Before the local elections on 2 May over 30 councils are in “No Overall Control”. After the results were in there was much more grey on the map. LGiU’s Ingrid Koehler looks at what that means in practice.
Council control maps show red for Labour run councils, yellow for Liberal Democrat, Blue for Conservatives and grey for “No Overall Control”.
England’s “first past the post” system for individual wards tends to favour bigger parties so it’s often easier for local party machinery to get out candidates in all wards and depending on the flavour of local politics have one party or another in charge. Most of England’s councils are majority run and some councils are or nearly are a one party state, for example Lewisham in London (not having elections this year) or Manchester which is having elections in 2019 currently had 93 Labour councillors and only a few Liberal Democrats.
Where alternative voting systems are used, such as in Scotland or Northern Ireland, multiple parties often win considerable numbers of seats. All of the councils in Northern Ireland which were having elections in 2019 are – by design – “No Overall Control” and remained so, with only a slight shift in which parties had the most numbers of seats.
As we headed into the elections just over 30 councils in England were No Overall Control and now it’s 77. At the LGiU we define a council as NOC if no single party holds 50%+1 of the seats. But the vast majority of councils are controlled by a single party.
What does NOC mean in practice?
So what does it mean to be a NOC council? As you might expect, it’s a little different in each council area. Some councils have a minority administration often because one party has close to 50% of the seats and they are the largest party, in other places coalitions are formed where the political flavour is a little more evenly distributed. In some councils, the largest political party is unable to form a minority administration because a coalition of smaller parties has banded together. Across these different possibilities we see a range of governance options.
In practice, NOC councils can work really well and help politicians come together about local issues without spending too much time on party political issues. In other NOC councils, there is constant political jostling.
When councils mainly operated under committee systems, some councils had rotating chairs and power was genuinely shared. Most councils now have Cabinet systems and decisions are made by the executive rather than in committees. And this is why councils with a Leader and Cabinet model want clear majorities and there can be a scramble for power when the political balance is fine. Effectively, though, once the leader has been chosen he or she can form a cabinet and get on with running the council, with only occasional need to go to the full council on things like budget setting.
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGiU, states:
Councils in No Overall Control is a quirk of local authority governance that can be confusing for citizens. But it doesn’t mean that no one’s making decisions. In most cases one party will be able to form a cabinet, either with support from other parties or because the other parties do not agree on enough to effectively oppose them. That might sound unstable but in reality NOC councils have a pretty good track record of getting business done effectively.
May 2019 elections and No Overall Control
These are the councils with elections in May 2019 that either were NOC or became NOC. We’ve also included the independent gains as ‘independent’ can either mean a local grouping with a similar mandate or it can mean a group of truly independent councillors who do not wish to go into administration as a political group.