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Supporting Chief Executives in NOC Change of Control Councils - Stroud

Since its creation in 1974, council control has changed a number of times, with majority control interspersed with NOC.

Key facts

  • Stroud District Council is a non-metropolitan district council within the County of Gloucestershire with a population of 121,100 at 2021 census

  • The Council was created in 1974.  It began its existence in No Overall Control (NOC) and alternated between majority control and NOC until 2012.  From 1974 to 2012 there were two long periods of Conservative control (1976-1984, 2002-2012), a two year Labour administration from 1996 to 1998 and in total 30 years of NOC.    It has been NOC since 2012.

  • There has been a long-standing Co-operative Alliance which has changed in terms of membership and leadership in the last two years.  Currently the Co-operative Alliance consists of Green, Independent Left, Community Independents, Liberal Democrats and an ungrouped Independent. The Council Leader is the Green group leader, as leader of the largest group in the Alliance, and the Deputy Council Leader is the Independent Left group leader, as leader of the second largest group in the Alliance.

  • In 2016 the authority moved from the cabinet and leader political management system back to a committee system.


Stroud District Council is one of the six Gloucestershire district councils in the South West of England.  Since its creation in 1974, council control has changed a number of times, with majority control interspersed with NOC.  From 2012 there has been twelve years of NOC.  Up until 2022 the Co-operative Alliance was a Labour-led coalition involving the Labour group, Greens and Liberal Democrats.  The Conservatives were the main opposition group.  In the 2021 elections, the Greens increased their numbers significantly from 9 to 13 councillors.  In the Summer of 2022, internal Labour party issues produced significant change.  Nine Labour councillors elected in 2021 left the party and formed two new groupings on the Council: the Community Independents Group of 4 councillors and the Independent Left group of 5 councillors and the remainder of the Labour group moved into opposition.  There have also been other changes. The opposition groups now comprise the Conservatives, the Labour group and ungrouped independents. The leadership of the Co-operative Alliance has moved to the Green group leader and the deputy is from the Independent Left. 

Kathy O’Leary took the position of chief executive in November 2018.  Her reflections on the lessons of working with NOC and joint administrations are included below.

Political Control

Political group

May 2016 Elections May 2021 Elections Early 2024 – following by-elections, changes in allegiance & a vacancy


23 20 19**


18 15 4


8 13 14****

Liberal Democrats

2 3 3


0 0 10*


0 0 1***


51 51 51

*The 10 independent councillors are:  4 councillors sit as the ‘Community Independents’ group; 4 form the ‘Independent Left’ group and the other 2 are non-aligned.  The Community Independents and Independent Left councillors and 2 non-aligned Independents were all elected as Labour party members in 2021.

*** The vacancy arose in January 2024 following the death of a long-serving Green councillor, Norman Kay.

The Council’s administration is formed of a Co-operative Alliance made up of the Greens, Independent Left, Community Independents, Liberal Democrats and a non-grouped independent (26 councillors).  The opposition comprises the Conservatives, Labour and a non-grouped independent (24 councillors). This totals 50 at present (March 2024) given the one vacancy.

The next all-out election is due in May 2024.


In 2016, the Council moved from a cabinet and leader system back to a committee system.

In early 2024, the committee system comprises:

  • Strategy and Resources Committee.  This is the ‘parent committee’ of the council including all six Group Leaders and the chairs of three other policy committees.  It meets six times a year and is chaired by the Leader with the Deputy Leader as vice chair.  The committee covers topics such as budget monitoring, asset management, performance management and key strategies and plans. It currently has a membership of 14 councillors.

  • The three other policy committees are: Housing Committee; Community Services and Licensing Committee; and an Environment Committee. 

  • The quasi-judicial committees comprise: Licensing Sub-Committee and the Development Control Committee.

  • There is an Audit and Standards Committee and a Standards Sub-Committee.  There is no separate scrutiny committee; performance monitoring takes place within the regular committees.

  • Full council.

The committee chairs and vice chairs are mostly provided from within the Co-operative Alliance with the exception of the Audit and Standards Committee Chair who is an Independent Conservative. 

Learning from perspective of chief executive

Shape Shifting

Coalition administrations will tend to ‘shape shift’ over time.  As much as possible, the role of the chief executive is to anticipate potential changes, working through different scenarios and preparing the organisation for smooth transitions. The 2021 elections produced a greater number of green councillors as they gained four seats and overall there were 24 new councillors returned out of the total body of 51 councillors.  And there was further – significant – change in the Summer of 2022 as internal party issues within the Labour group produced a changed shape to the Co-operative Alliance as the Greens took the lead in the coalition, and a changed shape to the opposition with the remaining members of the Labour group joining it.  Further changes are likely to result from the next all-out elections in 2024.

