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Essex County Council structure

23 November 2017

Essex County Council is structured to allow the elected councillors to make decisions effectively, with a degree of oversight that, in addition to public scrutiny, ensures that decisions are made fairly and in the best interest of the people of the county.

The Council as a political decision making body can be divided into four main areas:



Although it is the elected councillors who are responsible for strategic decision making, the Council has people working for it (known as officers of the Council) to give advice, implement the decisions that are made and manage the day to day delivery of its services. Some officers have a specific duty to ensure that the Council acts within the law and uses its resources wisely. A code of practice governs the relationship between officers and members of the Council.

Residents' dealings with the Council

Residents have a number of rights in their dealings with the Council. Some of these are legal rights, while others depend on the Council’s own procedures.

Residents have a number of rights in their dealings with the Council. Some of these are legal rights, while others depend on the Council’s own procedures.
Residents have the right to:

  • Vote at local elections if they are registered 
  • Contact their local councillor about any matters of concern to them. 
  • View a copy of the constitution 
  • Attend meetings of the Council and its committees except where personal or confidential matters are being discussed
  • Petition to request a referendum on a mayoral form of cabinet 
  • To contribute to investigations by overview and scrutiny committees 
  • Find out from the cabinet’s forward plan what major decisions are to be discussed by the cabinet or decided by cabinet members and when 
  • Attend meetings of the cabinet where decisions are being discussed or decided 
  • See reports and background papers and any record of decisions made by the Council and the cabinet 
  • Complain to the Council about any matters relating to its responsibilities with which they are dissatisfied. The Council has a complaints procedure details of which are available on request 
  • Complain to the Ombudsman if they think that the Council has not followed its procedures properly. However, they should only do this after using the Council’s own complaints process
  • Complain to the Council’s Standards Committee if they have evidence which they think shows that a Councillor has not followed the Council’s code of conduct 
  • Inspect the Council’s accounts and make their views known to the external auditor.

The Structure of Essex County Council 

The Council is composed of 75 councillors elected every four years. Councillors are democratically accountable to the residents of their electoral division. The overriding duty of councillors is to the whole community, but they have a special duty to their residents, including those who did not vote for them.

Councillors have to agree to follow a code of conduct to ensure high standards in the way they undertake their duties. The Audit, Governance and Standards Committee trains and advises them on the code of conduct.

All councillors meet together as the Council.
Council meetings


The Council meets five times a year and deals with the budget in February each year. Meetings of the Council are open to the public. Here councillors decide the Council’s overall policies and set the budget for each year. The Council appoints the Leader of the Council and nine other councillors who together make up the Cabinet. It also appoints members to committees concerned with overview and scrutiny of the actions of the Cabinet and to deal with matters of a regulatory nature.




  • To be responsible for matters reserved to the Council by law
  • To set a budget
  • To determine corporate and service strategies, policies and standards
  • To determine the political and officer structures of the Council
  • To appoint a leader of the Council
  • To appoint overview and scrutiny committees
  • To adopt or amend the constitution
  • To receive recommendations and reports from the cabinet and committees
  • To debate issues of major significance in committee
  • To adopt an allowances scheme

(Note: By law the Council has to elect a Chairman at its annual meeting from the members of the Council.)


Council agenda


Typically the Council Agenda will consist of the following business:


  • Procedural business
  • Motions
  • Reports and Recommendations from the Cabinet
  • Reports and Recommendations from overview and scrutiny committees
  • Other reports to Council and matters reserved to Council for  decision
  • Questions (Written and Oral)


(Note: With the exception of essential procedural business, the order of the other business can be varied by the Chairman.)

The Cabinet is the part of the Council that is responsible for most day to day decisions. The Cabinet is made up of a leader, and nine other councillors who each have specific areas of responsibility. When major decisions are to be discussed or made these are published in the Cabinet’s forward plan insofar as they can be foreseen. If these major decisions are to be taken at a meeting of the Cabinet this will generally be open for the public to attend except where personal or confidential matters are being discussed. The Cabinet has to make decisions that are in line with the Council’s overall policies and budget. If it wishes to make a decision that is outside the budget or policy framework this must be referred to the Council as a whole to decide.


The Cabinet is comprised of the Leader of the Council, who will be its Chairman, and nine other members appointed by the Leader of the Council. The members of the Cabinet each have a defined portfolio of responsibilities for the discharge of the Council’s business as defined in the Constitution.


The role of the Cabinet is to exercise the powers and duties of the Council except where these are reserved to the Council or delegated to a committee or to an officer.


Cabinet meetings


The Cabinet meets approximately 11 times a year according to a published calendar with provision for the Leader of the Council or any two members of the Cabinet to requisition an emergency meeting.  The requirements of the Access to Information legislation apply to meetings of the Cabinet. Public notice of meetings will be given and the agenda will be on deposit for public inspection at least five clear days before the relevant meeting. Meetings will be open to the public and press who may be excluded when confidential business, as defined in the legislation, is to be transacted.  The agenda for meetings of the Cabinet will be made available to any member of the public who requests it and are posted on the the Internet.



Typically a Cabinet Agenda will consist of the following business:
  • key and other significant issues of a crosscutting nature
  • decisions to make recommendations to the Council on the budget or policy framework
  • urgent decisions outside, or not in accordance with, the budget or policy framework
  • issues affecting more than one portfolio when agreement cannot be reached
  • sensitive issues
  • significant issues relating to officer structures


Key decisions and forward plan

The Council produces a Schedule of Key Decisions and Forward Plan of business for the Cabinet.

Policy and Scrutiny Committees are given specific remits to hold investigations into matters of local concern. These investigations can take a number of forms, including inviting witnesses to give information and forming task and finish groups to look at specific issues in more detail. Policy and Scrutiny Committees can also call in cabinet decisions that have not yet been implemented.
There are currently 4 Overview and Scrutiny Committees and to find out more including their full remit and member make up please see the relevant article of the Council’s constitution (in brackets below):
  • Corporate Policy Scrutiny Committee (Article 9.5.1)
  • People and Families Policy and Scrutiny Committee (Article 9.5.2)
  • Place Services and Economic Growth Policy and Scrutiny Committee (Article 9.5.3
  • Health Overview, Policy and Scrutiny Committee (Article 10) 


There are certain types of function that it would not be appropriate to allocate to the Cabinet. Broadly, these are regulatory functions, semi-judicial functions and matters related to standards of conduct. The Council has established a number of committees to deal with these functions. Further details may be found in the Council’s constitution, Article 8.

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