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Unitary authority votes to return to committee system

South Gloucestershire Council has taken advantage of changes brought in by the Localism Act 2011 and voted to return to a committee system of governance.

Nottinghamshire County Council meanwhile will next week (29 March) consider a report from its Leader, Cllr Kay Cutts, and decide whether to approve a similar move.

The existing Leader and Cabinet arrangements will continue at South Gloucestershire until the unitary authority’s annual meeting in May. Working groups are to be set up to manage the transition.

Under the new arrangements, decisions will be taken by committees made up of groups of councillors from all parties. A chair will be elected for each committee. The council will appoint committees, and set out their terms of reference.

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The decision was taken by a majority of councillors and was against the wishes of the Conservative cabinet. The Conservatives have 34 councillors at South Gloucestershire, but Labour and the Liberal Democrats have 36 between them.

In January Nottinghamshire County Council agreed to develop further proposals to return to a committee system.

In her report for next week's meeting, Cllr Cutts argued that the system was the most democratic form of decision making. "It enables all councillors to be involved in decision making and gain experience of the areas covered by the committees on which they serve," she said.

Cllr Cutts also claimed that the system was more transparent for the public, as it was clear who was taking the decisions, with the papers being publicly available in advance.

If the resolution is approved, then Nottinghamshire will – like South Gloucestershire – return to the committee system from May this year.

The report reminds councillors that the law does not permit the passing of a further resolution to alter governance arrangements for a period of five years from the date of the original resolution. "It is possible to change the governance arrangements before the expiration of five years but only by means of a public referendum," Cllr Cutts said.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is expected to publish further regulations in April.

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