Council Group Toolkit
The Liberal Democrat council group is the building block of how we work together on the council. Find out more about the role of the council group within the council, within the wider party, how council groups operate and model standing orders. Also included are model rules on councillor contributions, group bank accounts, social media and dealing with defections.
This advice is written for councillors who serve on principal local authorities (counties, unitaries, boroughs and districts). Council groups sometimes also exist on town and parish councils on a less formal basis. Town and parish council groups should follow the below guidance where applicable).
The Liberal Democrat council group is the building block of how we work together on the council.
- A Council Group should be formed wherever there are two or more Liberal Democrat councillors on a council.
- All Liberal Democrat members of the council should be members of the council group.
- Your council group must be properly constituted, with standing orders which are adopted by the group and reviewed regularly. Model standing orders are below.
- All Liberal Democrat council groups are recommended to join ALDC as group members. The vast majority already do.
- Groups elect a group leader and a deputy group leader, and other group officers, as defined in their standing orders.
- Council groups should have a councillors contributions scheme in place, normally paid into a group bank account.
Council groups and the council (principal councils only)
Council groups exist within the framework of local government law. In England, this is the Local Government (Committees and Political Groups) Regulations 1990.
- Any two or more councillors can inform the council that they wish to be a council group. This is done on a form, which all members of the group must sign at the start of each municipal year.
- On the same form, the group informs the council who they have chosen as group leader and who they have chosen as deputy group leader.
- In the vast majority of cases there is a council group for each political party, and then also for groups of independent councillors (sometimes more than one independent group).
- There may also be councillors who remain outside groups, this will include a Lib Dem if you are the only Lib Dem on the council.
Council groups are entitled to ‘administrative privileges’ (e.g. a group room, sometimes group staff such as a political assistant. Administrative privileges are guaranteed in law for a group which is 10% or more of the seats on that council. In practice in other authorities smaller groups are often given some privileges such as a group room.
Many councils provide a Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) for Group Leader and Deputy Group Leader. This policy is set by the Council, on advice from your own Independent Remuneration Panel.
All council groups of two or more councillors are included in the calculations for committee proportionality. Essentially the seats on every eligible committee on the council must be allocated proportionally by council group and the total number of committee places must also be proportional. See the rules on Proportionality in much more detail in this article.
Occasionally, Liberal Democrats might form a council group with councillors who are not Liberal Democrats – e.g. the “Liberal Democrat and Independent Group”. This is done in exceptional circumstances and normally where there is good reason to do this to maximise the impact we can have on the council. Ask us for advice if you are unsure about doing this.
Occasionally a Liberal Democrat member might sit outside the council group, for example, if they have been suspended as a member of the group for disciplinary reasons.
Council groups and the party
Council groups exist within local government law and are therefore not legally part of the party. We do obviously work closely with the party at a local level. This includes:
- Local parties, if necessary working together across a local authority area, will set the strategy and the campaign for local elections.
- Local parties, if necessary working together across a local authority area, will determine and undertake the candidate approval and selection criteria, and agree the councillors’ contributions policy.
- Council groups will send representatives to the local party executive and report back on our work to the local party.
In England, the party has a process of recognising Liberal Democrat council groups, undertaken by each regional party.
The process of recognising council groups means that regional parties are able to identify where there are issues, it outlines the behaviour expected of Liberal Democrats who are elected to councils, and where a council group fails to be recognised the party can then invoke other party procedures to deal with these problems.
Each regional party in England has to set up its own process for council group recognition. Their only obligation is to ensure that the procedure is completed on or before 31st July each year, even when there have been no council elections in a council, just to ensure they still meet the requirements for council group recognition.
For automatic recognition, Liberal Democrat council groups need to show their regional party that they meet the following criteria:
- All members of the group must be Liberal Democrat members.
- All members of the group went through a candidate approval procedure run by their local party(ies) before being allowed to stand.
- All members of the group were sanctioned to stand for election by a Liberal Democrat Delegated Nominating Officer (DNO).
- The group has standing orders that comply with the party constitution. ALDC recommends that groups adopt their model standing orders (or a variant on these) as they do comply.
- All group offices are filled by open and democratic election. This applies to the leader, deputy leader, chair, treasurer, secretary and whip of the group, however in the spirit of this rule that all groups elect their group spokespeople and representatives on outside bodies as well, either to individual posts or as a block.
