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Guide: How to stand for Election - Information for Candidates

Part 2

The County Councillor's Role

The Local Government Act 2000 changed the way in which councils organised their business. By September 2001, all English councils had to tell the Government what structure they proposed to adopt based on one of three types of ‘executive arrangements’ allowed under the Act.

Devon County Council now operates under a Leader and Executive (Cabinet) system.

The Council elects a Leader and appoints the various committees at the Council

The Council sets the policy framework and decides the level of each year’s Council Tax.

The Leader chairs the Cabinet which takes those key decisions (identified as decisions of political, financial or strategic importance) needed to put the Council’s policies into action.

The Cabinet currently comprises of 8 Councillors but can be up to a maximum of 10 It does not need to be ‘politically balanced’, and can be made up entirely from members of a majority party and does not have to reflect the make-up of the council as a whole. The Cabinet can take decisions as a group or its individual members can decide matters that fall within their assigned’portfolios’.

Non Executive Councillors

  • review and question the Cabinet’s decisions and policy (the scrutiny role)
  • advise the Cabinet on decisions and policy on local issues
  • consider the budget proposed by the Cabinet  suggesting amendments and voting on the final budget
  • take responsibility (with or without Cabinet members), for regulatory functions, such as planning, licensing and appeals, where it would not normally be appropriate to delegate to an individual member of the Cabinet.

The role of Scrutiny is about Councillors working with each other, officers of the Council, the community and partner organisations for the benefit of everyone in the area.

Legislation also affects the role of a Councillor and how they might work and a few examples are listed below demonstrating the wide reaching role of a Councillor.

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 placed on councils a duty to involve citizens and communities in decision-making. Voluntary and community groups can help councillors encourage citizens to participate. The Act also saw councillors, as democratically elected strategic leaders and convenors of local partnerships, looking across all public services, not just those that are the responsibility of local government.

The Localism Act 2011 was an important part of Government’s ambitions to devolve power to the local level. It provides some tools for local communities and councils to act on communities’ needs and aspirations. It is therefore important for Councillors to engage with their community in a positive and proactive way.

The future landscape for Local Government is rapidly changing, all of which changes and influences what the role of a Councillor is and will be. For example, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act (2016) which became law in January 2016 and provides the legal framework for the implementation of devolution deals with combined authorities and other areas.  You can find out more about Devolution here.

Committees – A lot of this work is done through committees which must be politically balanced (with their membership reflecting the relative strengths of the different political groups on the Council), publish their papers in advance and allow the press and public to attend meetings (except for a few special categories of business).

Outside Organisations – Councillors may also represent the Council on a number of outside organisations — school governing bodies, local strategic partnerships, arts and community organisations, charities and trusts for example.

Being a councillor is a big responsibility, but also very rewarding. Community Leadership is at the heart of Modern Local Government and the majority of councillors seek re-election.