Political skills & political intelligence

Such ‘shape-shifting’ places a high value on the political skills of the senior officers.  Understanding the political geography of the area, being aware of marginal seats and understanding the various political groups and individuals is all key to being an effective and supportive senior officer team.  Ensuring that senior officers are attuned to the political environment is key to providing effective officer leadership and collaborating well with all groups.  Working across the political groups and understanding their priorities and pressures ensures that officers can share political intelligence and anticipate potential changes.  As the chief executive commented, officers need ‘good antennae’ to work effectively in NOC councils.

Officer cohesion

Sharing political intelligence relies on a cohesive officer team.  The Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) comprises the chief executive, the three strategic directors of place, communities, and resources, and the corporate director / monitoring officer who is shared with a neighbouring council.   The SLT is ‘very tight as a team’; this is crucial since ‘the strength of the team is all important’.  The SLT is a sub-set of the wider ‘Leadership and Management Team’ comprising heads of service, service managers and the SLT.  The chief executive ensures that this layer is briefed well on the political position.  Overall, ‘we have a set of officers who are very tuned in’.  The chief executive also emphasises to members that officers serve all councillors and reinforces with them the political neutrality of senior officers. 

Web of informal meetings & relationship building

An important aspect of working in a coalition administration is the web of informal meetings that NOC produces; this web of meetings critically supports the development of trusting relationships across the parties and between leading members and officers.  The chief executive described the ‘furious amount of meetings…all quite structured’.  These are also set out in the Co-operative Alliance written agreement which the chief executive is a co-signatory of. 

To illustrate the pattern of informal meetings, the chief executive is involved in the following:

  • Weekly one to one meetings with the Council Leader

  • Monthly one to one meetings with every Group Leader and Independent councillors not briefed by any Group Leader

  • A monthly Alliance Leadership Team meeting. The Alliance Leadership Team comprises the Alliance Group Leaders and the Committee Chairs

  • A monthly Group Leaders’ meeting chaired by the chief executive and attended by all 6 Group Leaders to discuss cross-party matters

  • Quarterly meetings with the two local MPs

These informal meetings lay the groundwork for developing trusting, confidential relationships; ‘it all comes down to building trusting relationships very quickly and working hard to maintain them’.  The chief executive also emphasises the importance of working with all group leaders.  The pandemic was a difficult time and the chief executive worked very hard to maintain those close, trusting and confidential working relationships with group leaders throughout.

Interestingly, building relationships with members is not restricted to leading members, and is not the preserve of the chief executive alone. The chief executive undertook ‘ward walks’ with new councillors as part of the process of building relationships with a new intake of councillors and the SLT joined her in those when they could. As lead officers for the various committees, the SLT also built strong working relationships with the committee chairs and vice chairs.

Facilitation & brokering

Given that coalitions will often ‘shape shift’ over time, chief executives will need at times to step in and help to broker smooth transitions, essentially helping members to work out who can work together in a changing political landscape.  This was part of her job in the Summer of 2022.  As the chief executive states, ‘my job is to oil the wheels of democracy’ and facilitation is a key part of the chief executive role in many NOC councils. 

Collaborative organisational culture

Since becoming chief executive in 2018, there has been an intentional strategy to develop a collaborative organisational culture.  This works well with a multi-party coalition, where relationship building, networking and collaborative skills and styles are needed by both members and officers.  A strong SLT was recruited with all key appointments agreed by all group leaders, not just those of the Co-operative Alliance but also opposition group leaders too. The CE too was appointed by a committee including all group leaders. This gives the CE and SLT a degree of resilience in the face of political change. The committee system aids the collaborative culture and suits a politically complex organisation.

The organisation is also outward focused, values learning and development, and has worked to develop strategic thinking in the top team.  There is a five year corporate plan taking the council to 2026.  All councillors are to some degree signed up to the plan and its progress is regularly reported to the appropriate policy committees; working with all groups and councillors on key strategies can help if/when a coalition shape shifts in the future.

The council has used the LGA peer review process in 2019  shortly after the chief executive took up her post to help identify development needs, again in 2022 to check on progress,  and there are quarterly top team away days, quarterly Alliance meetings (involving SLT every six months) and frequent briefings and workshops to aid policy development and understanding. 

A Green-led coalition

Working with a green-led coalition can be a different experience for officers than working with a traditional party leading a coalition. It is useful to consider these potential differences and prepare officers where necessary.  Greens do not have the same approach to party discipline as traditional parties; this can be puzzling to officers used to traditional whipped groups.   That is partly because they have a ‘spokesperson’ rather than a ‘group leader’ in the traditional sense and tend to vote according to individual conscience. And Greens can be quite challenging of officers; it can feel like officers are being ‘tested’, ‘challenged’ and not fully trusted.  This is part of how Green groups can behave – they are instinctually questioning and possibly more familiar with opposition than leadership, which means the relationship with officers can need careful nurturing so that the council can perform at its ‘one team’ best. 

Contact for further information:

Kathy O’Leary, Chief Executive
Stroud District Council
Email: Kathy.O’[email protected]