Groups that vary from these criteria can also be recognised, however, this should only be done if the regional party is satisfied that doing so would not bring the party into disrepute. If a group contains a councillor who has defected to us from another party, then they must put that councillor through the party’s approval procedure either before defection or within ten weeks of joining.
There are a number of things that could cause an existing recognised group to be de-recognised:
- The council group persistently fails to adhere by either its own standing orders or the party constitution.
- Events are occurring which are seriously detrimental to the party.
Regional parties also have the right to investigate the affairs of a council group if they have been informed of events that could lead to the de-recognition of the group.
If a group isn’t recognised or is in danger of not being recognised then they must be given the right to reply and remedy any problems that have arisen, and if they are unhappy with a decision made by their regional party they can go to the English Appeals Panel. If a group does not remedy any problems, then the group will fail to be a recognised Liberal Democrat group and may not use the words “Liberal Democrats” as their sole group name.
If anyone sits in opposition to a recognised Liberal Democrat group then the procedure for revoking someone’s party membership may be initiated.
More information on this can be found in Schedule 8 of the English Party Constitution.
ALDC Group Membership
We recommend that all Liberal Democrat council groups join ALDC as group members. This is so that:
- All the members of the group benefit from the advice, support, information a resources that ALDC provides.
- Liberal Democrats have a strong national voice to represent us all within the party and within local government.
How does it work?
- All members of the group become members of ALDC.
- We can add other key people to the group (candidates, staff, key campaign team members).
- The group pays ALDC for the membership directly, normally out of the group fund, by monthly, quarterly or annual direct debit.
What are the benefits of ALDC Group Membership?
ALL the individual member benefits – plus:
- Reduced membership fees (12% discount on all fees).
- Free facilitator at an annual council group development day away day.
- Free ALDC membership for your group researcher/political assistant or other staff member.
- Half price membership for candidates who are added to your group.
If you would like a quote for group membership, please call the ALDC office on 0161 302 7532 or email email@example.com.
Group Development Days
If you have ALDC group membership you can request a Group Development Day. This is a specialist in-person training and development day just for your group provided by ALDC staff that is completely free.
You can request a development day using the link below:
Council group standing orders
All Liberal Democrat council groups need a set of standing orders that set the rules for that group. They should be reviewed regularly but this is an unglamorous job that is easily neglected.
The standing orders layout how the group is run, how its officers are elected and how problems should be dealt with. While we all hope that disciplinary procedures will not be needed, it is important to adopt up-to-date standing orders to avoid problems in the future.
ALDC provides a set of model standing orders that contain best practice on how to run a Liberal Democrat council group. Whilst these are not compulsory we recommended that what you adopt is as close to this model as possible because they are written to be consistent with the party constitution and current legislation. It is easier to keep standing orders updated if they contain the same clauses
ALDC periodically reviews these model group standing orders and we have just completed an overhaul. Download the model standing orders.
All council groups in England must send a copy of their standing orders to their regional party, and any council group that does not adopt a set of acceptable standing orders will not be recognised by the party as an official Liberal Democrat Group
Councillor contributions (tithing)
This advice has been updated in March 2022.
Contributions or tithing is the process by which elected representatives give a portion of their expenses or salary to support the party and its campaigning activity.
Councillor contributions go under various names, such as the councillors’ levy, tithe or donation; but they are all essentially the same thing. There are differences in how they operate, and there are a number of choices to be made locally.
The rules on contributions are set by the state parties and differ slightly in England, Scotland and Wales.
In England and Wales the party rules state that tithing on allowances should be at least 10% of gross council allowances. In Scotland it is at the discretion of local parties to set the rate – and also whether the tithe should be on gross or net earnings from the Council.
Why councillor contributions are important
To be able to put our values and principles into practice, it is important that we elect more Liberal Democrats at all levels of government. However, it also takes up a considerable amount of the Liberal Democrat’s financial resources to elect our councillors. Unlike the other two main parties we cannot rely on large donations from multi-millionaires or trade unions, and so we rely on our members and supporters for our income.
The reason we ask our councillors to make a specific commitment, is because the allowances they subsequently receive as a councillor are as a result of the financial and human resources they received from the party during their election campaign. This is one of the benefits of standing as a Liberal Democrat as opposed to standing under any other banner. This income can then be used to help not only re-elect existing councillors, but also to help elect other Liberal Democrats as a part of the local team. Be aware though, that this is just one part of the fundraising needed to win, especially if we are also trying to win a parliamentary seat, and so it is no substitute for regular local party fundraising.
