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Guildford Borough Council Taking An In-depth Look at Its Leadership

Published on: 3 Dec, 2014
Updated on: 3 Dec, 2014

Guildford Borough Council is taking an in-depth look at the way it operates its leadership, its Executive and other decision-making operations.

A cross-party group of councillors has started work on a “balanced and thorough look at how these operations work”.

Guildford Borough Council Offices at Millmead.

Guildford Borough Council Offices at Millmead.

At a meeting on October 7 the council tasked its joint scrutiny committee to review all available decision-making models and to recommend any improvements to the council’s governance arrangements.

Following a meeting of the joint scrutiny committee on November 13, the council reports that a separate task and finish group (TFG) was established to do this “important and detailed work”.

In a statement from the council, the chairman of the TFG, Cllr Tony Rooth, explained: “We are taking a fresh and open look at the way the council operates and makes decisions.

“The task and finish group is cross-party, non-political and starts with a blank canvas. We are keen to start from first principles to look at what good governance means. This is a very important part of the council’s responsibility and we want to hear views about our current structure, and look at all the possible options, before recommending any changes.

“The council currently uses a leader and executive structure, alongside a number of cross-party scrutiny and other committees. The aim of any governance model is to make sure that decision-making is transparent, efficient and accountable and each has its own merits.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group and TFG member, added: “It is vital to have councillors from all parties on the group to help with this important work. Good governance is also about participation, attitudes and behaviour as well as how the Council is organised.”

Cllr Angela Gunning, leader of the council’s Labour group and TFG member, said: “I am pleased to see a wide representation. It’s our job to look very carefully at the best option for the council, based on evidence and the key requirements.”

The TFG will gather data and feedback from a variety of sources to identify the essential attributes that best meet the council’s needs. They will then evaluate the different models and make a recommendation to the joint scrutiny committee, Executive and council.

The council’s statement adds: “A vital part of assessing the current situation and understanding the different models will be engaging with councillors, partners, stakeholders and others to get their views. Please look out for further details about how to get involved. The TFG will also gather evidence from wider sources such as Local Government Association research and discussions with other councils.”

Since the Localism Act 2011, there are three main governance models to choose.

Leader and cabinet (or Executive) – a governance system that most councils, including Guildford Borough Council, operate. A leader, who is usually the leader of the largest party, leads cabinet. Full council elects them for a term determined by the council itself or on a four yearly basis. These councils must have at least one overview and scrutiny committee

Mayoral system – these councils have a directly-elected executive mayor with wide decision-making powers. The mayor appoints a cabinet made up of other councillors, who may also have decision-making powers. These councils must also have at least one overview and scrutiny committee.

Committee system – these councils make most decisions in committees, which are made up of a mix of councillors from all political parties. They have a number of service committees, which will often align with council departments. Normally this model has a policy and resources committee that makes the key policy decisions. This is usually chaired by the leader of the largest party. They may have one or more overview and scrutiny committees to coordinate and scrutinise work programmes, but are not required to.

Correspondence published on The Guildford Dragon NEWS, in reply to a range of stories relating to Guildford Borough Council, have, at times, questioned the current system in operation at the council.

Readers are always welcome to have their say. What are your thoughts? Please leave a reply in the box below.


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Responses to Guildford Borough Council Taking An In-depth Look at Its Leadership

  1. Fiona White Reply

    December 3, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I am very pleased that Guildford are looking at the system by which decisions are made.

    As one of the councillors who served under the previous committee system, to my mind one of the real benefits was that each committee was that they reflected the political makeup of the council.

    Each committee, including policy and resources, was politically proportional. That meant that (a) decisions could not be rehearsed out of the public domain which can happen under the current cabinet system, and (b) the debate was more meaningful because you had people who put forward different views.

    When the Executive (cabinet) system was first brought in by the then Labour government, we replicated that political mix on the committees because we believed in open democratic debate.

  2. Nick Norton Reply

    December 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Perhaps the threat of a local referendum on the Guildford Borough Council governance model has encouraged this review.

    There are 48 elected borough councillors, but it now only requires three members of the nine members appointed by the council leader to the Executive committee to vote to spend millions of pounds of our council’s funds without reference to the other 45 councillors.

    Many residents who have posted comments to the Dragon articles on the Local Plan process have expressed their frustration with this ‘democratic deficit’.

    I you, like me, want your elected councillor to be accountable, keep signing up for the local referendum to change back to the committee system and regain democratic control of council decisions.

    Approximately 5,500 signatures are required. Guildford Greenbelt Group is leading the charge and signatures collected from borough residents are climbing towards the 3,000 mark.

    • Sue Sturgeon, Managing Director, Guildford Borough Council Reply

      December 10, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      Your reader Nick Norton commented that, ‘There are 48 elected borough councillors, but it now only requires three members of the nine members appointed by the council leader to the Executive committee to vote to spend millions of pounds of our council’s funds without reference to the other 45 councillors.’

      This is simply not true. The full Council agrees the budget each February. Any supplementary estimate required during the year, above certain levels, needs to be approved by full Council.

      It is also worth remembering that only full Council can set the council tax charge and if they wish to increase it by more than a figure of around 1.9 – 2% they would have to go for a public referendum.

  3. sue fox Reply

    December 3, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Committee system no doubt ensures all members have a say otherwise don’t see the point of some councillors.

  4. Ngaire Wadman Reply

    December 5, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    I am very encouraged to see the council taking this step.

