Local Elections 2023

Anyone watching the local election results come in on 5th May will have noted the large number of hung Councils, where no single political party holds a majority of the council seats.

Local elections were held in 230 councils in England and 91 councils returned a result of no overall political control.  This means there are more hung councils than those controlled by any of the major political parties – Labour controlling 71 councils, Conservatives 33 and Liberal Democrats 29.

So, what does this mean for decision making? 

Most council’s use a Leader and Cabinet model, where the Full Council elects a Leader who, in turn, appoints and chairs the Cabinet.  The majority of decisions are then made by the Cabinet with only a small number of key decisions taken to Full Council.  The convention is that the Leader of a council is the leader of the political group which holds the majority.  So, for those councils where no political group has overall control, the month of May will have been busy, with negotiations between the elected councillors about who the Leader should be.

Pegasus Group have been tracking the results of these negotiations for the 41 newly hung councils where there had previously been a political party in control.  The table below shows the outcome of the Annual General Meeting where the Leader is appointed.

No fixed rules on the governance

The table shows that for some councils, a minority administration has been formed, this is common where one party has half or close to half of the seats and there is enough support from minority parties to elect a Leader.  In most cases, once the Leader has been appointed, they will appoint a Cabinet from their own party.  In these cases, there is often no formal alliance that can be relied upon for future Full Council decisions.

In some places a coalition has been formed, where two or more parties have agreed to a joint administration, this is more common where the seats are more evenly distributed between parties.  A coalition of two or more minority parties can also be used to prevent the largest political party from forming a minority administration.  In this scenario the coalition parties collectively agree on and vote for a Leader and in turn the Leader will usually appoint a Cabinet which includes Members from each of the coalition parties.

A small number of Councils have appointed a Leader based on an alliance between two or more parties.  This suggests the Leader voted in by the alliance will be able to rely on some element of support in future Full Council meetings.  The new Leaders have, in some cases, included Members from the wider alliance on their Cabinet and in some cases not.

What will the impact be on Planning

From past experience, hung Councils can be very productive if party politics can be put to one side and elected members work together for their area, but in other areas the fight for political power and party politics will dominate and that will make decisions-making a constant challenge at Full Council and in politically balanced committees.

The instability of a hung council is not generally good news for planning, particularly long-term planning.  We have already seen very finely balance planning committee decisions made along party lines, the new Brentwood coalition saying they will be revisiting the newly adopted local plan, the new Pendle coalition setting out a priority to create a new local plan with reduced housing development and the new Leader of Tewkesbury Council pausing the 10,000-home Tewkesbury Garden Town programme pending the outcome of a full external review.

One Council not featured on the list as they became a council with no overall control just before the election, is South Gloucestershire.  The new Labour and Liberal Democrat joint administration have said they will establish a working group to redraft ‘crazy’ local plan within first 100 days following options consultation only closing in January.