Plymouth City Council has rejected a change to the committee system but will by November develop plans to “allay the perception of increased disenfranchisement” among councillors under its cabinet and scrutiny model.
A council review group last June began to explore moving to the committee system, a step taken by Cambridgeshire CC, Fylde, Guildford and Maidstone BCs, Canterbury City Council and West Dorset DC among others.
But it reported back this week that “feelings of disengagement from the democratic process experienced by some councillors had resulted from ‘cultural’ rather than ‘procedural’ issues that could equally be addressed from within either governance model”.
The group’s report said supporters of the committee system felt it was “inherently more open and democratic [and] that existing scrutiny arrangements were ineffective”, but group members found “little quantitative or qualitative evidence to support this supposition”.
Councils ran under the committee system until the Local Government Act 2000 abolished it in favour of cabinets and scrutiny in all but the smallest authorities.
This led to complaints that back benchers outside cabinets had little real role, and the Localism Act 2011 gave councils optional powers to restore the system.
Work due in Plymouth by November will seek new forms of community engagement, ways to enable ward councillors “to take a lead role in ensuring that all resources available in the community are used for the good of its area”, and means to “increase the engagement of all councillors and allay the perception of increased disenfranchisement arising from the current model of governance”, the report said.
Meanwhile, Conservative-controlled Worcestershire CC last month rebuffed a move by opposition councillors to change to the committee system.
The unsuccessful motion stated: “The current cabinet system excludes most councillors and Worcestershire residents from any meaningful input to decision-making.”
Minutes noted that supporters of the cabinet system felt: “Backbenchers were not disenfranchised under the cabinet system, they just did not make best use of the opportunities available to them.”