The contributions help fund a councillor’s ongoing work, such as helping her/him to communicate regularly with constituents via Focus leaflets etc.
While 10% may seem a large portion of expenses it is not compared to expenses a councillor will receive over four years if re-elected.
Councils whose area includes more than one local party
The councillor contribution policy must be the same across a council (as must be the approval process). For these purposes (and for co-ordinating campaigning), we recommend that a co-ordinating group or federation is set up. Its duties should include agreeing the tithing policy, the rules on approving and selecting council candidates, and the campaign strategy. Each local party in the area must formally agree with the tithing policy.
In England, the requirements are detailed in the English Party Constitution and the minimum level of contribution is set at 10%. How this works is explained further below.
In England, regional parties can impose arrangements if the local parties fail to do so.
In areas that have two tier councils the contribution policy may differ between the different levels of local government, e.g. counties and districts. This is perfectly acceptable but where co-ordination can be achieved this is preferable.
ALDC member-only content:
Group bank accounts
We recommend that council groups set up a council group bank account to deal with group funds and donations.
Council Group bank accounts can be set up with any bank, as an Unincorporated Association bank account.
Bank accounts must always require more than one signature to pay funds and we would recommend a pool of around four signatories (e.g. group treasurer, group chair, group leader, group deputy leader). Review this every year at your group AGM and update signatories regularly.
Use your council group bank account to:
- Receive councillor contributions under the councillor contributions policy.
- Make a donation to your local party(s) to pay for campaigning.
- Pay for your ALDC Group Membership.
- Pay for non campaigning activities such as group training and development.
All campaigning activities, including the employment of staff, should be done by local parties. Only non-campaigning activity can be paid for directly by the council group (ALDC Group Membership, training etc).
The group account should be maintained by the group treasurer reporting to the group as appropriate with an annual statement of funds to the group AGM.
An article from Lib Dem HQ with guidance on having legally compliant Group Bank Accounts can be found on the link below.
Many council groups make effective use of social media in their work.
Group chat/group emails are a great way for the group to keep in touch with each other including during meetings if needed.
It is important to make sure group chat is not abused:
- Don’t exclude members of the group.
- Keep language respectful and friendly. We are all on the same side!
Here is an example of social media policy.
Broadcast social media can also be useful for the group. Some groups have outward-facing Facebook Pages or blog websites. More groups have council group Twitter accounts.
Important points to remember are:
- Who is responsible for maintaining the group social media (might be more than one person).
- Make sure that passwords are secure, but also shared by more than one person (e.g. a group of three or four people, including the group leader, know the password and this is changed periodically.
Dealing with defections
There are two types of defections:
- Members or other political parties, or independents, who ask to join the Liberal Democrats.
- Members of the Liberal Democrat group who defect to other parties or become independent.
ALDC member-only content:
Having a Political Assistant
Some councils have political assistants. In this case, if your group is large enough you will be able to hire a political assistant.
The general role of political assistants is to undertake research and provide administrative support for political groups. Political assistants are local government employees and, with two exceptions, the restrictions on political activities of local government employees apply to them.
The two exceptions enable them to speak to the public with the intention of affecting support for a political party and to publish or cause to be published written work or other material intended to affect public support for a political party. It is perfectly legitimate, and arguably very sensible, to appoint a person who is a party member or is at least sympathetic to the policies and aims of your group and the national party.
Dealing with No Overall Control situations
It is possible that your council will find itself under ‘no overall control’ and no one party has a majority of councillors in order to form an administration. In this situation the Lib Dem group may have the opportunity to form a join administration with other groups.
If there is a possibility that your council might be heading towards this situation it is important to have a plan and be prepared. You can find a full article on the link below to help you with the process.
Training and management
At ALDC, we provide a range of training that will be useful to all members of council groups, you can see these here. In addition, ALDC members can contact us to discuss specific issues and ask for tailored advice.
All members of a group should be aware of the party’s Code of Conduct. We should always aim to interact with each other in the proper way and while groups will naturally have disagreements, these should remain professional.
Those in leadership positions will be expected to have a good knowledge of leadership principles and will ideally have some experience of managing teams. This includes being aware of the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of group members. Always keep an eye out for group members who are struggling with the volume and/or pace of work, this is more common than you may think.
All members of the group should feel that they can approach the leadership and raise any issues – this will lead to a healthier atmosphere amongst the group and will mean more issues being resolved in an informal manner. If a formal complaint is raised, this then becomes subject to the party’s disciplinary process, details of which are here.