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Unitary reverts to cabinet system as three districts go committee

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Three districts have adopted the committee system while a unitary has reverted back to a leader and cabinet model.

Five years ago South Gloucestershire Council was among the first to use new powers under the Localism Act 2011 to scrap the cabinet model and return to the committee system, which had been in place before the Local Government Act 2000.

But leader Matthew Riddle (Con) and his executive members will now take decisions either individually or collectively as a cabinet. The Tory group comfortably has overall control of the council. The change was implemented at the council’s annual general meeting on 17 May.

The districts which have adopted the committee system are Worcester City Council, West Dorset DC, and Basildon BC where the ruling Conservative group has been ousted by Labour, Ukip, and independents.

Concerns had been raised about the former Conservative cabinet being largely made up of councillors representing the north of the borough. Opposition parties said moving to the committee system would make decision-making processes more democratic.

While Ukip is the official opposition with 10 seats to the Tories’ 18, one of Labour’s nine councillors - Gavin Callaghan - will “assume the responsibilities of a leader” as chair of the policy and resources committee.

Cllr Callaghan told LGC the leadership role had less power in the committee system and that he will be “a spokesman for the council and that’s the extent of it”.

Labour members will chair three committees, whereas Ukip will chair two, and independents another two.

Cllr Callaghan said roles were allocated based on members’ “specialisms” and “what’s in the best interests of that committee”.

Ukip group leader Linda Allport-Hodge, chair of the infrastructure, growth and development committee, told LGC Cllr Callaghan’s role was “not anything special” and added she was “quite happy” with the new set-up.

In November, LGC reported that the Conservative and Green groups on Worcester City Council had formed an alliance to scrap the cabinet and introduce a politically proportionate committee system. The proposal was approved at the council’s AGM last month. The Conservatives hold 17 seats but the Labour group, with 16 seats, has gained the support of the two Green party members so they officially lead the council through Adrian Gregson while the Tories’ Marc Bayliss has been appointed deputy leader.

LGC reported in May 2016 that West Dorset would be adopting the committee system following a public referendum. The system was adopted last month.

LGC previously reported how proposals for adopting the committee system were rejected by both Plymouth City Council in February while a referendum on the issue held by North Tyneside Council last year failed to get public backing.

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