Constitution - Part 1 - Introduction and short guide


1.1 This section introduces and gives an overview of what can be found in the County Council's Constitution.

1.2 Please note the guide is only a summary and so please look at the detailed rules within the relevant sections as necessary.

2.1 Cumbria County Council ('the County Council') is the second largest local authority in England and Wales based on land area. It is also one of the most sparsely populated, with only 0.7 persons per hectare compared with the England and Wales average of 3.2. Cumbria's total population is approximately 500,000.

2.2 County Councillors ('members') are elected every four years, and everyone aged over 18 and on the electoral register for the County may vote. There are 84 members of the County Council, each representing a single electoral division with an average electorate of about 4,700.

2.3 Most members are elected with the support of the political parties. The current political composition of the County Council (as at June 2015) is Labour 36, Conservative 25, Liberal Democrat 15, Independents - Non Aligned 5, 2 West Cumbria Independents and 1 vacancy.

2.4 The County Council represents and speaks for all the people who live in Cumbria. It champions their interests with central government, European institutions and a wide range of statutory, voluntary and private sector bodies whose decisions impact on the quality of life of Cumbrian residents.

2.5 The county of Cumbria has a three tier system of local government; the County Council; the local Borough or District Council; and a Parish or Town Council. In addition some parts of the County lie within the boundaries of the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales National Parks. Each of these authorities is responsible for different services.

2.6 The County Council is responsible for a wide range of services, examples being:

• Children's services;
• Adult social care;
• Public health;
• Fire and Rescue services;
• Public Safety
• Highways;
• Community services such as libraries and archives;
• Waste disposal;
• Trading standards;
• Spatial planning.

2.7 The County Council has a turnover of approximately £790m and is responsible for a pension fund valued at £1.9b. The County Council employs approximately 7,000 people (excluding staff in schools).

3.1 The way the County Council works, and how decisions are made, is set out in the Council's Constitution (see Parts 2 - 7 of this document).  The Constitution is a lengthy document and this short guide is intended to provide a brief summary and overview.

3.2 The County Council's political governance arrangements have to meet the requirements of law, particularly the Local Government Act 2000.

3.3 In June 2009, the County Council elected for the first time a "strong leader" (the Leader') who in turn appoints a Deputy Leader and between one and eight other members to form a Cabinet.  The Cabinet is responsible for much of the day to day executive functions of the Council, and operates within the budget and policies approved by the County Council. Six Local Committees, based on District Council areas, take decisions on a wide range of local issues within policies set by the Council and/or Cabinet.

3.4 A structure chart showing the main features of the Council's Cabinet and Committee Structure is set out at Appendix A (PDf 130kb).

4.1 The 84 members of the County Council meet in full Council ('the Council') at least seven times a year.

4.2 The main roles of the full Council are:

(a) To approve the Constitution; and

(b) To determine policies that set the framework for the way in which the County Council carries out its functions.  These are called "Policy Framework Documents" and are set out in the Constitution in section 3 of Part 2A of the Constitution; and

(c) To approve the County Council's revenue and capital budget and the County Council Tax precept; and

(d) To appoint or dismiss the Leader

4.3 Council meetings take place on a Thursday at County Offices, Kendal, at 10.00 am, unless otherwise agreed with the Chairman of the Council.

4.4 The agenda and papers are normally sent to members 5 working days before the date of the meeting.  The detail regarding access to information is available at Part 5D of the Constitution.

4.5 The order of business for Council meetings and the time limits for the consideration of the various items of business are set out in the Council Procedure Rules at Part 5A of the Constitution.

4.6 A summary of the order of business is as follows:

(a) After the roll call, where attendance and apologies for absence are recorded, the first item on the agenda is a standard one relating to members' interests. This also appears as the first item on agendas for most other meetings.  Members are invited to declare whether they have an interest in any item on the agenda;
(b) Following the minutes of the last meeting, the Chair of the County Council, the Leader, Cabinet members and the Chief Executive refer briefly to significant events which have occurred since the previous meeting, such as awards or commendations, the inclusion of Cumbria residents in the Honours List or the retirement of senior officers;

(c)  There is then an opportunity under the Council's Public Participation Scheme for any member of the public who has given the required notice to present a petition to the Council or ask a question.  Public participation is time-limited to 30 minutes.

