One of the big lessons to come out of recent rounds of local elections is that councils that have set up proper co-ordinating groups have tended to be the most successful in election campaigns.
Council co-ordinating groups can go by various other names, such as federations, combined or city campaign groups or campaign committee. Their title often varies depending on their responsibilities.
The purpose of a council co-ordinating group
The key purpose for a co-ordinating group is as follows:
To draw up a campaign plan for the year and ensure that this is being delivered on schedule. It should also decide on the status of each ward (i.e. whether a target or non-target ward), monitor progress in each of these wards and make decisions on where to target resources, (both financial and human), over the year. Where a constituency organiser has been employed, they will often carry out this work on a day to day basis, but they should report back to the co-ordinating group.
To manage the process of approving and selecting council candidates. Liberal Democrats in England must now form arrangements with other local parties that make up a council area to do this, and these are best done through a council co-ordinating group. Further details on the procedure for approving and selecting council candidates is available by following the link at the end of this post.
To co-ordinate the work involved in putting together a manifesto and/or the party’s key priorities for the council elections.
Are co-ordinating groups compulsory?
Recent changes to the constitution of the English Liberal Democrats mean that all local parties that cover more than one council must form “appropriate joint arrangements” with the other local parties that cover that council on candidate approval and selection. There is no obligation to do this through a formal council co-ordinating group, but it is strongly recommended. This is also because it then provides a useful structure through which to also co-ordinate campaign activity and policy development.
The other advantage of creating a council co-ordinating group that covers all of campaigning, policy and candidates is that these are the three essential components of a successful election campaign. If these are co-ordinated by one body, it ensures that they are all given appropriate attention and are all co-ordinated according to the same plan. A co-ordinating group that covers all of these elements of the campaign may wish to create sub-committees that concentrate on each one. These should then come together regularly at co-ordinating group meetings to ensure that each component is happening on schedule.
Many of the most successful council groups in recent elections have had these co-ordinating groups in place, especially when the council covered a large area. This helps ensure that political messages are consistent across the area, and that the local parties all work together as one team. Good examples recently include Hertfordshire, Wiltshire, Hull and Oldham.
If a council is co-terminus with a local party, a co-ordinating group is still useful as it ensures that campaigning is given the attention it needs, rather than playing second fiddle to the day to day operation of the local party at the executive.
Members of the co-ordinating group
Membership of a co-ordinating group should be a balance between giving the group legitimacy with each local party that it covers, the need to integrate the existing council group in to its activities, and ensuring that the members of the group have the appropriate skills and interests to carry out the work effectively.
Although local party executives often do include campaigners, there may be other people who do not enjoy the day-to-day bureaucracy of running a local party, who are however excellent campaigners. These people would be better placed being a part of a body tasked with organising campaigning
There is no set size for a co-ordinating group, but it is recommended that it is large enough to cover all the work, but not so large that decisions are never made. The group is best if it is not more than ten people, although again this should be decided based on local circumstances. Suggested membership includes:
At least one representative of each local party within the council area, elected using its own internal procedures set out in their local party constitution. If there are a large number of local parties in your council area, there may be a good case for the co-ordinating group delegating the day-to-day task of running the election campaign to a sub-committee comprised of the best campaigners.
At least one representative of the council group, which should include the treasurer if councillor contributions are held in a council group bank account (as opposed to the contributions being made direct to the local party).
Other members co-opted by the other members of the co-ordinating group, who have specific skills that are useful.
A mixture of councillors and non-councillors, as well as making an effort to be representative of the community within the council area.
Some areas include their PPCs or council group leaders, and should definitely include constituency organisers, where these exist.
Formal or informal?
Co-ordinating groups should be well organised, and given the authority to make decisions on the area over which it is responsible. This is best achieved by the local parties that make up the council area voting to delegate the decisions on council campaigns to the co-ordinating group. This also ensures that they have a mandate to make decisions whilst also remaining accountable to their local parties. Whilst, there is no obligation to adopt a constitution for the co-ordinating committee, some areas find this useful to clarify their responsibilities. A model constitution can be downloaded below.
Meetings of the co-ordinating should be well organised and minuted, but there is no need to have a rigid agenda that includes mandatory items, such as on a local party executive.
Updates and comment
Last updated by Anders Hanson on 13th November 2009.
If you have any suggestions on how this post could be improved, if you want to send us examples of how co-ordinating groups operate effectively in your area or if you find any errors, please email ALDC by clicking here.