Council should have between 70 and 90 councillors in 2021. The exact
depend on getting a good fit with parish boundaries to keep
communities together and the
ability to deliver effective and convenient
The Council needs to make or, in some cases scrutinise,
significant decisions for Cornwall and must be accountable in that
From a practical perspective
it is impossible for all 123 councillors to have a
meaningful input into those decisions. The result is that many
councillors become frustrated and are critical of decisions they do
not believe that they can influence. Consequently members do not
feel ownership of, or responsibility for, many of the decisions and
strategies of the council. This makes for a fragmented and
It also means that the
process of decision making is very slow and unduly burdensome.
This is the Council's third
governance review in 7 years. Despite both this administration and
the previous one trying to get more members involved in decision
making the same frustrations exist.
The conclusion of the
Governance Review External Group (GREG) was that the current
number of councillors was 'unworkable' (as reported by the Chief
Legal Officer to the Electoral Review Panel on 7th September).
listed the references in the GREG (see Appendix
support my conclusion that GREG thought that the number of
councillors should be radically reduced. GREG did not suggest a new
number, as that was not part of their remit.
number of councillors and, importantly, stakeholders gave
evidence to the GREG. It is important to take note of what they say
to maintain credibility with the partners
(such as the health service) with which
the Council works.
2. The Council agreed
a devolution deal with central government in July 2015. The current
administration also wants more devolved powers, as set out in its
'Case for Cornwall'.
The Government generally
requires a mayoral model of governance in order to agree devolved
powers. A compromise was reached for Cornwall that it would not need
to have a mayor but it would be necessary to fundamentally review its
governance. It was assumed that councillor numbers would be much
reduced. This was to make the responsibility for the administration
of the new powers more visible and accountable.
3. The current
extremely burdensome structure of committees, often with single issue
agendas, called at short notice, held on different days of the week
and with overlapping responsibilities makes it difficult for
councillors who have work or family commitments. Councillors could
operate more efficiently without sacrificing democracy.
The manner in which the
Council has dealt with this latest governance/electoral review is a
case study which demonstrates the point. Its initial
submission, after a great deal of work by many committees (see
Appendix B) and approximately 40 meetings so far, has been politely
but heavily criticised by the Commission. It has been told to go
back to 'first principles'.
And councillors have now
concluded that they have not done enough work to be able to make a
4. The target date is
2021. The Council has time in that period to improve its ways of
working (see criticisms of outmoded working practices in the GREG
5. The public expect
us to reduce our numbers. They are suffering reduced services but
see only that councillor numbers remain the same and their allowances
are going up.
6. There is
significant devolution of assets and services to the parish and town
councils, the voluntary sector and other bodies (including the
transfer of most schools to academies and the transfer of leisure
services to a social enterprise). Reduced service provision should
mean that there is less to be done by Cornwall Councillors.
7. The evidence of
the Chief Executive to the Independent Remuneration Panel should be
given weight. She said that there had to be 'more discipline in the
member cohort'. This should not be interpreted as anti
democratic but that the way in which members operate causes
unnecessary operational burdens.
8. There are serious
issues around councillors managing large rural divisions which would
be exacerbated by reduced numbers. This could be ameliorated by a
system of differential allowances for councillors with large
divisions (and addressed by the Independent Remuneration Panel). It
could also be helped by improved ways of working to help offset
additional transport costs. It is impossible, in my view, to
protest that we have too much to do already while doing little or
nothing to improve our own ways of working.
9. There would be a
cost saving at a time of austerity both on member allowances but more
significantly also in terms of officer time. This could be better
targeted to preserving services.
10. If the divisions
were larger they would become unequal in terms of voter numbers less
often. And we would therefore minimise the frequency of undertaking
the exercise of equalising the divisions. This would be good for
stability and save money as the process is incredibly resource
How would it work?
a) Rather than put forward my
own committee structure for 70 to 90 councillors I would use the
example structure set out in Appendix 7 of the Agenda for Electoral
Review Panel dated 16th November. It could be refined.
b) More efficient ways of
c) Possibly differential
allowances for rural members.
d) The Council would need to
work with parish and town councillors to increase resource. The parishes
have already decided to grip this difficult issue. For example
the Cornish Association of Local Councils (CALC) intend to look at
the merits or otherwise of Community Network Panels to help fill in
any gap. There have been two reviews already of the panels and whilst some will say that they work well others say they are of no value. There is an opportunity here to increase the influence of town and parish councils to be more in line with the responsibilities they are taking on. It would also help to close the operational and policy gap between Cornwall Council and themselves if the ownership of the panels was devolved to the parishes together with some financial responsibility. If the numbers of Cornwall councillors is reduced,
there will be an incentive to make better use of the panels.
18th November 2016
What the experts (Cornwall
Council Strategic Governance Review) said:
1. ' The Council had been
given 'a once in a decade opportunity to develop and implement a new
model of governance' and 'demonstrates ...that Council taken
seriously challenge to undertake a fundamental review of its
governance upon which the delay in implementing the electoral review
in 2021 was based'. (page 5 )
2.'Within the Council, the
large proportion of 'backbench' Councillors has led to an unhealthy
feeling of marginalisation and disengagement from decisions made by
the Executive' (page 6)
3. Councillors' ways of
working were 'arguably unsustainable' and 'outmoded'.(page 7)
4. Many councillors felt
'marginalised' and 'disengaged' and this could 'severely impact the
effectiveness of the organisation as well as having serious future
implications for attracting and retaining councillors' (page 20)
5. On balance mayoral model
was rejected (page 22).
6. Portfolio Advisory
Committees created a ' significant bureaucratic burden which is a
vast draw on both member and officer time whilst achieving only very
limited influence' (page 24)
7. A degree of overlap
between functions of committees resulting in arguments about areas of
responsibility (page 24)
8. 'We support a
reform...which would result in fewer committees' (page 26)
9. 'Very limited use is made
of technology to reduce Member time spent travelling to meetings'
10. Councillors' 'strategic
role should have primacy ' (page 29)
11. 'As budgets are reduced
and demand for services increase, ..the way Members are currently
operating are arguably not sustainable' (Page 29)
12. Impact of double
devolution and a more strategic role for Cornwall Council, leads us
to consider that it will require substantially fewer Members to
function effectively'. ( page 30)
13. The Council should
'support members to move role away from an obligation to identify and
personally solve all problems to developing community resilience
alongside local town and parish councils' (page 30)