BLOG: Tales of the Unexpected- Preparing for the twists and turns of 2023 election results and how the CfGS can help

Posted on 06/03/2023 by Admin.

For Councils, May is a time of change. It’s when Annual General Meetings are held and changes in positions among council members, or important changes to constitutions tend to happen.

May is also traditionally when Councils hold elections. This year it’s mostly the turn of districts and boroughs and some unitary and metropolitan boroughs.

If results of local government elections over the last few years are anything to go by, we can again expect surprises.

By their nature, the ‘surprise’ results are the ones that catch everyone out. It becomes a rollercoaster ride with an unclear destination.

But even where there is a fairly predictable expectation that a change of control is on the cards, the effect can still be quite unsettling within the council as new political structures are negotiated and established.  It’s a few days that can be intriguing and gossip-fuelled, or for others a gut-wrenching experience.

Arguably ‘election upsets’ are useful disrupters and a product of a healthy democracy. For Council officers, whose task is to maintain continuity and stability, it can be a very uncomfortable experience if preparation to manage the process falls short.

The question is, how do you prepare? How do you get ahead and facilitate smooth transition and a new mandate to deliver?

It’s true managing political change is something professional local government and civil servants understand very well and so in the main chaos is avoided.

Where change is not so straight forward, such as no overall control, multiple-party-power-sharing, minority administrations and independent councillor coalitions (the list goes on), the pressure on Council officers and governance structures can be considerable.

In district and borough councils which these days are likely to have fewer senior experienced officers and smaller staffing structures, having sufficient resources to ensure a smooth transition is landed, can be tough and where change is unexpected, this is even more demanding.

Part of the problem can be a misalignment between the expectations of Councillors, especially new ones, and what officers can supply. Councillors can assume that their election victory provides permission to instruct the council to sort out those issues which the Member felt they have gained a mandate. It’s easy to see how this can put councils under pressure and how trust is fractured. The expectations of Councillors may need some modification or development time to make them deliverable.

It is crucial for Councils to prepare for a range of potential outcomes. This will need to include all areas of the Council which interface with members.  Adequate support and some training will be essential.

The ability to maintain and strengthen trust across officers and Members throughout the process of administration change is critical to ensuring the smooth transition of power. 

How We Can Help You

At the CfGS we’ve recognised this and, supported by colleagues in local government, we will be offering a package of support to Officers and Members to prepare for a range of change possibilities.

Whether the need is training for officers (senior and operational) who have no or little experience of control change, working in no overall control environments or environments with coalitions, CfGS can tailor support to each council.  The need could also take the form of a short, sharp review of existing governance arrangements to provide interim assurance to the incoming administration. The process is purposefully designed to be focussed, collaborative and above all, build trust between Members and Officers.    

If you have any questions or queries, please contact