Good governance for combined authorities

Good governance for combined authorities publication cover
This guide is a tool for public sector practitioners and their associated stakeholders in their commitment to good governance. It provides a reference point for those beginning their journey and seeking to establish their combined authority and offers a detailed checklist for pre-existing combined authorities aiming to improve their leadership, governance, and corporate structures.

1. Introduction

Combined authorities represent a significant change in the local governance landscape, offering new opportunities for regional development, strategic planning, stakeholder engagement and delivery at scale. However, new opportunities also bring new challenges, particularly in establishing and maintaining robust governance structures.

1.1 What are combined authorities (CAs)

CAs are corporate bodies formed of two or more council areas, established with or without an elected mayor. They enable groups of councils to take decisions across boundaries on issues that extend beyond the interests of any individual local authority. They are legal bodies set up using secondary legislation and must be initiated by the councils involved. 

For this guide, we use CA as a collective term for all types of combined authorities, including combined county authorities (CCAs). CCAs are made of upper-tier councils only, and any district or borough councils in the proposed area are not able to be members (or constituent councils, as they are known).

1.2 Who should read this guide?

Governance does not follow a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Each CA faces a unique set of objectives and challenges that demand specific governance solutions. This guide explores the nuances of good governance for CAs, underscoring the subtle differences that distinguish them from other authorities and considers how governance arrangements should adapt as organisations grow and mature. 

This guide is a tool for public sector practitioners and their associated stakeholders in their commitment to good governance. It provides a reference point for those beginning their journey and seeking to establish their CA and offers a detailed checklist for pre-existing CAs aiming to improve their leadership, governance, and corporate structures.

This guide provides clear, practical advice and insights to help CAs successfully navigate governance-related topics. 

In this guide, we:

  • define what good governance looks like in the CA context
  • outline the essential components for establishing and maintaining effective governance
  • provide practical tips and examples from existing CAs, illustrating successful strategies
  • offer a resource library for further exploration and continuous learning.

1.3 Role of the Local Government Association (LGA)

The LGA supports CAs in developing and implementing best practice and helps identify the resources and strategies needed to foster effective governance. 

This partnership aims to enhance the capabilities of CAs, ensuring they are well-equipped to meet the needs of their communities. The LGA's support extends to facilitating knowledge sharing, offering guidance, and providing tools essential for improving governance within CAs. This guide is part of the LGA’s commitment to meeting this need, enabling emerging authorities to benefit from established practices without "reinventing the wheel".

3. Essential components

A set of protocols, principles, codes, guidance, and frameworks outline the actions, rules, and expectations required to create and sustain good governance. These documents emphasise the importance of ethical behaviour, transparency, and responsibility and outline the actions needed for CAs to set and maintain a high level of governance, which is essential for gaining and keeping public trust.

  • The English Devolution Accountability Framework explains how devolved bodies in England are held accountable. It talks about the importance of – and outlines the Government's key expectations for – checks and balances, being answerable to the public and the national government, ensuring money is well spent, and listening to local businesses in decision-making.
  • The Scrutiny Protocol is the Government’s guidance for devolved institutions on overseeing and being accountable for their actions, emphasising the need for clear, ethical leadership and regular checks on performance.
  • The Seven Principles of Public Life (also known as the Nolan Principles) set out ethical standards for those working in the public sector in the UK, covering values like selflessness, integrity, and honesty. These principles are meant to guide public officials in behaving ethically.
  • The LGA's Model Councillor Code of Conduct 2020 provides advice for members on behaving ethically and maintaining the public's trust. It covers treating people respectfully, avoiding conflicts of interest, and being transparent about gifts and hospitality.
  • Finally, the Government’s Best Value Guidance outlines the standards expected of local authorities when delivering the best possible public services. It focuses on the leadership, governance, and resource management necessary to ensure effective, efficient services that offer good value for money.

We have distilled the key themes from these documents, alongside direct feedback and input from CAs, into eight essential components that CA can use to support a culture of ethics and trust and ensure members' and officers' actions follow regulatory requirements and meet the highest standards.

When viewed alongside broader organisational objectives and values, these components create a robust framework that can steer daily operations, decision-making processes and stakeholder interactions. Actively communicating and embedding these components throughout the organisation, from strategic planning to everyday tasks, is essential for fostering a cohesive and unified approach to governance.

Case Study: West Yorkshire Combined Authority Corporate Governance Code and Framework

Like many CAs, WYCA has adopted a Corporate Governance Code and Framework that aligns with best practice guidelines. This local code outlines a commitment to seven core principles: integrity, openness, economic, social, and environmental benefits, achieving intended outcomes, capacity and capability, risk and performance management, transparency, audit, and accountability. The code outlines specific policies, codes of conduct, and procedures for regular audits to uphold ethical values, stakeholder involvement, and efficient governance. 

Undertaking annual reviews of the effectiveness of governance mechanisms and controls (as described in the local code) helps the CA to outline areas for improvement, demonstrate its organisational responsibility, and foster a culture of transparency and continuous improvement within its governance framework.

3.1 Transparency and openness

Transparency and openness go beyond merely publishing and sharing information. 

CAs must proactively make information accessible and understandable to the public. Being open facilitates active dialogue and scrutiny and requires CAs to embrace feedback and critique, thus promoting accountability and public trust. 

Although there will be instances where CAs might need to withhold some information for commercial or legal reasons, a culture of transparency means that CAs embody openness in their daily operations and interactions.

Key requirements 

  • Adopting and maintaining a Publication Scheme: The Freedom of Information Act requires every public authority to have a publication scheme approved by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and to publish information covered by the scheme. The ICO has created a model publication scheme that all public authorities must use. The scheme covers the following types of information:
    • Who we are and what we do: Organisational information, locations and contacts, constitutional and legal governance. 
    • What we spend and how we spend it: Financial information relating to projected and actual income and expenditure, tendering, procurement and contracts. 
    • What our priorities are and how we are doing: Strategy and performance information, plans, assessments, inspections and reviews.
    • How we make decisions: Policy proposals and decisions. Decision-making processes, internal criteria and procedures, consultations.
    • Our policies and procedures: Current written protocols for delivering our functions and responsibilities.
    • Lists and registers: Information held in registers required by law and other lists and registers relating to the functions of the authority.
    • The services we offer: Advice and guidance, booklets and leaflets, transactions and media releases. A description of the services offered.
    • Example Publication Scheme: Liverpool City Region Combined Authority
  • Proactively disclosing data in line with The Local Government Transparency Code. This includes financial transactions, asset utilisation, decision-making processes, and matters of local interest.
  • CAs are required to publish a forward plan detailing key decisions they intend to make. This plan must be made available at least 28 days before the start of the period covered in the plan. The forward plan informs the public and stakeholders about upcoming decisions and allows for transparency and accountability in the decision-making process. Where the CA intends to make a key decision, it must publish a notice detailing how the decision relates to the CA’s functions, the specifics of the decision, the decision-makers name and title, when the decision will be made and how to request more information on these documents. 
  • Holding public meetings with openly accessible agendas and publishing the minutes and decisions online in an easy-to-read format and timely way encourages transparency in decision-making by allowing the public to scrutinise and understand the processes involved.

3.2 Accountability and responsibility

When a CA is established, the Government transfers specific powers to it, thus making the CA responsible for those areas. This transfer of power enables decisions to be made closer to the communities they affect, enhancing responsiveness and efficiency. Accountability means that those who have power must answer for and explain their choices and actions to the public. When accountability works well, it also enables and enhances the feedback and trust between the CA and the public it serves. 