(d)  The next item on the agenda is the minutes of the Cabinet, which provides an opportunity for any member of the Council to ask a question on any matter in the Cabinet minutes.  This is followed by questions from individual members to Cabinet members or committee chairs. 

(e)  The County Council then proceeds to debate those major policy matters which are for full Council to consider or determine. 

(f)  Following the consideration of reports of committees on which questions may be asked, the County Council debates any notices of motion proposed by members.  The final agenda item is speeches, under which any member may speak for no more than five minutes on a matter relevant to Cumbria.

4.7 The Chair of the Council is elected by the full Council and has the following responsibilities:

(a) To uphold and promote the purposes of the Constitution, and to interpret the Constitution when necessary;

(b) To preside over meetings of the full Council, so that its business can be carried out efficiently and with regard to the rights of members and the interests of the community;

(c) To ensure that the full Council meeting is a forum for the debate of matters of concern to the local community, and the place at which members who are not on the Cabinet are able to hold the Cabinet to account; and

(d) To promote public involvement in the Council's activities.

4.8 Members are democratically accountable to residents in their electoral division.  Members' overriding duty is to the whole community of Cumbria, but they have a special duty to their constituents, including those who did not vote for them.

4.9 The key roles of all members are to:

(a) Collectively (through the County Council) to be the ultimate policy makers and to approve the strategies and plans forming the Council's budget and policy framework;

(b) Represent their communities and bring their views into the Council's decision-making process, i.e. become the advocate of and for their communities;

(c) Deal with individual casework and act as an advocate for constituents in resolving particular concerns or grievances;

(d) Balance different interests identified within the electoral division and represent the electoral division as a whole;

(e) Be involved in decision making;

(f) Be available to represent the Council on other bodies;  and

(g) Maintain the highest standards of conduct and ethics.

5.1 Within the Budget and Policy Framework set by the full Council, the Cabinet is responsible for carrying out all the County Council's executive functions in delivering services to the community except those that have been delegated to local committees or officers.

5.2 Executive functions are those functions of the County Council which the Local Government Act 2000 states are to be the responsibility of the Leader and Cabinet.  These are the vast majority of the council's functions.  Some of these functions have been delegated by the Leader to Local Committees and officers.

5.3 The Cabinet comprises the Leader, the Deputy Leader and up to eight other members.  The Cabinet is responsible for taking most of the major decisions to deliver the Council's priorities, for example in relation to children's services and adult social care. Increasingly the Cabinet pursues its objectives through working in partnership with a wide range of other bodies, including other tiers of local government, and with the private and third sectors.

5.4 Under the "strong leader" model adopted by the Council, the Leader of the Council will normally hold office for a four year term until the next whole council elections. However, there is provision to remove the Leader from office by resolution of the Council.  Only the Leader may remove the Deputy Leader and members of the Cabinet. 

5.5 Another significant feature of the "strong leader" model is that the Leader has substantial discretion to determine how executive functions are carried out. The Cabinet can form sub-committees or working groups to deal in more depth with particular political and council priorities.  Only members may be appointed to the Cabinet.  There can be no co-opted members, deputies or substitutes for Cabinet members.  Neither the Chairman nor Vice-Chairman of the Council may be appointed to Cabinet.

5.6 Cabinet Procedure Rules are set out in Part 5B of the Constitution.

5.7 Cabinet members have the following portfolios, although decisions are taken collectively by the Cabinet:

• Finance;
• Children's Services;
• Schools and Learning;
• Health and Care Services;
• Environment;
• Public Health and Community Services;
• Highways and Transport;
• Economic Development and Property; and
• Fire, Public Safety and Central Support Services.

5.8 Cabinet members hold office until:

(a) They resign from the Cabinet;  or

(b) They are no longer councillors ('members'); or

(c) They are removed from the Cabinet by the Leader.

5.9 Cabinet meetings are open to the press and public and take place on a Thursday every four weeks, usually at Carlisle or Kendal.

