Proposed Future Governance FAQs

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers about the proposed future governance

Why the rush for a May 2024 implementation, would it not be better to make the decision to introduce a committee system in May 2024 but delay implementation to May 2025 to allow time for due consideration of all aspects of its introduction?

Full Council in 2023 unanimously supported a motion to progress work to move to a committee system. Officers have been working with the Future Governance Working Group to develop an approach that would provide a smooth transition, with an update report to Full Council in January 2024. A final report is due to be considered by Full Council on 1st May, where firstly the decision will be made whether to change to a committee system and secondly the timing of that change; either an early transition in May 2024 or a transition at the following Annual Council in May 2025.

Both options – immediate implementation or a 12-month delay - can be achieved and have their pros and cons. Immediate implementation would swiftly introduce a system expected to enhance the council’s responsiveness and inclusivity of decision-making. It would also allow for working methods to be refined ahead of the May 2025 local elections. However, it would also require understanding there will be a learning curve for all involved. Essential changes to the constitution will be made with the need for ongoing review (constitutional review is iterative) to be initiated soon after the Annual Council.

On the other hand, a 12-month delay, commonly adopted by other authorities, would provide for a comprehensive review of the constitution with engagement of all councillors. It would also provide the opportunity to operate a shadow committee system, easing the adjustment to new working methods. However, it is important to note the current challenges being experienced would persist, and there would still be the need for refinement and adjustment once a new system was operational.

Many councillors think the current way decisions are made isn’t effective. This is because not all councillors are involved in decision-making. In addition, in a council where no political group or set of councillors has the majority control, it is hard to provide clear leadership and direction for council business. Councillors also feel they can’t fully represent their residents’ views and are left out of important decision-making. While there might be challenges in making the change quickly, it will offer a chance to make decision-making more inclusive and use the skills of all councillors. It will also allow time to review and learn before the next elections in May 2025.
The Isle of Wight Council has operated an executive leader and cabinet system since 2001. However, the political landscape has become more fragmented, with no single group having a majority. This can lead to councillors feeling left out of decision making and is seen as a less democratic way of decisions being made, with councillors unable to represent their constituents fully. Switching to a committee system is seen as a way to include all councillors in important decisions affecting the community. It would allow a diverse range of talents, expertise and knowledge to contribute to shaping council policy.

What are the differences between the leader and cabinet system and that of a committee system?

Leader and Cabinet system:

  • in this system there is a council Leader, elected by all councillors
  • the Leader selects councillors to form a cabinet. There can be up to 10 councillors in the cabinet
  • the cabinet, usually from the majority political group, has executive powers to make policy decisions
  • Full Council retains the power to make some decisions, like budget and council tax setting
  • other committees handle regulatory matters like planning and licensing and scrutiny committees influence council policy and consider decisions that are being or have been made

Pros of a Leader and Cabinet system:

  • decision making is seen to be faster because it involves fewer councillors
  • identified councillors are accountable for specific service areas of the council

Cons of a Leader and Cabinet system:

• Some feel it is less democratic, leaving many councillors feeling excluded.

Committee System:

  • the council is divided into committees responsible for different parts of its business
  • the council decides how many committees are needed
  • there is still a council Leader elected by all councillors, who acts as the political spokesperson
  • Full Council elects the chairs of committees
  • each committee is politically proportionate
  • like the Leader and cabinet system, Full Council still retains some decision making

Pros of a Committee System:

  • more councillors are involved in decision making, making it more inclusive.
  • decisions are made collectively with shared responsibility.

Cons of a Committee System:

  • no single councillor can be held accountable for different parts of the business.
  • consensus decision making can be seen to lead to longer decision-making processes
In the Leader and cabinet model, a small group of councillors, including the Leader make decisions at cabinet meetings. Each councillor has specific decision-making responsibilities and there are scrutiny committees to ensure decisions are well-considered. In contrast, the committee system involves all councillors who participate in various service committees, which are politically proportionate. This allows for thorough discussion and consideration of different perspectives before decisions are made. While this inclusive approach reduces the likelihood of challenges, it can be seen as taking more time for decisions to be reached.
Moving quickly to implement a decision comes with challenges and risks. The main challenge is ensuring the organisation has enough capacity to prepare the necessary arrangements for introducing a new system. This includes providing councillors with enough knowledge to effectively operate once the new system is in place. To meet the early deadline, officers are focussing on essential constitutional and operational procedures, working with the Future Governance Working Group. If implemented early, there will be limited time for councillors to get familiar with the new system before it starts running. While decision-making procedures will be lawful, there might be unintended operational errors as the new arrangements are put into practice.
In January 2024 Full Council decided to move forward with preparations to switch to a committee system by May 2024. Because of the tight deadline and workload, we needed extra help from governance officers.
Officers are spending time preparing for new governance arrangements as directed by the Full Council decision in January 2024. This includes transitioning to a committee system of governance starting from Annual Council in May 2024. To meet these requirements, officers leading the programme have adjusted their work schedules to allocate enough time for this task. Additionally, extra governance officer capacity has been brought in to handle specific constitutional and procedural work. This strategy ensures existing governance officers can still offer their usual professional advice and support for council business without interruption.
Under the current Leader and cabinet arrangements, the council operates with a small group of up to ten councillors forming a cabinet. These cabinet members handle various aspects of council business. They make policy decisions on behalf of Full Council, which delegates this decision-making authority to them. Additionally, there are policy and scrutiny committees that assist in decision making, and review processes to ensure outcomes are achieved. In contrast, under a committee system, decision making is carried out by service committees, each responsible for different aspects of council business. Every councillor has an opportunity to sit on a committee, which will include members from all political or aligned groups as well as councillors who are not aligned to any political group. This means that every councillor can participate in policy decisions that impact residents. This system allows for a diverse range of skills, expertise, knowledge, and experiences to be utilised in effectively managing the council’s operations.
Instead of having separate statutory scrutiny committees, the Future Governance Working Group considered aligning statutory duties with relevant service committees and suggested adopting this model to Full Council. Matters related to statutory scrutiny duties will be addressed as a discrete aspect of the overall business agenda. Details will be finalised as we move towards implementation.
The process hasn’t been fully decided yet. In other local authorities with similar arrangements, statutory scrutiny is treated as a separate part of the agenda. First, the service committee business is addressed, and once that is done, the focus shifts to the statutory scrutiny aspects of the business
The terms of reference of the relevant service committees will outline what is needed to carry out the statutory scrutiny duties. Though the exact process for meetings is still being worked on, it’s expected that the committee chair will plan out the statutory scrutiny activities for the year. There will be a specific time allocated in the service committee agenda for these activities. Additionally, the Audit and Governance Committee, as outlined in its own terms of reference, will assess the suitability and effectiveness of the council’s decision-making once the new arrangements are in place.
Different governance arrangements have their own pros and cons and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s up to the local authority to explore various options and choose the governance model that suits the council’s needs best. Full Council will make a decision at an Extraordinary Meeting on 1 May 2024, based on gathered information. Like any governance system, it should be periodically reviewed and improved based on experience and learning from its operation.

What are our statutory duties to consult in determining whether to change the council’s governance arrangements?

There is no formal requirement for the council to consult the public before proposing changes in governance. However, the council must keep in mind its obligations under Section 3 of the Local Government Act 1999 which requires local authorities to consistently improve how they carry out their functions considering factors like cost effectiveness and efficiency.

Even though there is no legal obligation to consult, involving residents and other important stakeholders in decision-making can be very beneficial. To facilitate this, there is a communications strategy in place. It includes various engagement activities to help people understand the proposal and to give feedback.

Communication efforts include issuing press releases, holding briefing sessions for the public, town, parish and community councils, as well as staff and elected members. Additionally, there is a dedicated email address for submitting feedback to the council and all feedback is being recorded.

These efforts are expected to fulfil the council’s duty to evaluate best value considerations adequately.

We are actively communicating about these potential changes through press releases, information leaflets, a council website page, and engagement with local councils. We’ve set up a dedicated email address for feedback, questions or opinions.
The frequency of meetings is still being discussed. The proposed number of meetings was suggested initially as an approximation of what might be needed. As we analyse the requirements of a typical year’s business more closely, these proposed numbers are likely to change to better match the actual needs of our business.
The same delegations that exist currently under the council’s constitution will remain in place.
We’re currently looking at resource allocation to see what’s possible within our existing resources. This is because the budget for the 2024/2025 financial year has already been set and our local authority is facing financial challenges. However, for the committee system to work effectively and provide benefits to residents, Full Council may need to find a way to secure additional financial resources to support it.