Clarity of responsibility is crucial; it involves defining specific roles and expectations – this includes understanding the difference between member and officer roles and avoiding ambiguity in who is responsible for what. While specific responsibilities can be delegated within the CA, the ultimate accountability for those decisions and actions cannot be transferred, ensuring that members remain answerable for the outcomes of delegated tasks.

Key requirements

  • Establishing explicit reporting structures, including schemes of delegation with well-defined roles and responsibilities. For example, the Government's guidance on "The Role of the Senior Responsible Owner (SRO)" outlines the responsibilities and expectations for SROs overseeing significant projects. This is crucial for ensuring effective leadership and accountability in project management. 
  • Implementing a regular mayoral or directly elected leader’s Question Time, as outlined in the Scrutiny Protocol, to facilitate direct public engagement and provide a means for those responsible to be held accountable.
  • Investment in developing a robust constitution that captures the key structures and boundaries for accountability, responsibility, and the delegation of authority to make decisions. This will be a key reference point in the event of a dispute between partners
  • Regularly reviewing key documents, including the constitution. Governance protocols and guidance should be live documents that reflect evolving practice and law and should periodically be strengthened and refined (as whole documents) to ensure they stay relevant and consistent.
  • Developing targets and utilising performance indicators to measure and communicate the outcomes of actions and decisions. This provides clear quantitative information that the CA and stakeholders can use to track and measure progress on delivering strategic objectives and enables members and other stakeholders to hold the CA to account.
  • Incorporating regular and comprehensive evaluations of programmes and initiatives to assess their effectiveness, impact on the community, and efficiency of resource utilisation. This can be achieved by formally adopting a structured approach to benefits realisation, such as the Assurance Review Toolkit from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which details methodologies for categorising, planning, and evaluating benefits to ensure projects deliver their intended outcomes effectively.
  • Implementing a system for addressing and learning from complaints and feedback from the public and other stakeholders, fostering trust and continuous improvement.

Case Study: West Midlands Combined Authority: The Single Assurance Framework & Project Lifecycle Process

The WMCA SAF is a guidance tool that aids sponsors through four project stages: initiation, development, approvals, and delivery. It ensures consistency in assurance, independent appraisal, and decision-making across all funding sources. The SAF aims to achieve accountability and value for money in project and programme management by setting high standards for project development, approval, delivery, and oversight.

Guidance: Reviewing Schemes of Delegation for English Authorities by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS)  

CfGS has produced technical advice for local authorities in England. It addresses the principles of delegated decision-making, clarifying the distinction between member and officer roles and emphasising political accountability. It discusses the importance of consistent financial thresholds, political clarity, the cascade principle, accurate recording and reporting and adherence to the law.

3.3 Participation 

From a governance perspective, participation is more than procedural requirements – it is about shaping the effectiveness, transparency, and accountability of decision-making processes. 

The English Devolution Accountability Framework also sets an expectation that CAs ensure that decisions benefit from the input of wide-ranging views and underlines the importance of CAs communicating their roles, achievements, and decision-making processes, fostering an informed, engaged community through regular updates and direct interactions. This includes detailing these roles in local council tax bills or the requirement for CAs to organise a mayor or directly elected leader’s Question Time every three months to facilitate accountability and public engagement.

Embracing participation requires a CA to ensure that mechanisms, such as community engagement strategies, enable diverse voices, especially those less heard, to inform local priorities and the decision-making processes. Done well, participation should build public trust, support more informed and robust policies, foster community engagement, and enable more effective and inclusive service delivery.

Key Stakeholders 

Different actors and organisations play a vital role in the management and functioning of CAs, from councils, including district and borough councils, residents, businesses and other elected officials such as the Police and Crime Commissioner.

  • Constituent Councils: Councils that are part of the CA.
  • Members: Appointed by constituent councils as voting members of the CA.
  • Non-constituent Members: Those nominated as members by a body designated by the CAs. Non-constituent members are non-voting unless the voting members resolve otherwise.
  • Businesses: Local and regional businesses contributing to economic development and employment.
  • Residents: The local population impacted by CA policies and services.
  • Other Elected and Public Sector Representatives (e.g. Police and Crime Commissioner): representing additional layers of governance and public service within the CA's area.

The impact of culture on participation in scrutiny

Statutory guidance on overview and scrutiny highlights the crucial role of organisational culture, behaviours, and attitudes in determining the success or failure of a CA scrutiny function. It emphasises the importance of creating a strong culture that supports effective scrutiny, which in turn can improve policymaking and public service delivery. 

The guidance outlines strategies for establishing such a culture, including recognising the legal and democratic legitimacy of scrutiny, ensuring clear roles and focus, promoting early engagement between the executive and scrutiny functions, managing disagreements constructively, and providing necessary support and resources. It suggests that a supportive culture can lead to better scrutiny outcomes, enhancing public accountability and governance, especially in systems with a directly elected mayor. 

Key requirements

  • Establishing effective partnerships with businesses, educational institutions, and other public sector organisations.
  • Including external stakeholder input in the scrutiny process. CAs should engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including residents, businesses, and community groups, to gather diverse perspectives and insights. This approach aims to enhance the scrutiny function's effectiveness and relevance by ensuring it reflects the needs and concerns of the wider community. 
  • Monitoring committee attendance and mayoral engagement. To be effective, committees require sufficient engagement and support. Holding meetings in different localities makes governance more accessible and encourages participation.
  • Establishing a culture that values participation, collaboration, and feedback across various stakeholders—adopting local engagement protocols or guidelines can support this culture. 

Case Study: West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA): Consultation and engagement protocols

WYCA has established a consultation and engagement protocol to guide its stakeholder interactions. This protocol emphasises the importance of dialogue, aiming to influence decisions, policies, or action programs through a genuine exchange of views. 

The approach is designed to be dynamic, inclusive, and GDPR compliant, ensuring that consultations are effective, accessible, and high-quality and that feedback is meaningfully incorporated into decision-making processes. The protocol encompasses six key components to ensure effective stakeholder involvement:

  1. Awareness and duty: Ensuring stakeholders are informed about consultation approaches and recognised statutory duties to consult.
  2. Formative stage engagement: Allowing stakeholder input while proposals are still development.
  3. Accessibility: Making consultation open, transparent, and easy to participate in.
  4. Planning and value: Ensuring consultations are well-managed, coordinated, and cost-effective.
  5. Consistent high quality: Maintaining high standards through staff training and quality control processes.
  6. Feedback consideration: Ensuring consultation feedback is objectively considered and outcomes communicated promptly.

Case Study: Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA): Greater than its constituent parts…

GMCA comprises the Mayor of Greater Manchester, the leaders of the ten Greater Manchester councils including the Salford City Mayor, and a Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice, and Fire. Each member is assigned a policy brief by the Mayor to lead on specific areas such as Policy & Reform, Transport, Economy, Green City-Region, and more, aiming to address the diverse needs of the region collaboratively. Assigning cross-cutting thematic portfolios to the leader/mayor of each member Council encourages them to consider the wider regional impact and needs rather than focusing solely on their local authority's immediate boundaries. 

This approach fosters a collaborative mindset, ensuring that policies and initiatives are developed with a holistic view of Greater Manchester's challenges and opportunities. It also promotes regional cohesion and mutual progress.

3.4 Rule of Law

The rule of law is a crucial component, highlighting the importance of operating in an environment where the rules are known, clear, and applied equally, ensuring that no individual or entity is above the law. In practice, this means ensuring that operational activities, policy decisions, and governance practices are conducted within established and evolving legislation.

