Note: This post is no longer being updated.  For the latest advice please refer to the article on Proportionality in the Ask ALDC section of the Members’ Area


All principal councils are legally obliged to ensure that their committees and sub-committees reflect the make-up of the political groups on the council as a whole.  There are also similar rules on proportionality relating to police authorities and other joint boards or outside bodies.The general principles of proportionality
The general principle is that the political membership of a council committee must be proportionate to the numbers of councillors in each political group on the council.  This includes all committees, sub-committees, working parties, advisory panels etc. which have been delegated functions of the council regardless of what they are called.
Before going any further, it is important to clarify the distinction between political parties and political groups, as the majority of rules on proportionality are centred on political groups rather than political parties, (although often the difference is minimal).Political parties
Political parties are the parties that a councillor was elected as a representative of, i.e. the party whose logo they had next to their name on the ballot paper, or the party they subsequently joined if they have changed parties since their election.Political groups
Any two councillors can register as a political group.  In most cases, councillors are automatically a member of the council group for the party for which they were elected.  However, any two councillors can choose to be registered as a group by writing to the Chief Executive of the council.  These councillors do not have to share a political programme or be committed to working together, but as a registered group they must be allocated seats on committees proportionate to their numbers.  There are often other benefits to being in a political group too, such as being entitled to an office or a political assistant, but they are a separate issue.When proportionality doesn’t apply Ther e are very few exceptions, but the main ones are as follows:

  1. The council’s cabinet or executive.
  2. Area committees which should consist of all members representing the area which the committee covers.  If it does not, then it must be proportionate to the whole council instead.
  3. Standards committees (although many local authorities do apply an approximate proportionality anyway).
  4. Any committee where full council has agreed an alternative arrangement with no votes against, i.e. every councillor has a veto if it is proposed that a committee should not be proportionate.
  5. Any sub-committee, working party, advisory panel etc. where the powers have been delegated to it by a committee of the council, not the council itself.  This applies regardless of whether the body is named a committee or sub-committee.

Proportionality also does not apply to outside bodies where the council simply appoints representatives, such as charitable trusts and local voluntary organisations.

How to allocate seats where all coun cillors are in a political group
All of the rules on committee proportionality apply sequentially, as it may not be possible to satisfy them all fully.  The order is:

  1. There should be no committees made up of a single political group, unless every councillor on the council is in the same political group.  This also means that where there is say only one opposition member, that member can either be massively over-stretched, (as they would have to sit on every committee), or they can choose to forgo certain committee places (see point 3, under ‘Where proportionality doesn’t apply’).
  2. Where one political group has a majority, that group should have a majority on all committees.
  3. The places on all of the committees overall should be allocated in proportion to each political group’s strength on the full council.
  4. The places on an individual committee should be allocated in proportion to each political group’s strength on the full council.

Rules 1 and 2 are fairly straightforward, but this is how rules 3 and 4 should be applied.Rule 3
Across all committees, the places have to be proportionate to the number of seats that each political group has on that council, for example if there are 15 members of the Liberal Democrat Group on a 60 seat council, then 15/60ths of the committee places must be allocated to that group or put another way:
(size of council group ÷ size of council) x number of seats on all committees = number of seats allocated to that council group
and a worked formula is as follows:
(15 Lib Dems ÷ 60 Councillors) x 180 seats on all council committees = 45 seats for Lib Dems spread across all council committees.
No political group can be over-represented across a whole council.Rule 4
Once this has been worked out, each committee then has to be as proportionate as possible.  This is to ensure that a political group cannot be palmed off with seats on all the smallest most unimportant committees.  However, unless the numbers are really simple, it is unlikely that a group will get exactly the right number of seats on each committee, and so some negotiation will be needed on which committees a group is under-represented and on which it is over-represented.
The formula for working out the proportion is the same as across the whole council but simply relates to the number of seats on that committee.
The final decision on which member of a political group sits on which committee is decided by each individual group, using its own internal procedures.How to allocate seats where some councillors are not in a political group

It isn’t clear from legislation how councillors who don’t sit within a political group should be treated when deciding on committee places.  As a result, the legislation has even ended up being the focus of a court case where the judge pointed out that as the law specifically talks about political groups then it implies that independent councillors and councillors who don’t sit in groups should be excluded from committee proportionality calculations.  However, as doing this can alter the political balance of council committees taking it this literally is unreasonable.

