Nottinghamshire County Council approves return of cabinet governance ahead of devolution

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Nottinghamshire County Council will bring back a cabinet system of governance from May after councillors approved plans for a major shake-up of the way the authority makes decisions.

It will be the first time the authority has operated with a cabinet in a decade. Councillors voted in 2012 to move to the committee operation currently in place.

It comes as the Conservative-led authority gears up for a potential devolution deal from Whitehall which could see a directly-elected mayor and combined authority set up in the East Midlands.

The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, which sets out the framework for devolution deals, is more in favour of councils operating under a cabinet system than the committee form of governance.

It means the current committees, groups of councillors which sit and debate various council policy areas before making key decisions, will be scrapped.

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They will be replaced by a cabinet comprising of council leader Councillor Ben Bradley MP (Con) and nine other senior councillors, with cabinet members to have delegated powers to make major decisions in their remit.

The authority will, however, continue to operate its existing health and wellbeing board and the planning and rights of way, pension fund and governance and ethics committees.

And the council will also create select committees covering adult social care and public health, children and young people’s, and place.

The move was approved by the full council on Thursday (March 31), with some opposition councillors raising concerns about adequate levels of scrutiny in moving to the new system.

But Councillor Philip Owen (Con), who brought the report before councillors, confirmed the vice-chairmen roles of most scrutiny committees will be filled by opposition councillors.

This, he says, will increase their ability to hold the executive to account.

He said: “In those positions you are able to drive the processes of scrutiny and that is particularly important.”

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The move was given cross-party backing by councillors in the chamber, with members of all political parties praising the potential powers and extra funding the cabinet system help to facilitate through devolution.

Cllr David Martin (Ash Ind), who represents Selston, said: “I’m here to bring the benefits to my residents, for whatever brings money into Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, into this council.

“We will scrutinise – that’s our job as opposition, but I welcome the revenue it will bring into these two counties and hopefully will benefit all our residents.”

Cllr Michael Payne (Lab), who represents Arnold North, added: “I’m less interested in the way we make decisions and I’m more interested in the decisions actually taken in this chamber.

“I hope the system goes well, you’ve got an absolute commitment from us that we will absolutely keep your feet to the fire in the decisions you make.”

Cllr Payne also called for a “strong system” to notify councillors when decisions have been taken by the executive and for all councillors to be able to reflect on them in full council meetings.

This suggestion was echoed by other councillors from both sides of the chamber, with the system to be reviewed over the coming year once it comes into effect from May.

Cllr Ben Bradley MP (Con), leader of the council, said the new governance is an “ongoing process” and will be assessed regularly to see if improvements are needed.

He added: “This change leads us to the best possible position to access devolution powers, not least because it gives us the accountability the Government seeks in terms of our structures.

“Regardless of that, it puts us in the best possible place to have a modern and effective structure of decision-making.”

It will bring the authority broadly in line with the majority of other authorities in Nottinghamshire, with only Broxtowe and Newark and Sherwood councils not currently operating in this format.

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