Adhering to the rule of law supports CAs in upholding democratic values, maintaining public trust, and providing a stable and predictable environment for governance. This accountability loop is vital for governance as it ensures that public officials act in the community's best interest, adhering to principles of transparency and ethical conduct. Legislation creates a stable, predictable governance environment, ensuring actions are transparent and fair and treat everyone equally under the law, which can contribute to reinforcing the integrity and legitimacy of CAs in the public eye. 

Key legislation

The legislation covering combined authorities is:

There is also a range of related legislative provisions for CAs' governance arrangements. These include:

The role of Statutory Officers

Like many other public sector organisations, CAs are required to appoint or designate several statutory officers. These officers play a vital role in ensuring the lawful and effective operation of the authority. They have personal duties to discharge and exercise these when their authorities are experiencing particularly difficult situations or pressure on resources. The three most senior roles cover:

  • The Head of Paid Service (Chief Executive) is responsible for ensuring the authority’s functions are properly coordinated, organising staff, and appointing appropriate management.
  • The Monitoring Officer is responsible for monitoring the lawfulness of their authorities' actions and, if necessary, complying with their duty under section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to report unlawfulness or maladministration to their authorities.
  • The Section 73 Chief Finance Officer is responsible for administering the combined authority's financial affairs in accordance with Section 73 of the Local Government Act 1985.

Other statutory roles include the Statutory Scrutiny Officer, the Data Protection Officer, the Senior Information Risk Officer, and the Combined Authority Returning Officer.

Key requirements

  • CAs must operate within the legal framework established by national legislation and the articles of the CA’s constitution.
  • CA decisions must comply with existing laws, regulations, and constitutional provisions. Therefore, CAs must ensure that decisions are informed by robust advice, including legal advice, that ensures compliance, mitigates risks and protects rights.
  • Continually updating policies to reflect legislative changes reinforcing a culture of compliance and conducting training so that members and officers understand the policies which enable legal compliance.
  • The CA's statutory officers - the Head of Paid Service (Chief Executive), Chief Finance Officer, and Monitoring Officer - have a defined role in guiding and informing the mayor or leader and members and ensuring that decisions are lawful and consistent with the constitution.
  • Constituent councils also have an important role, providing advice to their member representatives in facilitating, informing and implementing CA decisions. This is generally not a formal role governed by the CA constitution. However, because they can carry a strong informal influence, it is important to ensure that any areas of disagreement can be properly governed using a protocol. 

3.5 Strategic Vision

Strategic vision is a key to good governance because it provides a clear direction and purpose. It guides decision-making, aligns effort, and ensures adaptability. Visions motivate stakeholders, contribute to long-term sustainability, and guide what success looks like. 

CAs must engage in a collective process from the outset, involving local leaders and stakeholders in defining priority outcomes. Successful visions create a shared narrative demonstrating the added value of devolution and focus on long-term regional benefits over short-term gains. CAs also operate in a political environment where contrasting strategic priorities and points of view can make it difficult for partners to agree. Voting arrangements, the constitution and supporting decision-making protocols provide a structure that should help mitigate this. However, the ability of the CA to function effectively is highly dependent on a good and constructive strategic relationship between the partners. 

Partner representatives need to be aware that their constitutional responsibility to act in the strategic interests of the CA might, at times, diverge somewhat from the direct interests of their constituent council, and there will be an ongoing need to balance both the short and longer term objectives of both organisations.

Key requirements

  • Initiating a devolution process that involves all stakeholders, setting a solid foundation for shared purpose and strategy.
  • Develop a strategic vision that looks beyond immediate priorities, focusing on long-term regional development and prosperity. Use data to inform strategic decisions and measure the effectiveness of initiatives.
  • Ensuring wide-ranging support from local political leaders, stakeholders, and the community, emphasising collective leadership and the importance of seeking consensus in decision-making where possible.
  • Articulating the vision effectively, outlining its benefits, the powers to be devolved, and the geographical scope, ensuring alignment with regional economic realities. The vision should be articulated, achievable and prioritised for officers to follow.
  • Aligning the CA’s financial strategy and delivery arrangements with the vision and responding appropriately to local needs, including the plans of partners and stakeholders.
  • Underpinning the vision with an evidence-based, current, and realistic corporate plan enables the CA’s performance to be measured and held to account. 

Guidance: The Corporate Narrative Toolkit

The LGA Corporate Narrative Toolkit offers guidance for authorities wanting to articulate their vision, values, and plans effectively. The toolkit emphasises the significance of a well-structured narrative that encapsulates the purpose, achievements, and future goals in a compelling and relatable manner. It advocates for simplicity, clarity, and truthfulness in storytelling to ensure the message resonates with a broad audience.

Through practical tips and case studies, the toolkit provides valuable insights into developing, finalising, and embedding a corporate narrative that effectively communicates the authority’s role and impact.

Key aspects include:

  • Consensus vs clarity: balancing the need for wide-ranging input with the necessity of avoiding a narrative that feels overwrought or filled with jargon. 
  • Inclusive development process: involving a diverse group of stakeholders to ensure the narrative reflects a broad spectrum of perspectives and experiences.
  • Unique and authentic storytelling: crafting a unique narrative, highlighting its specific purpose, vision, and the tangible impact of its work on the community. 
  • Evaluation and adaptation: regularly assessing how the narrative is embraced and applied.

3.6 Effective decision-making and risk management

To enable good governance, decision-making should be rigorous and transparent, grounded in a comprehensive understanding of all relevant factors, risks, and impacts associated with each decision. There must be a structured approach where decisions are informed by solid evidence and stakeholder engagement, ensuring every action aligns with both immediate objectives and broader, long-term aspirations.

Risk management should also be woven into the fabric of decision-making and not treated as a peripheral activity. Good risk management entails a systematic process of identifying, evaluating, and mitigating potential challenges and threats, safeguarding the authority’s objectives. It enhances the CA's resilience and adaptability, enabling it to confidently navigate uncertainties. By integrating risk management seamlessly into governance structures, CAs can ensure a cohesive approach that enhances overall performance and success, linking it closely with other governance dimensions for a holistic strategy.

Key requirements

  • Develop a decision-making protocol - This brings to life critical constitutional components such as who is responsible for making decisions and how decisions are made, procedural matters (set out in the ‘standing orders’) and the role of officers.
  • Establishing a comprehensive evaluation of options and risks and conducting impact assessments for decisions to evaluate potential consequences and inform better choices.
  • Ensuring decision-making is evidence-based, customer and citizen-focused, and considers the needs of different groups within the community.
  • Develop a comprehensive risk management framework and conduct regular risk assessments and scenario planning exercises.
  • Identifying and implementing risk mitigation strategies and contingency plans.

Case Study: Developing a Decision-Making Protocol

The "North East Combined Authority (NECA) Decision-Making Protocol" aims to provide a clear and accountable decision-making process that is understood and followed by both members and officers. 

Importantly, it draws together the mechanisms for all decision-making alongside 12 principles that all decisions should adhere to. Establishing a decision-making protocol enables the CA to make it easy to understand the decision-making process, with use of diagrams and examples where helpful. 

Case Study: Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) Corporate Risk Framework 

GMCA introduced its Corporate Risk Framework in 2020, outlining an approach towards managing potential risks and opportunities affecting the Authority's strategic objectives. GMCA’s Risk Management Framework encompasses the principles on which risk management operates within GMCA, the risk appetite of the organisation, the framework (or hierarchy) of categories of risk, risk management process (identify and assess, treat, monitor and report) and risk management tools, templates and training.

