Governance - How council decisions are made

2016 Governance Review

Who decides? Governance Review of Cornwall Council

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Cornwall Council makes decisions about a wide range of issues that affect Cornwall, our residents and business owners. The processes for how decisions are made within the Council about the services we provide are an important part of our ‘Governance’.

We are currently reviewing whether the arrangements we have in place are the right ones needed for the future. More information and details of the public events, and how you can get involved in the review, is available on the Who decides? public events page.

The Governance Review page provides some background information on our current governance arrangements,and alternative arrangements we could introduce.

In relation to decision making, governance is about the rules, processes and laws by which the Council is operated, regulated, controlled and held to account. It makes sure that decisions take public opinion into account, reflect and respond to the needs of local people, are evidence-based and are transparent and accountable.

View our bitesize guide to governance relating to decision-making or read on for more detailed information.

We have 123 Councillors representing Cornwall and together they form full Council.

Full Council meets approximately every six weeks. They set the budget for the year as well as the business plan, which sets out the policies and plans the Council wants to achieve. 

Our democratic governance structure is the leader and Cabinet model. Full Council elects a Leader who is then re-elected annually.  The Leader chooses between two and nine councillors to form a Cabinet.  The Cabinet’s responsibilities are divided up into portfolios and each Cabinet Member is responsible for a portfolio of work. The Cabinet Members are also known as Portfolio Holders or Executive Members. The Leader and Cabinet take decisions to deliver the business plan and these must usually be within the budget and policy framework set by full Council.

View the Governance Model diagram in more detail.

For each Portfolio area, there is a Policy Advisory Committee (PAC). They provide support and challenge to the Portfolio Holders. Each PAC has 10 Non Executive Members and is chaired by a nominated Councillor who is not the Portfolio Holder. These committees enable Councillors to participate more widely in policy development and performance management. They also provide an opportunity to have discussions on work undertaken by Councillors through partnerships and other organisations the Council is involved with. Directors and other officers may also attend as and when requested. Each PAC has a work programme which sets out its work and is regularly agreed and reviewed by its membership.

Members of the PAC can ask questions of the Portfolio Holder as can members of the public . The PACs provide an opportunity to put issues on the full Council agenda and will act as the hub for the majority of business associated with the specified portfolio responsibilities.

Scrutiny is set up to review and challenge Cabinet and the wider Council and is made up of elected Councillors. There is a Scrutiny Management Committee and a Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee. Both have work programmes setting out their work which are regularly reviewed by the committee membership.

The Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee may set up select committees to do detailed challenge work within the remit of health and social care.

The Management Committee will look at all other work including statutory responsibilities such as Flood Risk and Crime and Disorder. Detailed work will be carried out by Parliamentary style select committees, which will look at specific areas of work as and when necessary, as agreed by the committee.

Scrutiny can call witnesses, ask detailed questions and will issue reports to the relevant decision makers.  Scrutiny can challenge decisions of Cabinet and individual Cabinet Members by a process known as ‘call in’.  Scrutiny may also respond to specific requests from Councillors.

There is a wider pool of Members that can be drawn upon to form Select Committees which review and scrutinise specific areas of work on request. Each Select Committee is chaired by a member of the parent committee.

There are a number of other committees to deal with the Council's business which is not dealt with direct by either full Council or the responsibility of Cabinet. These committees include:

  • Licensing
  • Planning
  • Audit
  • Constitution and Governance
  • Standards
  • Appeals
  • Pensions

Our decision making process, as described above, came into being in 2013 and was reviewed in 2014. The original review was implemented as a result of a full review of our governance arrangements. This was undertaken as an opportunity to investigate ways in which non Cabinet Members could play a greater role in shaping and influencing the policies and decisions of the Council. It also helped strengthen the relationship between the Portfolio Holders on the Cabinet and the wider Council membership. The Council's former governance arrangements had been in place since becoming a unitary authority in 2009.