the form for your views.

Mayor, Committee or Cabinet: Which do you want in Cornwall?

Cornwall Council is conducting a Governance Review post the introduction of the Localism Act. It does not have to do this, but the council and its Members felt it was the right thing to do. The aim of the review is to find the best form of governance for the people of Cornwall.

My role in all this is I am part of the review panel looking into the various options. I fundamentally believe any change has to be in the public interest, or we should not do it.  For most of the public, it will not matter which system Cornwall Council has, as long they feel their opinion really counts.  I have said before, if the process is flawed, then no matter which system you have, the process is still flawed. This review is also not about decisions made, but the process. So it is very important to get that process right.

There are five basic options on the table. Keeping with the existing format (strong leader); a different Cabinet set up; committee structure; a hybrid system or a Mayor. For Councillors, there have only been two real options on the table, the cabinet or the committee structure. However, a hybrid could come about by picking the best bits from the Cabinet and committee system, or if the public want something else, then it should have that.

As for the Mayor option, this is not at the top of the list. Though, so I am not eating my own words later on, I will say if the population of Cornwall want a Mayor, then it can have one. At the moment no one yet has said it is a good idea, and I personally think it will not work in Cornwall for various reasons. But my personal view is not important.

For the review to work it really needs the public’s input, as without it any change to how the council is administered could be wrong and the public is no better off than they are now.

The difficulty is when you mention how a council runs as in an administration,  you often get a glazed expression back with the words of:  ‘ as long my bin is emptied, pothole filled and council tax is not too high etc’ they do not mind how a council arranges the deck chairs.  Or, they will mention an actual decision that has been made.

My greatest fear with this review is Cornwall Councillor’s reinvent the wheel and end up with a square wheel. Any change has to be for the right reason and not for political power, or nostalgic reasons.

Governance Review – Reinventing the Wheel?

Cornwall Council has set up a panel to review the governance of Cornwall Council. In simple terms this is the administrative and political process on how a council runs. This review is being held because the Department for Local Government via the Localism Act allows a council to run on a mode of government that bests suits the area.

Currently, Cornwall Council operates the Cabinet system via the strong leader model. Now, under the Act, a council can have a Cabinet system, Committee system, or some sort of hybrid. It can even have a mayoral system if a referendum is passed. The question is; what is the best for Cornwall?  That $64,000 question will have to be answered in the coming months

During the review I hope these questions will be answered. Part of the process is to hold Inquiry Days, consultations, and visits to other local authorities to see how they work under the different models. The public will also be able to have their say that will be fed into the process. Once all that information is collated, the various options will be presented to the whole council who will have to vote for a mode of government which cannot be changed for five years.

So what is the best form of running Cornwall Council? Do people really understand the difference between a Cabinet, Committee or some sort of hybrid? Do people really care as long as the services they receive, or expect to receive the best? I fear for most people would not be interested which system is used as long as the end results are the right ones.

Of course, Cornwall Council has not been perfect. The change to local government in 2009 was massive and then add-on the cuts from central government things have not been easy. However, does that mean we have to change everything? A feeling amoungst the backbenchers is to revert back to a committee system. Is that right? Could this just be a knee-jerk reaction to a lot of members feeling disenfranchises?

Here are the links to the previous meetings of the panel

So what do you think, change, or continue with the current model? Will reinventing the wheel result in a square wheel? Feel free to comment