The framework relates to all strategic and operational areas, focusing on proactive risk anticipation and prevention. It enables GMCA to take a consistent approach to risk identification, assessment, and management, embedding these processes throughout the organisation. The framework also defines roles and responsibilities for all staff, emphasising collective expertise in mitigating risks.

3.7 Ethics and integrity

Ethics and integrity are foundational to good governance, ensuring that actions and decisions are conducted with honesty, fairness, and respect. This is critical for maintaining public trust and accountability. Adhering to established ethical frameworks like the Nolan Principles and the LGA's Model Member Code of Conduct 2020 guides members and officers in upholding these values, emphasising the importance of respectful treatment, transparency, and impartial conduct. 

Implementing these standards strengthens the ethical culture within CAs, promoting a governance environment where integrity is paramount. Integrating these guidelines into key documents, such as the constitution, code of conduct (for members and officers), conflicts of interest policy and member and officer protocols underlines the commitment to integrity and trust in public governance, fostering an environment where ethical practices are the norm.

Key requirements

  • Establish a comprehensive ethics and conduct code aligned with the Nolan Principles and informed by the LGA's Model Member Code of Conduct 2020.
  • Conduct regular ethical behaviour and integrity training for all members and staff, promoting a culture of openness, respect, and ethical behaviour at every level of the organisation.

Guidance: LGA Model Member Code of Conduct 

The LGA developed a Model Member Code of Conduct after extensive consultation with the sector, as part of its work to support all tiers of local government to continue to aspire to high standards of leadership and performance. This initiative was developed in response to a need for clearer guidance and consistency in the ethical standards expected of councillors throughout local government, following recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The code of conduct specifies the behaviours and obligations of councillors. It covers areas such as treating others with respect and impartiality, avoiding conflicts of interest, and ensuring the prudent use of public resources. It applies to councillors in their official capacity and includes all forms of communication and interaction, whether face-to-face, online, written, verbal, or non-verbal.

One key aspect of the code is its emphasis on respect, bullying, harassment, discrimination, and the impartiality of council officers. Councillors are expected to not only avoid these behaviours but also to promote equality and not unlawfully discriminate against any person. The code also outlines requirements regarding confidentiality and access to information, ensuring that councillors do not disclose confidential information improperly or use their position for personal gain. It stresses the importance of using council resources appropriately and not bringing the role or the local authority into disrepute.

Case Study: Officer Code of Conduct

The "Code of Conduct for Officers" document from the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) outlines standards for officer conduct. It emphasizes the need for high ethical standards, including integrity, honesty, impartiality, and objectivity in serving the community and implementing policies. The document covers various aspects such as political neutrality, managing personal relationships, equality and diversity, and handling of the authority's property and information. It also addresses conflicts of duty, whistleblowing, and the treatment of gifts and hospitality, aiming to ensure that officers work in the public interest and maintain public confidence. 

3.8 Efficiency and effectiveness  

Like other authorities, CAs have a duty to plan for continuous improvement in how they perform their functions, considering a combination of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. This covers issues such as how authorities balance their budget, provide statutory services, and ensure value for money in all spending decisions.

The latest evolution of the Best Value Duty will require authorities to show good governance, positive organisational culture, and effective risk management across all functions. Regular reviews of governance mechanisms and controls are crucial in this process. Reviews should involve assessing decision-making processes, resource allocation and achieving specific outcomes to identify areas for improvement and provide insights into simplifying operations for more efficiency and effectiveness. Part of this review process includes openness to external challenge and awareness of how the authority compares to other comparable organisations.

Constituent members also have an important role in ensuring value for money. As a CA grows, it will need to expand its team and capacity in key areas such as corporate governance and assurance, which will require more funding. Members can have a significant influence in approving the management structure and appointments, the funding mechanism, and how services will be delivered. A balance that enables the CAs to grow these corporate functions alongside their programme delivery capability must be found. 

Key requirements

  • Adopting an organisation-wide commitment to continuous improvement, underscored by regular monitoring, performance assessments, and updates to both corporate and improvement strategies.
  • Commissioning a peer review process at minimum intervals of five years, taking swift action on recommendations provided and disseminating the findings and progress updates publicly.
  • Collaborating closely with the Audit Committee and external auditors to proactively pinpoint improvement opportunities, responding swiftly and efficaciously to their suggestions.
  • Establishing mechanisms for achieving an optimal balance between cost and quality in service delivery should be put in place, mindful of the available resources.

Case Study: Using Peer Review to Facilitate Continuous Improvement

In December 2022, GMCA was the first CA to undertake the LGA’s Corporate Peer Challenge. The independent review team held over 50 meetings and interviewed 155 people over three days – from both GMCA and the wider Greater Manchester system, including senior representatives from local councils, the public sector, and business, voluntary, community, and social enterprise partners. 

The GMCA peer review illustrates a sector-led approach to organisational improvement and strategic delivery across various services, including transport, economic growth, health, and more. Approximately ten months following the Corporate Peer Challenge (CPC), the GMCA underwent a Progress Review, a critical component of the CPC process. 

This review provided a platform for the combined authority's senior leadership to present updates on the initial progress and garner feedback. It also allowed for reflection on new challenges or opportunities that emerged since the initial review, discussion of any support needs, and examination of the early impacts and learnings from the progress achieved thus far. This structured follow-up ensures continuous improvement and adaptation to evolving circumstances, reinforcing the commitment to effective governance and strategic development.

4. Establishing and maintaining good governance

Good governance in CAs is crucial for operational effectiveness, identifying and prioritising outcomes, and maintaining public trust. 

Good governance is achieved through strong leadership underpinned by clear policies, a robust framework, and a commitment to expected standards and principles enabled by training. It also requires an understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities within the combined authority area.

4.1 How governance should evolve

At different points in their development, CAs, whether emerging authorities or with a long-established history, will encounter various issues and events that may impact their governance arrangements. 

CAs must adapt as they grow, and even the most established authorities should continually evaluate their governance requirements, review effectiveness, and apply a suitable method to ensure they fulfil their current obligations and are ready for future shifts and opportunities. Depending on their stage of development, CAs will have different perspectives and different requirements for governance. 

We have divided this development into three phases: 

  • Emerging: Councils that are in the process of, or are considering, formally establishing a CA.​
  • Developing: New CAs that are in the process of establishing their leadership, governance arrangements and corporate structure to support the delivery of an agreed CA deal.​
  • Established: Existing CAs that have established leadership, governance arrangements and corporate structures in place and have been delivering the powers transferred to them under their combined authority deal for a period.​

5. Emerging combined authorities: Where to start?

  • Establishing a CA involves a series of strategic steps to ensure a deal can be made and effective governance can be embedded. Initially, this involves defining the size and membership of the CA, determining the scale of collaboration, and determining the range of powers and responsibilities the CA will assume. These parameters are set based on an analysis of the geographic and economic scope and the potential for regional integration, aiming to optimise any benefits of collective governance.

At the same time, there must be a focus on developing the essential components that underpin effective governance within the CA. This encompasses:

  • Decision-making: Establishing clear and transparent mechanisms for making decisions that reflect the collective interests of the constituent councils and their communities.
  • Codes of conduct and ethical standards: Implementing robust codes of conduct and ethical guidelines to ensure integrity, accountability and public trust in the CA's operations.
  • Employment procedures for statutory officers: Defining the processes for recruiting and employing statutory officers who will play critical roles in the CA's administration and leadership.
  • Engagement protocols: Developing protocols for engaging with stakeholders, including non-constituent councils, local communities, businesses, and other partners – including non-voting authorities, to ensure that the CA's initiatives are grounded in local needs and priorities.

