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Supporting Chief Executives in NOC Change of Control Councils - North Somerset

North Somerset is a unitary authority in the South West of England. Since its creation in April 1996, council control has changed periodically.

Key facts

  • North Somerset is a unitary authority with a population of 216,700 at 2021 census

  • The Council was created in 1996.  There have been changes in political control since its inception: from 1996 to 1999 it was controlled by the Liberal Democrats; Conservative controlled from 1999 to 2003; No Overall Control (NOC) in the following four years to 2007; returning to Conservative control for twelve years until 2019.  It has been NOC since 2019.

  • 2023 elections produced a continuation of NOC.

  • The authority has retained the cabinet and leader political management system, following a governance review after the 2019 elections.


North Somerset is a unitary authority in the South West of England.  Since its creation in April 1996, council control has changed periodically.  Between 2007 and 2019 there were twelve years of Conservative control, which changed at the May 2019 elections when the authority moved to NOC.   The new ‘alliance partnership’ consisted of the Independents, Liberal Democrats, Labour and Greens.  The Independents provided the Council Leader position with the Independent Leadership changing in May 2022.  After the May 2023 elections, the mix of the political administration changed with the number of Independent councillors decreasing in number, whilst the Liberal Democratic, Labour and Greens increased in numbers. Overall, the partnership administration continues to include the original partner groups.  The administration is comprised of: Liberal Democrats and Independents, Labour, Greens, Portishead Independents and Independent.  The Council Leader is Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Independents Group and the Deputy is the Leader of the Labour Group.

Jo Walker took over as chief executive in early 2019, shortly before the Council moved into NOC working.  Her reflections on the lessons of working with the multi-party cabinet are included below.

Political Control

Political group

May 2015 Elections May 2019 Elections May 2023 Elections & Nov 2023 Bye election


36 13 13

Liberal Democrats

4 11 9


3 6 10


1 3 8


6 13 7

Portishead Independents*

- 4 3


  50 50

*There have been a range of independent groupings over time.  Of the seven current independents, three sit in a group with the Liberal Democrats, one sits with the Portishead Independents, two sit as opposition with the Conservative Group and the other does not belong to a group.


After the May 2019 election change to NOC, the alliance partnership explored the possibility of moving from cabinet and leader to a committee system. The leader and chief executive asked the LGA to support the council in exploring the options and an in-depth piece of work was completed.  The Council concluded that they would continue with the cabinet and leader system.

In early 2024, the Executive consists of nine councillors: three are drawn from the Liberal Democrats Group; three from Labour; two from the Green group; and one from the Portishead Independent Group.  There are five overview and scrutiny panels, which are chaired by a councillor from the partnership administration, with one deputy chair drawn from the opposition.  There are also the usual audit committee, planning and licensing committees etc.

Chief Executive reflections

Pace of change

Moving to NOC in 2019 brought about several changes all at once: change in control to NOC; a turnover in councillors with fifty per cent new councillors; change in roles as ex-opposition took up executive posts and the previous controlling group moving into the opposition role; some new senior officers and the potential for a governance change i.e. to a committee system. Induction is critical as are informal conversations in those first critical days to support the creation of a NOC administration. Attention needs to be given to the pace of change given a NOC administration will need to develop their vision, their objectives, and priorities to inform a new corporate plan. Significant change may need external support e.g. the council took the time to consider the options and likely impacts of any change in governance with LGA support.  Members and officers also need time to learn from each other, develop trusted relationships and adapt processes and systems if necessary. 

A Cultural Shift

Moving to NOC requires some culture shift for members and officers.  It involved working with an alliance partnership of four political groupings compared to one political group.  Previously when agreeing decisions, the key members to be involved from an officer perspective were the leader and portfolio holder, all part of the same political group.  This changed markedly in a NOC multi-party administration which relies on extensive engagement and multiple conversations with a range of individuals across multiple groups.  Ensuring that officers understand this key cultural shift is critical, i.e. just because your Executive member is on board does not mean all groups in the administration are.

Communication, communication, communication

Regular, frequent communication using a range of methods is vital.  This often involves more meetings (particularly informal meetings) than in a majority control context, given the multiple controlling political groups and a large opposition group.  Ensuring that systems and processes are in place to support this regular communication with administration group leaders, all group leaders, staff and partners is important and whilst this may feel time consuming it is crucial to the success of effective NOC administration working.

Informal frank confidential conversations

Make space for informal, frank, confidential conversations.  Partnership administrations will need to have these spaces to develop policy thinking amongst themselves as members and separately with officers, given the variety of political views.   This helps executive members and senior officers to talk openly and work through key decisions, which may at times require compromise to tackle tough decisions. 

It is okay not to agree at times

An ability to conduct frank confidential conversations supports the development of trusted relationships between members and officers. It can also help to breed a ‘maturity’ in understanding the limitations of the political partnership. Partnership administrations will not agree on everything politically and this is ‘okay’ as long as everyone is clear about the implications and having clarity on how members and officers manage this effectively through policy development and implementation. 

Change will happen…

The partnership administration has seen changes to its composition.  In 2022 there was a change in the Council Leader a year before the elections, which required support to ensure a smooth transition.  May 2023 elections brought change to the composition and leadership of the partnership, which again required support to ensure another smooth transition. Partnership administrations may change in composition; the key is to ensure that timely support is available, enabling effective change.

A successful partnership?

The council’s recent LGA corporate peer review provided independent confirmation that the partnership administration has worked well and delivered strong services for residents with positive member and officer working relationships. 

Contact for further information:

Jo Walker, Chief Executive
North Somerset Council
Email: [email protected]


Final case study, April 2024