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How local authorities make decisions

Each local authority in Scotland is governed by a council. Local authorities in Scotland must take corporate decisions: there is no legal provision for decisions being made by individual councillors.

Who does what?
  • Administration - Within a council, a group of councillors able to command majority support will form the "Administration" which controls the running of the council.
  • Council Leader - The council is headed by the Leader of the council, normally elected by the party or coalition that forms the administration of the council.
  • Convenor - In addition to the Leader, each local authority elects a Convenor, who chairs council meetings and represents the council on civic and ceremonial occasions. In the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, the Convenor is known as the Lord Provost. Other councils may choose their own title for their Convenor, excluding Lord Provost, and most are titled Provost.
  • Chief Executive - The council’s Chief Executive is normally the head of its paid staff, employed by and responsible to the council.
  • Officers - The council will also employ a staff of officers, including teachers, social workers and planning officers to carry out its functions.
How are decisions made?

Full Council

The full council meeting is the governing body of the local authority, where all councillors meet to debate and take the key decisions of the authority. These include deciding on strategic objectives and corporate policies. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires that some functions of the council can only be discharged by the full council. These include setting the annual budget and council tax, electing the convenor and deputy convenor and appointing councillors to commitees.

Committees

The Act also allows local authorities to delegate most decision-making to committees or sub-committees of the council. Individual councils set out their arrangements for delegation to committees in a Scheme of Administration. Most committee members are elected councillors, but some are external members with specific knowledge and expertise.

A number of local authorities have altered their decision-making structures, in attempts to achieve more efficient, accountable and transparent arrangements. There is no requirement for councils to adopt a particular decision-making and scrutiny structure: it is a matter for each council to decide what is most appropriate for its particular circumstances and context. For example, some councils have streamlined their committee structures, by reducing the number of service-specific committees, and instead concentrating on broader thematic areas.

Other councils have replaced traditional committee structures with executive structures, with responsibility for most strategic decisions delegated to an executive committee. In such a structure, the role of elected members outside the executive is to scrutinise the executive’s activities.

Officers

The Act also allows local authorities to delegate most decision-making to officers of the council, and councils set out how they do so in a Scheme of Delegation.

Community Councils

Each local authority has a scheme establishing Community Councils in its area. The primary purpose of Community Councils is to represent the views of the community to the local authority and other public bodies.