    The problem with the leader/Executive system, as has been shown by seemingly autocratic and questionable activities in the firing and selecting of councillors to the Executive, is that a Leader will be tempted to adopt an autocratic attitude and impose his wishes on the Executive, irrespective of the wishes of the residents of the area.
    We are, after all, still dealing with fallible people, not superheroes. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely – and creates the perception that as Leader, one is ineffably superior to the ‘lesser mortals’ of the non-Executive council.

    The committee system may be more cumbersome, but at least it does have some measure of democracy.
    We have signed the petition and vigorously encouraged many others to sign it as well.

  5. Paul Spooner Reply

    December 8, 2014 at 9:50 am

    It seems that some people have forgotten that full council provides the opportunity for debate, discussion and a considerable amount of decision making, a forum for all councillors of all parties!

    Committee systems have those who chair and ‘steer’ policy and the Executive system has appointed lead members who ‘steer’ policy.

    However, policy is introduced by officers for the benefit of the community no matter what system is in place. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages.

    I look forward to the result of the review at GBC.

  6. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 8, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Oh yes, Mr. Spooner. For example the scrutiny had the power to call in the local plan housing number for re-assessment, and to require it to be reduced. What happened next?

    The executive totally ignored the requirement to abide by the findings of the scrutiny committee, and published the flawed local plan anyway. Very democratic.

    • Paul Spooner Reply

      December 16, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Could Mr Cranwell please identify when scrutiny are supposed to have specifically ‘required’ the housing number to be reduced?

      There is a big difference between requesting further review and expressing concern for the housing number and a ‘requirement’ to reduce.

      GGG fiction once again.

      New SHMA published on Thursday.

      • Lisa Wright Reply

        December 17, 2014 at 9:47 pm

        In reply to Paul Spooner, I was also present at that scrutiny meeting where the council members from all parties and wards spoke in unison to have the housing number reworked. I’m not sure of the wording of the vote that was taken but it was something along the lines of ‘try and reduce it’.

        As I understood it, GBC would have a meeting with property consultants GL Hearn to find out how the number was generated and on behalf of the council put due pressure on the evidence to reduce the SHMA number.

        Guildford MP Anne Milton was also part of the team that discussed the accounting of the SHMA figure with GL Hearn. To date, according to a letter written to Anne last month from GL Hearn, we still have no explanation as to how the figure 652 was calculated.

        Please do enlighten us if you have evidence to the contrary.

        • Paul Spooner Reply

          December 19, 2014 at 11:02 pm

          I was also there on May 15 and I don’t have to remember as the webcast and minutes record the exact request:

          Joint scrutiny wished” “To express concern over the housing number as set out in the Draft Local Plan and to ask the head of planning and the lead councillor for planning to review the housing number before going to the Executive for consideration on June 4 and council on June 19, 2014”

          Nothing about the power to call in and require it to be reduced as per Mr Cranwell’s “misleading” comment.

          • Lisa Wright

            December 20, 2014 at 9:01 pm

            Well, that decision wasn’t respected was it?
            We now have a housing figure larger than the one we started with.

  7. Anna-Marie Davis Reply

    December 10, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    In response to Sue Sturgeon [managing director at Guildford Borough Council] and Cllr Paul Spooner I think it is worth noting that the Ms Sturgeon and the leader of the council decided to waive the council constitution under delegated powers in relation to sponsorship by arms dealers.

    Yes, only the full council can agree the budget, but maybe if council officers and councillors on the Executive acted more transparently in relation to other decisions a return to the Committee System would not look so very attractive.

  8. Gordon Bridger Reply

    December 11, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    It was a bit of a mystery as to why the Labour Government suddenly changed the system to one similar to Parliament – but it was thought that they were fed up with the incompetence of many of the northern boroughs they controlled and wanted to show they would change things. In the south they worked perfectly well.

    Unfortunately, it was a change for the worse for although scrutiny committees can and do call in executive decisions and may make useful recommendations, the vested interests in a report already approved are not easily overcome – and so they have less impact.

    The committee system allows councillors to play a positive and knowledgable role before a report is finalised. Several important decisions made by the council were flawed as those producing the reports were not well informed and the Executive overwhelmed by reports did not have time to assess them.

    A mayoral system or indeed an executive system may be faster but what happens when you choose the wrong person or the wrong Executive?

    There is not much of a point being a councillor under the present system unless one is on the Executive and then one is overwhelmed by reports.

    I am advised that several councils have reverted to the committee system – it does not need a referendum.

  9. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 14, 2014 at 8:59 am

    All good points from Gordon, apart from the referendum not being needed. There is less chance of this executive voluntarily relinquishing their grip on power, than of turkeys voting for Christmas.

    If interested in GBC reverting to the committee system, download and sign the petition here:

  10. Gordon Bridger Reply

    December 15, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Jules Cranwell makes a valid point that the Executive members are unlikely to vote for a change though there are 39 councillors who are not on the Executive and who one would have thought would prefer a system which enabled them to play a more effective part on the council.

    I attended the council debate which was initiated by Lib Dems and to be fair to the Executive they did not reject it out of hand but submitted it to a scrutiny committee for consideration – a not unreasonable reaction to a major change.

    What puzzled and surprised me was that so many Ccouncillors – on the Conservative side expressed ignorance about “a committee system”. I would have thought that what seems to me the normal way of reaching a consensus is to have a committee to sort out issues before producing a report – not after it has been produced by officials.

    The issue is not a party issue – or should not be – as it is about better governance – the fact that it has been promoted by the the Liberal Democrats and taken up by the Guildford Greenbelt Group should not put off those who are not their supporters from supporting the change.

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