This page contains detailed information around local council structures and is aimed at those who are looking to go into more depth. For a quick introduction on how to get your local council to support the CEE Bill, see this page.
Getting advice from your local council
Most councils have a Democratic Services department whose job is to help you and councillors navigate your council's procedures. You can phone or email them (find the details on the Council’s website) and ask them for support. Remember this is part of their job, and you have a right to take part in democracy in this way!
How are councils structured?
All councils in England and Wales must adopt and operate under a constitution, which you can find on their website, usually under a democracy section. This sets out the structure of the council, how decisions are made, who has power to do what and how the public can interact.
Most councils are divided into two sections:-
- The Executive (operating through a “cabinet” of about ten councillors), which makes most of the big decisions, and is usually made-up of councillors from a single party.
- The Council (operating through Full Council meetings and committees). Although Council has less day-to-day power than the Executive, it does make some big policy decisions and is the forum for public debate. Motions are passed by the Council, and the Council can direct the Executive to take a particular course of action.
So, when campaigning on the Bill, you can approach BOTH Council and Executive. This will involve all of the councillors both from the party in control and the opposition. You can find their emails and often telephone numbers on the council's website. It is worth making a phone call and asking if you can meet with them rather than relying on email only.
If you are having difficulty understanding or using your council’s procedures, pick up the phone and call the central council office. Ask for the person who supports democratic involvement (often called Democratic Services). They should explain the process to you.
Getting a motion on the council’s agenda
To get the motion onto the council’s agenda, you'll need the help of two councillors. All councils allow elected members to propose motions for adoption by the council, cabinet or a committee. Usually the constitution will require at least two signatories to a proposed motion. You can ask your local councillor (see the “Democracy” page on the council’s website), or approach a sympathetic councillor. Usually Greens, Labour and Lib Dems will be the most receptive on the CEE Bill, but don’t discount Conservatives, particularly if you have a good relationship with them. And do bear in mind that several Conservative-controlled councils have passed motions in favour of the Bill, including Devon County Council.
If the motion is on the meeting agenda, turn up to the meeting to show your support and issue a press release before and after. All councils must by law allow you to make audio and visual recordings proceedings, but do so in a respectful way.
Speaking at a meeting
The council constitution will usually say something like: “Members of the public can come and speak at any meeting which is open to the public”. This can be useful in tandem with someone else, e.g. another campaigner covering a different aspect such as biodiversity loss, clean air etc, or a councillor asking a question.
The time allotted for questions and presentations is usually very short – so plan out what you want to get across and ensure you front load your key points.
- Members of the public can ask questions of the Leader and members of Cabinet at Full Council, Cabinet, Committees and Sub-committees.
- Notice must usually be given to the Proper Officer usually 5 working days before the day of the meeting. You must normally name the member/councillor who is expected to answer the question.
- Again it must be about “a matter for which the Council has responsibility or which affects the district.”
- Procedure can vary, some Councils require you to attend and ask the question in person, others will issue a response a day in advance of the meeting, giving time for a follow-up (supplementary) to be written
- You can ask a supplementary question.
- The council can give a verbal response at the meeting, a written one later on, or refer the matter to a committee for discussion.
Debates on questions are not normally allowed.
- Not all Councils do this, those that do usually allow a very short time – often a maximum of 5 or 10 minutes
- Give notice to the Proper Officer midday two working days before the meeting. The presentation must be about “a matter for which the Council has responsibility or which affects the district.” This is often narrowly interpreted!
- Usually, any resident of the local authority area or local business can present a petition to Full Council, Cabinet, and Area Committees “relating to a matter with which the council is concerned”.
- The petition must be signed by a minimum specified number of people. For North Herts, for example, that is 120 people.
- These can be submitted in hard copy or by properly verified online petition websites.
- A petition can (not necessary will) be considered at the relevant meeting. The petition organiser may have the right to speak in support of the petition for a maximum of (usually) 5 or 10 minutes.
All councils operate a complaints system. If you cannot get councils to take climate change seriously, you can make a written complaint. The initial response will come from a relatively junior person in the organisation. If your complaint is rejected, you can appeal. If you are still unsuccessful, you have the right to take the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman.
By Unconventional Means
If you meet resistance or hostility from your local council you can consider taking a more direct form of action. Local authorities have specific functions and finite budgets but they have an overarching responsibility to look after the health and wellbeing of their residents and are custodians of the local environment.
Some councils take a narrow view of their duty regarding climate change, however Section 1 of the Localism Act provides that “a local authority has power to do anything that individuals generally may do”. The power extends to county councils in England, district councils, London borough councils, the Common Council of the City of London, the Council of the Isles of Scilly and many Parish Councils.
They have no excuse. So, if using the democratic processes referred to above does not work, you might want to take direct action.
You can protest at council and meetings. Council calendars are published on their websites. For maximum impact, choose a big meeting. The best to select are:-
- Annual Council (sometimes called “Mayor Making”). This is a high profile ceremonial meeting with all councillors present;
- Budget and/or council tax setting meetings;
- Big policy meetings such as the one to adopt the Local Plan.
These are all mandatory statutory meetings; by law they must take place and they must carry out specific functions. If you can stop or delay that meeting you will prevent the council from operating. You are also likely to attract more publicity.