CAs are required to develop a comprehensive proposal to submit to the Government, which should, in turn, lead to a process of more detailed negotiations. Once an agreement is reached, the emphasis shifts to ongoing engagement with the public and local partners to seek widespread support.

Throughout these stages, the focus is on creating a cohesive and forward-looking CA that is equipped to tackle regional challenges and seize opportunities for growth. By ensuring full engagement with and buy-in from all stakeholders, setting clear parameters and establishing good governance foundations, the CA can ensure that it has the formal authority to act, and the legitimacy and support needed to make a meaningful impact on local objectives.

5.1 A road map for emerging CAs

  1. Develop a comprehensive proposal (or scheme): Outline the CA's purpose, governance, and operational plans. This includes forming a shared and agreed view on:
    1. Mayor (also referred to in the devolution framework as a Directly Elected Leader or DEL)
    2. Membership Composition
    3. Voting Protocols
    4. Decision-making Structures
    5. Partner Engagement
    6. Scrutiny and Audit Mechanisms
  2. Public consultation: In parallel with developing a comprehensive proposal, CAs should engage with residents, businesses and other stakeholders to gather views on key areas such as the CA’s purpose and governance structure, and should inform the public and stakeholders about the outcomes of that consultation.
  3. Finalise governance framework: Update key elements of the scheme, considering feedback from public consultation – ensuring it is adaptable and compliant with statutory requirements
  4. Address critical activities: To establish effective governance, focus on decision-making, defining roles and responsibilities, and interacting with stakeholders.

Guidance: A toolkit for emerging combined authorities

A Practical Toolkit for Emerging Combined Authorities (2021) by CfGS serves as a resource for developing CAs. Addressing the complexities and challenges of devolution, it offers practical advice across key stages: clarifying the local ask, resolving governance issues during proposal development, and governance post-agreement. 

Emphasising the iterative nature of devolution, the toolkit underscores the importance of clear governance, stakeholder engagement, and the adaptability of CAs to evolving priorities. It aims to guide emerging CAs through the process of establishing robust governance frameworks, ensuring accountability, and fostering community benefits through devolved powers.

5.2 Development of an initial governance framework

A robust governance framework focuses on several key interconnected areas that are vital for setting up a CA that not only serves the community well but also keeps the trust of the public and stakeholders. The framework outlines the structure of the authority, detailing the roles of committees and decision-making entities. It establishes the critical components necessary for compliance with legal requirements yet retains the flexibility needed for future adaptations. If constituent authorities want to move from the establishing to the developing stage, they must first create a comprehensive scheme or plan outlining the purpose of the CA and how it will be governed and run.

This will involve addressing:

  • the functions and scope of the CA
  • membership details and voting protocols
  • decision-making frameworks
  • definitions of roles and responsibilities
  • committees and meetings 
  • protocols and procedural guidelines
  • oversight and audit processes
  • mechanisms for engaging with stakeholders.

Once this plan is complete, it's reviewed by the Secretary of State to ensure it meets the Government’s standards. Following approval, it becomes the foundational document for the CA, effectively serving as the initial draft for the legislative order to be presented to Parliament. This process lays the groundwork for the initial governance framework, serving as a strategic blueprint for the CA. It should be designed to be adaptable, allowing for modifications in response to evolving needs while drawing on successful practices from CAs that have gone before them.

It is important to note that decisions made at this stage will set the path for what kind of organisation the CA will be. Partners will bring different perspectives. For example, will the CA be limited to primarily serve as a vehicle for allocating regional funding to local council-run programmes, or will it create a genuinely autonomous new body that is able to make decisions for the region that are informed but not necessarily determined by the constituent councils? 

The balance between these extremes will be struck at this stage and will affect the nature of benefits the CA is able to deliver. 

This will be determined by factors such as the distribution of voting rights and veto powers, and the scope of independent powers granted to mayors or leaders. It is important that these issues are fully explored and consulted on before governance arrangements are finalised.

The pressure to ‘get the deal done’ should not cause this process to be deferred, as the issues may be significantly harder to deal with after implementation when arrangements have already been agreed to. Because the future mayor or directly elected leader will not be in post to contribute to this discussion, it may be that wider stakeholder engagement could have an important role in influencing the way that the new CA will exercise powers.

Case Study: Hull and East Yorkshire

The Proposal for the emerging Hull and East Yorkshire Combined Authority outlines a vision for the region, focusing on leveraging devolution for economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability. The proposal includes sections on the reasons for wanting a mayoral combined authority, the case for change, local economy overview, principles for devolution, vision and ambitions, strategic themes and delivery plans, continued regional collaboration, future aspirations, governance arrangements, implementation plans, a timeline, and appendices for detailed information.

Appendix 1 of the proposal outlines the governance arrangements of the CA, including the roles and responsibilities of the directly elected Mayor, constituent council members, and non-constituent members, highlighting their contribution to decision-making and policy implementation. The document presents a framework focusing on leadership, stakeholder engagement, and operational powers required to ensure transparency, accountability, and community-driven governance. 

5.3 Stakeholder engagement 

Effective governance requires tailored engagement strategies for diverse stakeholder groups, including constituent and non-constituent authorities, residents, businesses, public agencies, government entities, and internal staff. This engagement should foster genuine relationships and trust, ensuring stakeholder input is integral to governance and scrutiny – and it’s vital that emerging CAs get this right from the start. 

Engagement strategies should outline approaches for how the CA will address different groups’ unique perspectives and needs, facilitating two-way communication that empowers stakeholders to influence decisions and feel invested in the CA's processes. Establishing feedback mechanisms, such as public forums and advisory panels, also allows for incorporating diverse viewpoints, making the CA more responsive and adaptive to community aspirations. 

Emerging CAs need to create and agree an effective engagement strategy that enables them to:

  • Talk and listen: Different groups have different views and needs. Engaging and communicating in ways that work best for them is important. This means having conversations that go both ways - where they can share their thoughts and feel like they're genuinely part of the CA's journey. Setting up digital platforms, public meetings, and advisory boards helps bring in a range of opinions, making the CA more in tune with what the community wants.
  • Put communities at the helm: Letting local voices inform decision-making is crucial. Tailor your governance model to fit your unique needs and circumstances. This approach makes governance more relevant and effective and helps it stay flexible in facing local challenges and opportunities.
  • Build agreement: Find consensus to bring different viewpoints into a united plan. This means communicating priorities and working with higher-level policymakers in a way that meshes local goals with broader policy aims.

Guidance: LGA New Conversations

The "New Conversations: LGA Guide to Engagement" is a resource developed to enhance dialogue between local councils and their communities. It emphasises the significance of effective engagement in today’s context, where public trust in institutions wanes and the digital landscape reshapes how decisions are influenced and made. 

The guide is structured around foundational principles for engagement, case studies and how to surpass expectations through innovative practices. The guide aims to support local authorities in building resilience by showcasing real-life examples and providing practical tools and checklists for councils to implement.

Case Study: "Your Voice" Initiative by WYCA

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) launched "Your Voice," a platform designed to enhance community engagement in local governance. The goal was to provide a dynamic, user-friendly platform for residents to participate in consultations and engagements on various local projects and policies. Features include: 

  • notifications about new consultations and engagements
  • customised communication based on user interest
  • regular updates on project outcomes
  • the ability to share opinions, influence local decisions and stay informed about the impact of their contributions.

The initiative aims to foster a more involved and informed community, ensuring that local voices are integral to shaping the environment and policies in West Yorkshire.

