LETTER SENT TO INTERIM CHIEF EXECUTIVE SCC, 5TH FEBRUARY 2020.
Dear Ms Adan
A belated welcome to Sheffield, you have arrived at a fairly momentous time in our city but I hope your time here is interesting and rewarding, and that you feel able to make a positive contribution!
I am writing in relation to the report ‘Proposal for Alternative Governance Arrangements for SCC’ to be presented at full Council today. This contains a significant inaccuracy and I am writing to you as Chief Executive. I understand from the Council Constitution that responsibility for this/correcting inaccuracies lies with you.
I am referring to section 6 about proportionality arrangements (though references to proportionality are made throughout the document). This section states that the Council is subject to regulations on proportionality and explains these in some detail. However, what this omits to say is that there is provision for councils to deviate from regulations on proportionality.
This inaccuracy by omission is misleading for full Council. It is very significant for Sheffield as:
1) proportional allocations (to committees) by vote share (rather than numbers of councillors) is exactly what Sheffield for Democracy and many thousands in communities across Sheffield (via It’s Our City!) are calling for. It’s Our City! submitted a briefing note to this effect in evidence to the ‘Governance Review’ clarifying that deviations are possible, and examples of where this has been done. I have copied this briefing note directly below this email. National bodies that advise councils eg the Centre for Public Scrutiny are also on record as being very positive about local councils seeking deviations from proportionality regulations where these are appropriate.
The briefing note is at appendix B here: https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/ioc%20-%20evidence%20and%20community%20principles%20for%20a%20modern%20committee%20system-2.pdf?token=AWwIthpHpNrn_wLAV3TCBCkfIUYA2th2TXgcrTDqqBdnLS6cd5P8_8b09c7gVBO8ZAWjzFXsUN81tQbGtdn0yq_51RpvWIzMOm44Hu_ZIh54Dm1hRGOHrXjTutyKe7iWdsD-VayCAkv7EAD8vM1teHpt
(And this report with appendix B is also at the relevant Council governance review evidence pages.)
2) Fewer than 1 in 10 of the electorate voted for the current ruling group. This leads to a massive democratic deficit in the city where the representatives of fewer than 1 in 10 hold onto all the power through the strong leader governance model. The strong call from thousands across communities in Sheffield is for more democratic governance. If it is appropriate anywhere to ensure better arrangements for power sharing it is in Sheffield, as the proportions of party vote share are 31, 25 and 23% respectively for Labour, Lib Dems and Greens, for example. The use of available mechanisms to deviate from proportionality guidance therefore becomes a crucial part of addressing the current lack of democratic legitimacy in Sheffield City Council.
However, the report to full Council today is misleading – it gives the impression that none of this is possible; it gives a highly inaccurate picture for Council by not stating that deviations are possible.
I would be very grateful if, at a minimum, you could correct this significant inaccuracy in the report today, and ensure that (the public and) full Council is made aware of the possibilities to deviate from proportionality regulations where appropriate.
Thank you for your assistance in clarifying this for full Council.
It’s Our City! Coordinating Group
The briefing note below is copied from appendix B of the full report submitted as evidence by It’s Our City! to the ‘Governance Review’:
https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/ioc%20-%20evidence%20and%20community%20principles%20for%20a%20modern%20committee%20system-2.pdf?token=AWwIthpHpNrn_wLAV3TCBCkfIUYA2th2TXgcrTDqqBdnLS6cd5P8_8b09c7gVBO8ZAWjzFXsUN81tQbGtdn0yq_51RpvWIzMOm44Hu_ZIh54Dm1hRGOHrXjTutyKe7iWdsD-VayCAkv7EAD8vM1teHpt (And this report with appendix B is also at the relevant Council governance review evidence pages.)
Committee membership can be proportional to votes not councillors
Here is some information showing that the membership of committees in a Modernised Committee System does not have to be proportional to the number of councillors elected for a party, but can be proportional to the number of votes a party gets (more like true proportional representation) if the Council chooses. If there is the political will, it can be done!
Relevant Legislation The legislation states that by default committee members should be allocated in proportion to the number of elected councillors in each party, but that it is possible for a different allocation to be used, e.g. members allocated proportionally to the number of votes obtained by each party.
Local Government and Housing Act 1989: Allows the council to choose a different committee membership system, if it is unanimously decided: 17 Exceptions to and extensions of political balance requirements. (1)Subject to subsection (2) below, sections 15 and 16 above shall not apply in relation to appointments by a relevant authority or committee of a relevant authority to any body in so far as different provision is made by arrangements approved by the authority or committee— (a)in such manner as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State; and (b)without any member of the authority or committee voting against them.
Localism Act 2011: Allows the council to ask the Secretary of State to allow other arrangements if they are an “improvement”: 9BA Power of Secretary of State to prescribe additional permitted governance arrangements (5)A local authority may propose to the Secretary of State that the Secretary of State make regulations prescribing arrangements specified in the proposal if the authority considers that the conditions in subsection (6) are met. (6)The conditions are— (a)that the operation by the authority of the proposed arrangements would be an improvement on the arrangements which the authority has in place for the discharge of its functions at the time that the proposal is made to the Secretary of State, (b)that the operation by the authority of the proposed arrangements would be likely to ensure that the decisions of the authority are taken in an efficient, transparent and accountable way, and (c)that the arrangements, if prescribed under this section, would be appropriate for all local authorities, or for any particular description of local authority, to consider.
Examples Some examples where this legislation has been used by councils across the country:
Winchester: “To pass the following resolution…that alternative arrangements [not proportional to the number of councillors elected to each party] apply for meetings of the Committee for 2013/14’” https://democracy.winchester.gov.uk/CeListDocuments.aspx?CommitteeId=138&MeetingId=796&DF=16%2F05%2F2018&Ver=2
Hammersmith: “It is open to the Council when carrying out a review to adopt some arrangement other than that prescribed by the Act and the Regulations” http://democracy.lbhf.gov.uk/documents/s99543/Allocation%20of%20Seats%20and%20Proportionality.pdf
Brent: “Full Council can depart from the rules provided no member votes against the proposal.” http://democracy.brent.gov.uk/documents/s67604/Report%20-%20Representation%20of%20Political%20Groups%20on%20Committees.pdf
In addition: the Localism Act (2011) introduces the General Power of Competence (GPC). “In simple terms, it gives councils the power to do anything an individual can do provided it is not prohibited by other legislation”. This may provide significant scope for governance innovations, including supporting proportional-to-vote committee representation. https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/general-power-competence–0ac.pdf