Constitution of Lancaster City Council

How the council operates, makes decisions and remains accountable to local people.

The council's constitution

Lancaster City Council has agreed a constitution which sets out how the council operates, how decisions are made and the procedures which are followed to ensure that these are efficient, transparent and accountable to local people. Some of these processes are required by the law, while others are a matter for the council to choose.

The constitution is divided into 16 Articles which set out the basic rules governing the council's business. More detailed procedures and codes of practice are provided in separate rules and protocols in the constitution.

What is in the constitution?

Article 1 of the constitution provides a statement of purpose which lists the key issues important to the council in promoting openness and accountability in its decision making process.

Articles 2-16 explain the rights of citizens and how the key parts of the council operate. These are:

• Members of the Council (Article 2)
• Citizens and the Council (Article 3)
• The Council meeting (Article 4)
• Chairing the Council (Article 5)
• Overview and scrutiny of decisions (Article 6)
• The Cabinet (Article 7)
• Regulatory and other Committees (Article 8)
• The Standards Committee (Article 9)
• Area Committees and Forums (Article 10)
• Joint Arrangements (Article 11)
• Officers (Article 12)
• Decision making (Article 13)
• Finance, contracts and legal matters (Article 14)
• Review and revision of the Constitution (Article 15)
• Suspension, interpretation and publication of the Constitution (Article 16)

How the council operates

The council is composed of 60 councillors elected every four years. Councillors are democratically accountable to residents of their Ward. The overriding duty of councillors is to the whole community, but they have a special duty to their constituents, including those who did not vote for them. A full list of councillors' names, addresses, membership of political parties and telephone numbers is set out in Part 3 Schedule 1. Details of the committees and bodies on which they serve are available from Democratic Services and on the council's website. In the case of Cabinet Members, their areas of responsibility are set out in Part 3 Schedule 3.

Councillors have agreed to follow a Code of Conduct to ensure high standards in the way they undertake their duties. The Standards Committee monitors Code of Conduct issues.

All councillors meet together as the Council. Here, councillors agree the Council's overall policies and set the budget each year. Meetings of the council are normally open to the public, except where exempt or confidential information would be disclosed..

The council elects the leader of the council and agrees the representation on council committees, the Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Budget & Performance Panel.

How decisions are made

The cabinet is the part of the council which is responsible for most day-to-day decisions. The cabinet is made up of the leader and a cabinet of up to 9 Councillors, chosen by the leader. When major decisions are to be discussed or made, these are published in the cabinet's forthcoming key decision list insofar as they can be anticipated. Meetings of the cabinet are normally open to the public, except where exempt or confidential information would be disclosed. Notice of the intention to hold any part of a cabinet meeting in private will usually be published on the council’s website at least 28 clear days before the date of the private meeting, giving the reasons why, and a second notice will be published with the agenda. The cabinet has to make decisions which are in line with the council's overall policies and budget. If it wishes to make a decision which is outside the budget or policy framework, this must be referred to the council as a whole to decide.

Some decisions as a matter of law may not be taken by the cabinet. These decisions include planning, licensing and personnel matters. The council has standing and regulatory committees to deal with these matters.

All meetings of the council's committees open to the public, except where exempt or confidential information would be disclosed.

Overview and Scrutiny

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Budget and Performance Panel and Task Groups support the work of the cabinet and the council as a whole. They allow citizens to have a greater say in council matters by holding public reviews/inquiries into matters of local concern. These lead to reports and recommendations that advise the cabinet and the council as a whole on its policies, budget and service delivery. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee also monitors the decisions of the cabinet. Non-executive Members can ‘call-in' a decision that has been made by the cabinet or key decisions made by officers, but not yet implemented. This enables the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider whether the decision is appropriate. They may recommend that the cabinet reconsider the decision. They may also be consulted by the cabinet or the council on forthcoming decisions and the development of policy.

The council's staff

The council employs officers to give advice, implement decisions and manage the day-to-day delivery of its services.. A protocol governs the relationship between officers and members of the council.

Citizens' rights

Citizens have a number of rights in their dealings with the council. These are set out in more detail in Article 3. Some of these are legal rights, whilst others depend on the council's own processes.

Where members of the public use specific council services, for example as a council tenant, they have additional rights. These are not covered in the constitution.

Citizens have the right to:

• vote at local elections if they are registered and entitled to vote;
• contact their local councillors about any matters of concern to them relating to functions of the  council;
• obtain a copy of the constitution;
• attend meetings of the council, cabinet and its committees, except where exempt or confidential matters are being discussed;
• petition to request a referendum on a mayoral form of executive;
• participate in the council's public speaking schemes for council, cabinet and some committees and contribute to research or reviews undertaken by the Overview and Scrutiny;
• find out, from the cabinet's forthcoming key decision list, what major decisions are to be discussed by the cabinet or decided by the cabinet or officers, and when;
• see reports and background papers and any record of decisions made by the council and cabinet;
• make complaints to the council in line with the council's complaints procedure;
• complain to the ombudsman if they think the council has not followed its procedures properly. However, they should only do this after using the council's own complaints procedure;
• complain to the Monitoring Officer if they have evidence which they think shows that a councillor has not followed the council's code of conduct; and
• inspect the council's accounts and make their views known to the external auditor.

The council welcomes participation by its citizens in its work. The council has available a statement of the rights of citizens to inspect agendas and reports and attend meetings.

Last updated: 05 April 2016