5.4 Setting clear routes for decision-making and scrutiny

It is essential to have clear and transparent decision-making processes right from the start. Making these processes simple and understandable for the public increases openness and strengthens the CA's democratic accountability. Creating a robust decision-making protocol involves integrating structural components with core decision-making principles to ensure effectiveness, transparency, and accountability. 

5.5 How to develop a decision-making protocol

1. Establish clear objectives and scope: Define the protocol's aim to guide decision-making processes within the CA, ensuring they are consistent, transparent, and accountable. Specify the types of decisions the protocol covers, including key and non-key decisions, and their applicability to members and officers.

2. Outline roles and responsibilities: Clearly define the roles of various committees, officers, and other stakeholders in the decision-making process. Assign specific responsibilities for preparing, approving, and reviewing decisions to ensure clarity in who is accountable for each decision-making stage.

3. Define decision-making structure: Outline criteria for key decisions, including their significance, financial implications, and community impact. Describe the process for making, recording, and publishing these decisions. Clarify the process for less significant decisions, ensuring they are made efficiently while maintaining accountability.

4. Incorporate decision-making principles: Embed principles such as proportionality, consultation, transparency, and considering legal, financial, and human rights implications in every decision-making process. Ensure decisions promote equality, consider sustainability, manage risks effectively, and adhere to the constitution.

5. Ensure transparency and accountability: Design mechanisms for public access to decision-making, including the publication of agendas, reports, and decision notices. Establish a scrutiny process for reviewing decisions, including provisions for call-ins and challenges to ensure decisions are made in the public interest.

6. Address urgency and exceptions: Provide clear guidelines for handling urgent decisions, including the criteria for what constitutes urgency and the process for obtaining approval. Ensure there is a mechanism for dealing with exceptions, allowing for flexibility while maintaining oversight.

7. Regular review and adaptation: Include provisions for the periodic review of the decision-making protocol to ensure it remains relevant and effective in light of changes in governance, legislation, or authority priorities. Be prepared to amend the protocol to address new challenges, opportunities, or feedback from stakeholders.

8. Supporting documentation: Attach appendices, including examples, templates, and flowcharts, to guide the practical application of the protocol. Provide clear definitions and explanations to ensure the protocol is accessible and understandable to all stakeholders.

Implementation tips

  • Training and awareness: Ensure that members and officers are trained on the decision-making protocol and understand their roles and responsibilities.
  • Engagement and consultation: Engage with stakeholders to inform and refine decision-making processes.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: Implement a system to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the decision-making process, adjusting as necessary to improve outcomes.

Case Study: Keeping it local: East Midlands Combined County Authority 

The EMCA proposal has been designed to align with local needs and geographies. The CA plans to function through two joint committees, recognising geographic and district lines. This suggests that the delivery of functions, whether under the Mayor or the Authority itself, will be appropriately localised, focusing on areas defined by economic functionality and commuting patterns. 

Importantly, the inclusion of a mechanism by which the District and Borough Councils can have a key role on the CA ensures that the identities and interests of all communities are fully represented.

5.6 Checklist 

Below is a checklist that outlines practical actions for emerging CAs to establish governance practices and assess their effectiveness:

  1. Strategic purpose
    1. Define the CA's size, membership, and scale of collaboration.
    2. Determine the range of powers and responsibilities.
  2. Decision-making and governance
    1. Establish transparent decision-making mechanisms reflecting collective interests. Address decision-making structures, roles, responsibilities, and stakeholder interaction.
    2. Agree codes of conduct and ethical standards for integrity and trust.
    3. Define recruitment and employment procedures for statutory officers.
    4. Finalise a governance framework, ensuring adaptability and compliance with statutory requirements.
  3. Engagement and communication
    1. Develop engagement protocols with stakeholders, including communities, businesses, and non-voting authorities.
    2. Engage with the community to ensure the CA’s initiatives align with local needs and priorities.
  4. Corporate plan
    1. Explain how the CA will achieve its vision successfully by creating a corporate plan, including how it will use the advantages of the powers that will be transferred. The plan should be well defined, realistic, and prioritised for officers to implement, informed by the demands and priorities identified through continuous engagement activities.
  5. Scrutiny and transparency
    1. Design appropriate structures for scrutiny including clear routes for public engagement.
    2. Ensure transparency through accessible information and public involvement – agree publication scheme and compliance with the transparency code.
  6. Legal and regulatory compliance
    1. Align the governance framework with legal requirements and best practices.
    2. Prepare the governance framework for review and approval by relevant bodies.

6. Developing combined authorities

Newly established shadow CAs face the challenge of operationalising their governance framework while refining their structure and processes. After a devolution deal is approved and the order is passed by Parliament, the countdown begins for the official handover of power from Whitehall, which usually happens at the same time as a mayor is elected, if this is the model adopted. In this transitional period, a new combined authority is set up in a ‘shadow’ mode, enabling initial hiring and internal procedures to be created before devolution starts.

6.1 Formally adopting the governance framework

One critical activity is evolving the agreed principles, informing things such as membership and decision-making into a more detailed and structured governance system, and setting procedures, committees, decision-making bodies, and arrangements for audit and scrutiny in the constitution.

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 provided the most comprehensive narrative on the constitutional arrangements for CAs and empowers the Secretary of State to issue regulations concerning various aspects of CA governance and operation. It encompasses the composition, powers, and functions of CAs, focusing on membership, executive arrangements, and procedural specifics for decision-making and accountability. Once drafted, constitutions are adopted by the board after the statutory instruments are laid and regulations come into force.

6.2 Key Constitutional Requirements for CAs

Membership Composition and Appointment CAs must follow rules on members and selection covering mayoral CAs, non-constituent, and associate members. Constituent councils must appoint at least one elected member to the CA for representation and accountability.

Voting Powers and Executive Arrangements


The constitution should specify CA members' voting rights, including rules for weighted voting. It should outline executive appointments, duties, and how their performance is reviewed and scrutinised.
Designation and Role of Non-Constituent and Associate Members CAs have the flexibility to designate nominating bodies to appoint non-constituent members and to appoint associate members. These members generally do not have voting rights unless a resolution is passed to allow it.


6.3 Making the most of the Shadow Period

The Art of the Devolution Deal by the Institute for Government discusses the establishment of a combined authority in its initial, or "shadow" form prior to becoming fully operational – and provides the following recommendations: 

  • Early establishment: Start the shadow authority a year or more before electing a mayor for a smooth transition to formal governance.
  • Recruitment and processes: Use the shadow phase for initial hiring and setting up processes, which is essential for the authority's operation post-official start.
  • Leadership appointments: Choose interim leaders adept at managing transitional periods, including a chief executive.
  • Collaboration and relationships: Focus on enhancing cooperation and ties among leaders during the shadow phase for unified leadership post-launch.
  • Support for the incoming mayor: Prepare to assist the new mayor, recognising their varied backgrounds and leadership styles.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Acknowledge diverse leadership origins and adapt to support the mayor's unique approach.

6.4 Overview and scrutiny and audit committee arrangements for CAs

For CAs in their developing stage, it is vital to understand and implement arrangements for robust overview and scrutiny and audit committees in compliance with statutory guidance and legislation. Key requirements include ensuring that members chosen for these roles have the necessary expertise and commitment and can operate without political bias. 

Executive members cannot participate in scrutiny committees, and managing conflicts of interest is crucial. Additionally, providing induction and ongoing training for these roles is essential for effectiveness, alongside possibly incorporating external expertise for a broader perspective.

