Last week was the Annual Meeting of the council. While the meeting itself is largely ceremonial, less so where authorities are hung, it’s important because it assigns various roles for the forthcoming year.
Councils previously operated a committee system, where decisions were taken by committees of members appointed by their respective parties at the Annual Meeting. This system was arguably more democratic but made it harder for residents to hold an individual to account for the decisions taken.
Consequently, over the last fifteen years the system has been modified to greater resemble national government. The council now elects a leader for a four year term, although they’ll be removed if the council’s political balance shifts, and the leader appoints a cabinet. Powers for the day-to-day running of the council are delegated to the leader, cabinet members and the cabinet, depending upon their significance. Full council is left to focus on major decisions, such as the Budget, policy frameworks and the most significant decisions. The Mayor is elected to chair Full Council meetings and provide ceremonial leadership of the town.
Instead of taking day-to-day decisions, committees now play one of two roles. The first is to scrutinise the work of the authority, this is performed by committees such as the Overview and Scrutiny Commission and the Audit Committee. The second role, embodied by committees such as Planning or Licensing, is to undertake the authority’s quasi-judicial decision making process on planning and licensing applications. This role is non-political, in fact the role of councillors is to determine whether or not an application is in line with the relevant legislation, rather than whether or not they think the application is a good idea.
Annual Council appoints the membership of each committee and decides the chair and vice chair. This is done by majority vote of councillors at the meeting of the Annual Council and there are few rules or conventions around who gets what, but to ensure greater accountability at Crawley we’ve appointed opposition members to the vice chairs of committees holding the cabinet to account with the remaining roles assigned on merit.