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Pre-election scenario planning for officers

This section, for chief executives and managing directors, builds on the advice offered in previous guidance. In the weeks and months before an election, there is a lot that the chief executive or managing director can do if they think there is a possibility of the council experiencing a change in leadership.

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Those we spoke to offered the following pre-election advice.

Scenario planning: think about the possible outcomes, work with your monitoring officer to map out how various scenarios will work in practice. Consider whether any constitutional change or changes to agreed protocol will be necessary. Reflect on the ‘softer’ personal relationships and political alternative situations (e.g. new group and council leaders, changes in portfolio holders etc) as well as structural and governance arrangements. Even after all this, expect the unexpected.

Look at common ground: review the manifestos of the political groups to see potential areas of agreement and the key issues of contention so you are prepared. Understand the dynamics of the political parties and how they do or do not interact with each other. Get to know their priorities and motivations and assess their likely appetite for working across the political spectrum.

Build and maintain good relationships across the political spectrum: it is more important than ever that the chief executive has good relationships with councillors, particularly group leaders and other leading members. You need to be seen as a trusted, impartial adviser. You may choose to talk to group leaders about how they see things going after the election and their expectations of your team, making it clear you will be there to help in the critical post-election period.

Immediate practical support: if you do experience a change in leadership then you will need to think about potential discussions and negotiations starting immediately. Make sure that key staff members are briefed and available over the weekend. Meeting rooms and or Zoom / Teams meetings are available and be prepared to support both new and former leaders through this initial change.

Prepare information for members: have information and guidance on hand as soon as it is needed, such as details of the early decisions members will have to take, the cabinet or committee structure and appointments to external organisations.

Brief your staff: a change in leadership will impact on different parts of the council to varying degrees. It can be helpful to talk through scenarios and what the changes may involve with senior managers ahead of the elections. This will help them to support the Council through the transition and beyond. You may also choose to brief all staff and explain that it will be ‘business as usual’ while any negotiations take place.

Contact your Principal Adviser to discuss your support needs 

Read about the experiences of others: our case studies give examples of how some councils have tackled changes. Don’t hesitate to ask others for advice and contact [email protected] to access our peer network.