Government guidance emphasises the importance of establishing a clear executive-scrutiny protocol to ensure effective communication and cooperation between the executive and scrutiny functions within a CA. This protocol is crucial for delineating the responsibilities, expectations, and processes that govern how scrutiny will be conducted, including access to information, the workflow of scrutiny activities, and how the executive addresses recommendations and findings. It is foundational for creating a transparent, accountable, and collaborative governance structure.

Overview and Scrutiny Arrangements

  • Formation: CAs must establish overview and scrutiny committees to assess decisions and actions, ensuring accountability and transparency.
  • Membership and Appointment: CAs must establish committees composed of members reflecting the political balance of the authority, with clear appointment processes.
  • Powers and Responsibilities: Committees have the power to review decisions, call-in items for scrutiny, and recommend actions or changes.

Audit Committee Arrangements

  • Establishment: CAs must form an audit committee responsible for overseeing financial reporting, risk management, and internal control practices.
  • Composition: Include a mix of members, some of whom should be independent of the authority, to bring impartiality to the oversight process.
  • Key Functions: Oversee the financial reporting process, conduct internal audits, and review the effectiveness of the internal control and risk management systems.

6.5 Local Assurance Framework

CAs must also establish Local Assurance Frameworks, ensuring rigorous assurance, project appraisal, and value-for-money processes before receiving investment funds. These frameworks, which must be approved by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, require transparent decision-making, robust financial checks, and public engagement. This is a specific requirement for CAs wishing to move to a Level 3 or Level 4 deal and is, therefore, an important consideration for CAs wishing to reach this level in the future. 

The Memorandum of Understanding for the Single Settlements with Greater Manchester and West Midlands Combined Authorities and Annex outlines the expectations for CAs to establish the necessary governance and assurance arrangements and comply with all legal and statutory obligations, including state aid, subsidy control, equalities duties, procurement, health and safety, and fraud prevention. 

CAs are required to undergo a readiness check to ensure they are prepared for a single settlement, and any concerns identified during this process must be addressed before the full settlement flexibility is granted. CAs assume ownership of risk and will be responsible for mitigating any risks that arise during the delivery of the single settlements. They are also responsible for completing their own Fraud Risk Assessment, managing Novel, Contentious or Repercussive (NCR) spend and business cases, and overseeing the development and maintenance of their local assurance framework, governance, and financial monitoring report. 

The scope of the readiness check covers three themes:

  • Strategic financial planning: Receiving and overseeing a single settlement grant into a central finance function within the CA and ensuring a local strategy and local assurance framework guide it. Managing fungibility and the transfer of funds between themes, including designing grant conditions in line with the outcomes framework whilst ensuring value for money. 
  • Forecasts, monitoring and reporting: Monitoring the performance and delivery of single settlement-funded activity against the outcome framework and the local outcome delivery plan.
  • Corporate, commercial and governance: Ensuring grants funded through the single settlement are compliant with all legal obligations.

6.6 Checklist

Below is a checklist that outlines practical actions for developing CAs to assess and improve their governance practices effectively.

  1. Adoption of governance framework
    1. Formally adopt the detailed governance framework as per agreed principles (set out in the previous stage).
    2. Establish procedures, committees, decision-making bodies, and audit and scrutiny arrangements in the constitution.
  2. Constitutional requirements
    1. Ensure membership composition and appointment processes comply with regulations.
    2. Define voting powers, executive arrangements, and the roles of non-constituent and associate members.
  3. Utilising the shadow period
    1. Initiate the shadow CA well before the election of a mayor for a smooth transition.
    2. Focus on recruitment, process establishment, and leadership appointments during the shadow phase.
    3. Foster collaboration and relationships among future leaders and prepare to support the incoming mayor.
  4. Overview, Scrutiny, and Audit Committees
    1. Establish overview and scrutiny committees to assess the CA's decisions and actions, ensuring accountability and transparency.
    2. Form an audit committee to oversee financial reporting, risk management, and internal controls, including members independent of the authority.
    3. Engage the executive and scrutiny function in the design, adoption and implementation of a clear executive-scrutiny protocol defining responsibilities, communication, and cooperation. 
  5. Local Assurance Framework
    1. Develop and establish a compliant Local Assurance Framework to ensure transparent decision-making, financial integrity, and value for money in project appraisals and investments.

7. Established combined authorities

As CAs evolve, the landscape of governance also shifts, reflecting a journey of growth, adaptation and aspiration. Established CAs, having laid the groundwork for good governance, face the ongoing challenge of ensuring their governance structures and capacities meet current needs and are aligned with any future ambitions for deeper devolution. There is a critical need for the continuous assessment of governance arrangements, emphasising the importance of flexibility, foresight, and strategic planning in governance practices.

The evolution of a CA is marked by its expanding organisational structure and the increasing complexity of its responsibilities. Initially, the focus is on establishing core corporate functions to support the foundational aspects of governance. This phase is crucial for laying the foundation, yet the subsequent reflection and strategic planning define the authority's long-term governance effectiveness.

The journey from inception to maturity for a CA involves critical evaluations of needs, capacity, and the development of specialised teams. The process is iterative, requiring pauses for reflection to assess and realign the governance structure with the evolving needs and goals of the CA. The challenge lies in balancing the urgency to build capacity with the strategic foresight to ensure that this capacity aligns with current and future governance requirements.

The mechanisms an established CA can employ to assess and refine their governance arrangements include examining the effectiveness of current structures in meeting existing responsibilities and how they can be adapted or expanded to align with aspirations for more substantial devolution. The aim is to maintain a dynamic governance framework that addresses present needs and can adapt to future challenges and opportunities in the devolution landscape.

7.1 Re-evaluation and Update

The tests that underpin the initial governance reviews for establishing CAs offer a framework that can be equally applied to assess the performance and effectiveness of current arrangements and plan for future governance needs. 

These tests serve as critical benchmarks for evaluating the ongoing governance processes within established CAs. By applying these tests, established CAs can:

  • Assess performance: Measure how current governance structures and practices deliver on statutory functions, enhance efficiency, and positively affect community identities and interests.
  • Identify strengths and improvement areas: Use the principles as benchmarks to highlight areas of success and opportunities for enhancement in governance practices.
  • Plan for future requirements: If CAs aim for deeper devolution, these principles can help identify gaps in capacity and governance models, ensuring readiness for expanded responsibilities.
  • Ensure responsiveness and adaptability: Guide the evolution of governance structures to align with changing community needs and devolution goals, emphasising a commitment to good governance.

By systematically addressing these questions, CAs can critically assess their performance against each principle, identifying areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. 

This approach not only facilitates a comprehensive review of current governance arrangements but also aids in strategic planning for future governance requirements, ensuring that CAs remain responsive, adaptable, and aligned with their core objectives of devolution.

7.2 Key components of the Governance Review Process

  • Transparency: Ensuring that decision-making processes are open and accessible to stakeholders.
  • Accountability: Ensuring governance structures can effectively hold members responsible for their actions and outcomes.
  • Strategic Alignment: Ensuring the alignment of governance practices with changing objectives and community needs.

7.3 Cross-cutting elements 

Good governance is paramount for CAs at any stage of development, with its success hinging on several fundamental practices. 

Among these, the commitment to regular review and feedback, alongside adaptability and learning through evaluation, stands out as pivotal elements. These practices ensure that CAs not only operate with efficiency, transparency, and strategic alignment but also embrace a culture of ethics, strategic decision-making, risk management, and continuous improvement. 

By prioritising these areas, CAs can lay a solid foundation for integrity, adaptability, and sustained success.

