After recent concerns about the cabinet system of decision making at Cornwall Council, the authority has voted to change.
The council says that thirteen years after legislation "forced the majority of councils to change from a governance system based entirely on committees to a Cabinet model, Cornwall Council has grasped the opportunity provided by the Government’s Localism Act to carry out a review of its system."
As a result the authority has agreed to modify its Cabinet model by creating new “advisory committees” which are a spokesman said were designed to involve more members in the decision making process.
The current cabinet model sees the majority of key decisions made by the council leader and cabinet, with the remaining 113 Members sitting on a number of other council committees, including planning, licensing and scrutiny committees.
This led to growing concerns among some members who felt non executive members should play a greater part in shaping and influencing the policies and decisions of the cabinet and council. There were also calls for an improved relationship between the ten portfolio holders on the cabinet and the wider Council Membership.
Over the past few months members of the Governance Review Panel and a Governance Review External group, including the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Reverend Tim Thornton; Debbie Wiltshire, Deputy Principal of Cornwall College; and Martin Parker, of the Standards Committee and previously of the Audit Commission, have considered a range of options for the governance of the new Council. Having previously rejected the mayoral system as inappropriate for Cornwall, the two models identified for further work included the modified cabinet system, and a committee system.
The committee system, which was not supported by Members at this week’s Cabinet meeting, would have involved the abolition of the leader and cabinet model in favour of the creation of portfolio focused committees sitting under a strategic management committee (similar to a policy and resources committee).This management committee, which would comprise the chairs of the portfolio based committees, would help to provide a co-ordinated and strategic approach to the council’s governance.
While a number of members supported this model, arguing that it would lead to greater involvement and engagement of the wider membership, others expressed concern over the possibility for delays in decision making, and issues of accountability, transparency and the potential for creating "silos".
Ultimately members voted decisively in favour of the modified cabinet model.
This modified cabinet system, which can be implemented for the new Council on 3 May 2013 without the need for the approval of the Secretary of State, retains the cabinet and leader model with the establishment of ten portfolio based “advisory committees” which would provide support and challenge to the portfolio holders.
These politically balanced committees would also provide a forum for policy development and performance management and support with engaging the wider membership and other relevant organisations.
The work of scrutiny would be refocused through a scrutiny management committee, with detailed work carried out by task and finish Parliamentary style Select Committees. Under this option the Leader would be elected annually, rather than every four years as is currently the case.
Welcoming the decision, John Keeling, chairman of the governance review panel, said “This was the right decision in terms of further member engagement and involvement in contributing to informed decision making. The streamlined scrutiny function will focus on providing the necessary checks and balances, across a range of services, to be applied to ensure challenge and help drive improvements in public service delivery.”