Your Roles in the Council
More Information About Committees
Legally councils are corporate bodies and ultimately the Full Council (that is the whole membership in a formal meeting) is responsible for everything the council does. Certain decisions must be made by the Full Council. These are major policies, the approval of some statutory plans, the setting of the annual budget and the council tax, and certain appointments and dismissals. Under the Leader and Cabinet Model everything else is delegated to the cabinet/executive and to officers, other than the statutory committee functions (planning and licensing). Your council’s constitution on your council website will have more details about how the formal Full Council operates.
The Cabinet or Executive
The Cabinet or Executive is responsible for taking most of the council’s decisions within the overall policy and budget framework. Each Executive Member has a specific portfolio area such as social services, the environment and housing or human resources. Their role is to drive forward their part of the Executive Work Programme. It is unusual for newly elected members to have an executive role however it is important to be aware of the Executive Work Programme and make the necessary links with portfolio holders about issues affecting their portfolio in your locality.
Overview & Scrutiny
All councils are required to have a least one Overview and Scrutiny Committee, although most have more than one (they are sometimes called panels, forums or boards rather than committees). As only a small proportion of councillors will become part of the cabinet or executive board the majority will be required to play a significant role in overview and scrutiny.
Scrutiny is a key vehicle for councillors and communities to put forward their views and shape council policies. It gives councillors an opportunity to oversee council performance and provide challenge to the Cabinet or Executive where necessary. Although scrutiny’s focus is on the council itself, through scrutiny, councillors can consider wider issues affecting their area, including the role played by other public service partners.
Overview and scrutiny committees do not make decisions on behalf of the council, but their work is vital. Scrutiny committees:
- Help the council to formulate policy before a cabinet makes a decision on it,
- Investigate an issue of concern and make recommendations to cabinet,
- Monitor the performance of the council and flag up any problems before they become major issues, in fact, scrutiny has often been described as an early warning system or a means of identifying unforeseen consequences.
- Scrutinise decisions that have been made before they take effect, by “calling-in the decision” and recommending that it is re-considered by the cabinet or by the council.
- Overview and scrutiny has a specific duty to scrutinise the joint work of the Public Services Board, the Corporate Joint Committee and to scrutinise crime and disorder matters.
As a scrutiny member, you will be expected to research and review information, listen to evidence and information provided to the committee and help to formulate findings/recommendations. It is important that you have good listening and questioning skills to make sure that you gather all the information you need to make sound evidence-based recommendations.
Tips for scrutiny members from existing councillors
“Attend every meeting and be prepared to undertake research between meetings.”
“Prepare for the meeting by reading all the information.”
“Work with the chair and other members of the committee to develop a questioning strategy.”
“Ask focussed questions, don’t make speeches or go on about what’s happening in your ward.”
“When scrutinising I usually start by putting myself in the shoes of a resident, what questions would they ask? Would they want to challenge the response?”
Planning in local authorities is concerned with managing local resources effectively and making sure that development is sustainable and appropriate. All councillors will be involved in some way in the planning process.