5.10 As part of every Cabinet agenda, there is an opportunity under the Council's Public Participation Scheme for any member of the public who has given the required notice to present a petition to the Council or ask a question. Public participation is time-limited to 30 minutes.

6.1 Scrutiny Boards provide checks and balances within the Council and are the principal means by which the Cabinet is held to account.  Most importantly, the boards also assist in the development of County Council policy by looking at existing policies and the effectiveness of their delivery, and reviewing whether new policies or changes to existing policies are needed. Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules are set out in Part 5C of the Constitution.

6.2 The guiding principle for the work of the Scrutiny Boards is that it should involve constructive criticism, with the aim of improving decision making.  The emphasis of the work is on making a positive contribution to the development of policy and performance and this is largely carried out through the work of task and finish groups.  These are member bodies set up with a specific remit to consider how a particular service or services could be improved. The membership of task and finish groups may be selected from all non-Cabinet members. 

6.3 Scrutiny Boards can:

(a) Undertake policy reviews and make recommendations to Cabinet;

(b) Review and scrutinise any area of the Council's performance or its policy objectives;

(c) "Call in" a decision of the Cabinet (and certain decisions of Local Committees and Executive Director) for review before implementation and refer the decision back to the Cabinet (or local committee) for further consideration.  The procedure and timescales are laid down in the Overview and Scrutiny procedure rules (paragraph 13) Constitution; and

(d) Make observations and comments on matters coming before the Cabinet (pre-scrutiny).

6.4 The Scrutiny Management Board has overall strategic responsibility for the overview and scrutiny function by commissioning all task and finish scrutiny work and overseeing and approving a single overview and scrutiny work programme.  The Scrutiny Management Board is supported by three Scrutiny Advisory Boards each with a distinct cross-cutting theme:

• Children and Young People;
• Adults; and
• Communities and Place.

6.5 Policy review work is undertaken through task and finish groups whose members may be selected from all non-Cabinet members.

6.6 In addition there is a separate overview and scrutiny committee dealing with matters concerning health and health services in Cumbria. Each District Council is eligible to nominate a District Councillor to sit on the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee. For service variations which affect both Lancashire and Cumbria the Cumbria and Lancashire Joint Health Scrutiny Committee meets on an ad hoc basis. See paragraph 15 of the Overview and Scrutiny procedure rules.

6.7 Members of the Cabinet may not be members of an overview and scrutiny board or the Health Scrutiny Committees.

6.8 The Scrutiny Advisory Boards and Health Scrutiny Committees are important in demonstrating accountability.  They can require Cabinet members and officers to attend their meetings to account for and justify decisions and how they are taken.

6.9 They can also invite outside organisations and representative groups to attend meetings to give their views on service or policy issues.

7.1 Local Committees form an important part of the decision making structure. They have delegated responsibility for a range of functions where decisions are taken by local members, reflecting local circumstances.  These six Local Committees are based on district council boundaries and their membership includes all members whose electoral divisions fall within the Local Committee area.  The size of each Local Committee therefore varies as follows:-

From May 2013


Allerdale Local Committee

16 members

Barrow Local Committee

11 members

Carlisle Local Committee

18 members

Copeland Local Committee

12 members

Eden Local Committee

  9 members

South Lakeland Local Committee

18 members

7.2 Local Committees have responsibility for certain executive functions.  Any executive decisions taken by Local Committees are subject to review (and call-in) by Scrutiny Boards and Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee in the same way as decisions taken by the Cabinet can be called in.

7.3 However, Local Committees also make some non-executive decisions and these cannot be called in. The Constitution clearly sets out which decisions fall into which category.

7.4 As part of every Local Committee agenda, there is an opportunity under the Council's Public Participation Scheme for any member of the public who has given the required notice to present a petition or ask a question. Public participation is time-limited to 30 minutes.

8.1 By law a small number of important Council functions cannot be undertaken by the Cabinet. These non-executive functions are carried out by the following committees:  

(a)  The Audit and Assurance Committee

The Committee provides assurance of the adequacy of the risk management framework and internal control environment of the council, and oversight of the financial reporting process.