As a result and despite the wording of the legislation it is quite common for councils to simply treat individual councillors as a group and let them receive their correct proportionate share of committee places, although they are under no obligation to do so.  For example, if there is one independent councillor on a 60 member council, that councillor should still receive 1/60th of the committee places, even though they do not sit in a political group.  In practice however, it is still likely that once all of the political groups have been allocated their share of committee places, the remaining places are then shared out to those councillors who don’t sit within a political group, probably leaving them with the least interesting or important committees.  This means that if you are the sole Liberal Democrat on your council there is an argument in favour of forming a group with any independents or minor parties that exist to ensure you receive a fair share of committee places (and possibly even a group office).  It doesn’t mean you need to share policies, although care should be taken on deciding who to work with.
In the case of councils where every member is an independent or in the rare cases where no councillors sit in political groups despite being elected to represent a specific political party, the proportionality rules don’t apply and the committee places can be distributed however they wish. Police authorities
The rules on committee proportionality also apply in almost the same way to the political appointments to police authorities.  Proportionality is calculated by using the members of political parties (not groups) on first-tier councils only, i.e. county councils, unitary councils or metropolitan councils, in the following way:

  • Where a police authority covers just one first-tier council, then committee proportionality is based on the political parties on that council alone.
  • Where a police authority covers more than one first-tier council, then committee proportionality is based on adding together the size of the political parties making-up all of the first tier councils that the police authority covers.  The way these appointments are distributed between the constituent councils is a matter for the police authority or any appointments committee that it chooses to set up, (and where they cannot agree, by the Home Secretary).

Other joint authorities and outside bodies
The rules on committee proportionality also apply to council appointees to the following outside bodies:

  • Joint authorities, such as fire, integrated transport or pensions authorities.
  • Local fisheries committees.
  • National Park committees.
  • A board created by a local by-law or specific act of parliament.
  • Any board or committee created jointly by two or more authorities under section 102 (1b) of the Local Government Act 1972 or section 235 (1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.

However, unlike with police authorities, proportionality is calculated for each individual council’s delegation to that authority or board.  There does not need to be proportionality across all of these outside bodies combined.
If there are less than three appointees to be made by an individual council (or if there are less than three political appointments in total across all of the councils who appoint), then there does not need to be any form of proportionality and councillors can be appointed from only one political group if the individual council so wishes.How is it implemented and who is in charge?
The council’s Monitoring Officer (usually the Chief Executive or Legal Officer) has statutory responsibility for ensuring that the council implements proportionality correctly.  Some Monitoring Officers however are prone to favour the largest group and don’t understand the detail of the legislation, and so it is worth checking that it has been done correctly.
Councils have an obligation to change the proportionality of committees “as soon as it practicable” after a change in the balance of the council has taken place – usually at the next full council meeting.  This change will usually be due to an annual round of elections, but it could also be down to a mid-term by-election or a defection (see below for more details on defections).
There is a political convention that when a vacancy has occurred on a council due to the resignation or death of a councillor, the re-allocation of committee places does not occur until after that vacancy has been filled.  However, this is only a convention and cannot be enforced.
It is important to be alert to vacancies causing a change in the balance of committees and in these cases, the committee places may need to be amended in advance of any votes to ensure that on balanced councils the ruling group or coalition still retains their majority.

If a councillor defects during the year, the proportionality of committees will usually be revised to reflect the new political balance.  However, there are exceptions to this.  If a councillor(s) leaves a group and sits as an independent, they are still considered part of their original party if they are the only, or the majority of the independents are former members of the same group.   In these circumstances no revision of numbers would be carried out.Parish Councils
Rules on committee proportionality do not apply to parish, town or community councils.  Many of these councils do not have political groups; although where they do it is recommended that all parties are given their fair share of committee places using the rules on proportionality that apply to principal councils.Useful external linksHousing and Local Government Act 1989 Section 15Housing and Local Government Act 1989 Schedule 1The Local Government (Committees and Political Groups) Regulations 1990 (Statutory Instrument 1553)The Police Authority Regulations 2008 (Statutory Instrument 630)Can you help?
Can you help us answer the following questions?  If so, please contact us using the email address below:

  1. Do separate Independent Groups get added together to decide the representation on a police authority, or as they are independents are they treated as separate political groups?
  2. What is the convention when you work out proportionality on a police authority but you are left with one place unfilled with no party theoretically being entitled to it, e.g. for Cambridgeshire the entitlements for each party for the police authority are: Con 6.1, LD 1.9, Ind 0.4, Lab 0.3 Lib 0.2.  Clearly 6 Conservatives and 2 Lib Dems is easy, but who is entitled to the ninth seat?

Updates and comment
Last updated by Anders Hanson on 23rd January 2012.
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