What are the implications for staff affected by a change to a committee system?

In switching to a committee system, staff affected will face challenges depending on when any change is implemented. If implemented in May 2024, they’ll have limited time to adjust and understand the new system. This includes administrative changes and getting used to new procedures. The Democratic Services team, who will be directly affected, also handles other committee tasks, and manages education appeals during busy times.

Since many staff are not familiar with the committee system, there may be uncertainties and unanswered questions. Depending on meeting frequency and timing, facilities management support will need adjustments, especially for evening meetings, where public access must be considered. Supporting staff meetings might see longer working hours, so ensuing their well-being and rest is crucial.

Staff understand the importance of this change to councillors and will do their best to make the transition smooth. As decisions are finalised, a review of support for scrutiny functions will be necessary to ensure adequate officer support aligns with the new system. Until then no changes are proposed to current support levels.

At this point in time, it is not anticipated that there will be a need for any redundancies although this cannot be guaranteed into the longer term if business requirements change
There is no sign that staff will leave if the committee system changes. It’s normal for staff to feel nervus about what the changes will bring and worry that they might end up busier. When introducing change, it’s important to expect some things won’t go as planned and there will be a learning curve to ensure everything runs smoothly.
It is not anticipated that there will be any change in staff needed to operate a committee system if it is to be introduced. While there will be much that is new in the methods of working and learning to be gained, the skills, knowledge and expertise of staff is easily transferrable to the different ways of working.
Some councils like Portsmouth City Council, have introduced service committees aligned with cabinet member portfolios. These committees, which are politically proportionate, operate independently and make recommendations to the cabinet member. Although the final decision still lies with the cabinet member, in most cases, they accept the committee’s recommendations. This allows for greater participation from all members in decision-making.
We are preparing as far as possible to ensure a smooth transition. We are preparing an implementation plan to cover all necessary activities and provide assurance that we’ve addressed every aspect. It is important to understand that with anything new, perfection isn’t guaranteed from the start, and there’s always room for improvement in how we work. If Full Council decides on an implementation date of May 2024, we’ll only have made the necessary constitutional amendments to operate the new system. There will need to be, post change, a review process to refine matters and resolve any issues that come up.
No, that is not the case. While it will oversee policy matters within service committees, it will function as its own service committee. It will also maintain political proportionality, like all service committees, ensuring all members can participate in discussions and decisions.
Yes, Full Council will make two separate decisions. The first will be whether to change to a different model and only after taking that decision will it decide the timing of any change. Change could occur in May 2024 or May 2025.

Has the cost impact of moving to the new structure been calculated, i.e.

  • will there be more or fewer meetings over the municipal year?
  • will there be a requirement for more or less Officer time to support the new structure?

Currently we are working on this and soon there will be information to help work out how often and how long we’ll need to meet for council business and what impact it will have on staffing. We can’t know exactly how much officer time we’ll need until the new system is up and running, but we’re carefully thinking about the factors that might affect staffing the change.

Some councillors may be chosen to lead on certain matters or champion key issues. In line with legislation regarding children’s services, specific councillors will need to be identified to fulfil legal duties. Typically, the chair of the service committee will handle these responsibilities.
Committee membership will be politically proportionate. The service committee chairs will be in a position to secure membership to this committee.
All members will be eligible to become a chair of a service committee and will be by nomination and appointment by Full Council.
Appointment to the committee chairs will be by nomination and chosen by Full Council voting at the Annual Council meeting.
It is not proposed to change the terms of reference for the Audit and Governance Committee.
Yes, membership of Audit and Governance Committee is subject to political proportionality.
No, there are no plans at this point in time for this to be the case and is not currently the case under the council’s constitution.
For good governance reasons, this is strongly discouraged. If we change to a committee system, to allow proper governance oversight, the chairs of committees will also be discouraged from being members of Audit and Governance Committee
This is currently being reviewed to make sure that as far as possible a realistic number of meetings are scheduled in to meet the needs of the business.
No, under a committee system, it is not permissible for any individual elected member to hold delegated decision-making powers.