(b) The Pensions Committee

The Committee administers the Cumbria Pensions Fund.

(c) The Development Control and Regulation Committee

The Committee deals with applications for planning permission for waste disposal and mineral extraction, developments proposed by the County Council and for public rights of way and commons registration matters

(d) Staffing Committee

The Committee is the final internal appeal body to hear and determine appeals for dismissal for misconduct or capability.

(e) The Standards Committee

The Committee comprises five members of the County Council and two independent co-opted members.  The Standards Committee aims to ensure that members and officers maintain the highest ethical standards across all areas of the Council's services.

The Committee's Chair is an independent co-opted member.

(f) Workington Harbour Board

The Board carries out the Council's functions in respect of the Port of Workington under the Harbour Acts.

8.2 In addition the Council has a number of panels and sub-groups to undertake specific work. These report in to and advise the main decision making bodies of the council.

8.3  Cumbria Health and Wellbeing Board
The Board enables strategic planning and accountability for health and well-being services, across a range of sectors and providers.

9.1 Agendas for all of the Council's main meetings are published five clear working days in advance of the meeting.  Copies are sent to all members of the Committees, and can be accessed on the Council's website. The order of business for committees and sub-committee meetings are set out in the Council Procedure Rules at Part 5A of the Constitution.

10.1 Members must observe the Members' Code of Conduct.  Amongst other things this requires members to consider whether they have an interest in any matter on the agenda for a meeting and if so whether there is a need to disclose such an interest.

10.2 Officers also must observe the Officers' Code of Conduct which sets guidelines on behaviour and standards of conduct at work.

11.1 The following sections of the Constitution set out the detailed procedural rules (that have not been referred to previously in this guide) that must be followed in conducting Council business:

(a) Procedure for Budget Debate at Council;

(b) Access to Information Rules;

(c) Financial Standing Orders;

(d) Contract Procedure Rules;

(e) Officer Employment Procedure Rules;

(f) Member Officer Protocol;

(g) Anti-Fraud, Bribery and Corruption Policy;

(h) Employee Whistle Blowing Policy;

(i) Planning Protocols, and 

j) Partnerships

12.1 The Leader publishes each month a Forward Plan (paragraph 13/14) which sets out the "key decisions" to be taken by the Cabinet, Local Committees or Executive Directors over a two month period.  A key decision (paragraph 2.3) for this purpose is one which is likely to be significant in terms of expenditure or savings, or significant in terms of its impact on communities.

12.2 The Forward Plan enables members and the public to see what key decisions are proposed, who will be taking them, and when and what consultation is proposed.

12.3 Key decisions cannot always be identified in advance.  In certain circumstances Cabinet, Local Committees and sometimes officers (Executive Directors) may take key decisions not published in the Forward Plan provided that the Chair of the relevant Scrutiny Advisory Board or Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee has been consulted as necessary.

13.1 The law makes a clear distinction between the members of a local authority and the paid, professional staff who advise members and manage services under their overall direction.  It is not possible for a member to be employed by the county council, or for an officer to stand for election for the county council.  Additionally, it is an important principle that officers serve the whole Council and must be careful to maintain their political neutrality.  In Cumbria, members and officers work closely together in pursuing the interests of the people the County Council serves, while being aware of the fact that their roles are different and complementary.

13.2 The Chief Executive ('Head of Paid Service') is the head of the County Council's paid service and the Council's principal adviser on policy.  The Chief Executive chairs the Council's Corporate Management Team. The Corporate Management Team is made up of the Chief Executive, Executive Directors and other officers who fulfil statutory roles.

13.3 The Monitoring Officer's role is to make sure that the Council acts lawfully and that its actions do not give rise to maladministration or injustice.

13.4 The Section 151 Officer is responsible for the proper administration of the Council's financial affairs.

13.5 Below the Chief Executive and Executive Directors, the staff of the County Council are organised into services, each of which is led by an Assistant Director.

13.6 The officer structure is shown at Appendix B (PDF 2MB).

13.7 Glossary of terms (PDF 153kb)