  • Regular review and feedback: Consistently evaluating processes, strategies, or performance and seeking input from relevant stakeholders is crucial for continuous improvement and adaptation. Regular review allows for the assessment of what is working well and what needs adjustment, while feedback provides valuable insights from different perspectives, enabling more informed decisions and fostering a culture of openness and ongoing development. This can be achieved internally or externally through programmes such as the LGA Peer Challenge. 
  • Adaptability and learning through evaluation: Decision-making authorities must ensure robust monitoring and evaluation of projects, including adherence to the specific program requirements. Evaluation aims to provide accountability, justify future funding, assess private sector contributions, enhance scheme effectiveness, and inform future initiatives. CA must adopt a proportionate approach to evaluation, focusing on outcomes relevant to the project's objectives and learning from the appraisal process to improve future ventures.

7.4 Implementing the GMCA Decision Support Tool

GMCA teamed up with the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation at the University of Manchester to create a decision support tool. This initiative emerged from GMCA's recognition of the critical need to assess the multifaceted impacts of its propositions, particularly in the realms of climate change and social equity.

At the heart of this endeavour was the development of a tool capable of conducting a high-level assessment of the potential impacts of any proposition. The primary objective was to provide decision-makers with a comprehensive understanding of the wider co-benefits and potential areas for mitigation inherent in their proposals. To this end, the tool was meticulously designed to include not just a preliminary screening process but also an integrated equalities impact assessment proforma and a carbon assessment component.

7.5 Checklist

Below is a checklist that outlines practical actions for established CAs to assess and improve their governance practices effectively.

  1. Re-evaluation and review
    1. Regularly review and reassess the CA's governance structures and practices to ensure alignment with current needs and future ambitions.
    2. Maintain transparency by ensuring decision-making processes are accessible and clear to stakeholders.
    3. Align governance practices with evolving objectives and community needs.
  2. Continuous improvement and adaptability
    1. Commit to regular reviews and feedback, utilising internal and external resources such as the LGA Corporate Peer Challenge.
    2. Foster adaptability and learning through robust evaluation of projects and policies, focusing on relevant outcomes and effectiveness.
  3. Strategic alignment and impact
    1. Review the alignment of governance practices with the CA's strategic goals and the evolving landscape of devolution.
    2. Implement tools tool to assess the impacts of decisions.
    3. Apply established benchmarks to evaluate performance, identify strengths, and pinpoint areas for improvement.

8. Resource library for good governance

In this section, we offer a resource library to enhance governance practices within CAs. In addition to the checklist below, the following resources are recommended to support CAs in deepening their understanding and implementation of good governance practices:

Guides, toolkits and resources

Guides on governance principles, toolkits for effective administration, and best practice manuals.

  • The English Devolution Accountability Framework outlines the accountability structure for institutions in England with devolved powers, like mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority (GLA). It sets out three primary forms of accountability: local scrutiny and checks and balances, accountability to the public, and accountability to the UK Government. This framework emphasises the importance of maintaining standards in public life, ensuring value for money, and involving local business voices in decision-making. It also discusses the role of local scrutiny committees and the need for clear communication with the public about the roles and performances of institutions. The framework is part of the broader Local Government Accountability Framework and is expected to evolve with future devolution deals.
  • The Scrutiny Protocol is a document for English institutions with devolved powers, guiding how they should conduct oversight and accountability. It emphasises the need for these institutions to have robust, transparent, and ethical leadership. The protocol outlines principles for effective scrutiny, focusing on outcomes, political and geographical balance, training, and technical expertise. It highlights the importance of regular performance monitoring, stakeholder engagement, and maintaining a strong relationship with audit committees. The protocol is designed to ensure that decisions made by these institutions are accountable and transparent to both local communities and the national government.
  • The Overview and Scrutiny: Statutory Guidance for Councils and Combined Authorities published by the UK Government provides comprehensive guidance on how local and combined authorities should conduct effective overview and scrutiny. The guidance, which was updated following the Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s inquiry into Overview and Scrutiny (O&S), emphasises several key aspects:
    • Culture: The guidance highlights the importance of the organisational culture in ensuring the success of the scrutiny function. It should be led and owned by members, as they play a crucial role in setting and maintaining the culture of an authority. A strong organisational culture supports effective scrutiny work, which can add real value by improving policy-making and the efficient delivery of public services.
    • Legal and democratic legitimacy: All members and officers should recognise the importance and legitimacy afforded to the scrutiny function by the law. It acts as a check and balance on the executive and is a statutory requirement for all authorities operating executive arrangements and for combined authorities.
    • Clear role and focus: Authorities should ensure that the scrutiny function has a clear role and focus within the organisation. It involves prioritising work that is of genuine value and relevance to the wider authority.
    • Engagement and managing disagreement: The guidance advises on the need for early and regular engagement between the executive and scrutiny. Additionally, it addresses how to manage disagreement effectively, suggesting the use of an 'executive-scrutiny protocol' to define the relationship and manage differences.
    • Access to information: Emphasising the rights of members to access information, the guidance states that councillors should have regular access to key sources of information, focusing on performance, finance, and risk.
    • Resource allocation: While the level of resource allocated to scrutiny is for each authority to decide, the guidance suggests considering the purpose of scrutiny as set out in legislation and the specific role and remit of the authority’s own scrutiny committee(s).
    • Impartial advice from officers: It is essential that all officers, especially senior ones, provide impartial advice to scrutiny committees, which is fundamental to effective scrutiny.
    • Communicating the role and purpose: To gain support and recognition for the scrutiny function within an authority, it's important to communicate its role, purpose, powers, and membership to all members and officers.
    • Overall, the guidance focuses on creating a culture that supports the scrutiny function, ensuring it has a clear role and focus, managing engagement and disagreement effectively, providing access to necessary information, appropriate resource allocation, and communicating the role and purpose of the scrutiny function within the authority.
  • The Best Value Guidance is a comprehensive guide for local authorities in England, focusing on delivering best value in public services. It outlines principles for continuous improvement, effective leadership, governance, and resource management. The guidance emphasises the importance of transparent, ethical practices, and accountability in local government operations. It also details the process for identifying and addressing service delivery failures and the various intervention models available to the government in cases of non-compliance with best-value standards. This document serves as a statutory guide to help local authorities achieve higher standards of efficiency, effectiveness, and economic management in their services.
  • The Seven Principles of Public Life outlines the ethical standards for people working in the public sector in the UK. Established by Lord Nolan in 1995, these principles are a foundation for codes of conduct in public life. They guide public officeholders in maintaining high standards of behaviour. These principles include selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership, ensuring ethical conduct in public governance.
  • The LGA’s Model Member Code of Conduct 2020 is designed to guide councillors in maintaining high standards of behaviour and public trust. It covers respect, impartiality, confidentiality, use of position and resources, and handling gifts and hospitality. The code emphasises ethical conduct, fair treatment of others, avoidance of conflicts of interest, and upholding public confidence in local government. Councillors are expected to lead by example, adhering to these standards in their professional and public roles. The LGA have published an adaptable training pack on the LGA Model Councillor Code of Conduct. The resources include a training pack that can be adapted to your council's specific needs / code of conduct and Guidance on Complaints Handling.
  • The Management of Risk in Government summary on the UK Government website provides an overview of effective risk management strategies for government bodies. It highlights the value of risk management in informing business decisions, optimising resource use, and strengthening contingency planning. The document serves as a broad framework for good practice in risk management, targeting executive and non-executive board members, senior staff, managers, and risk committees. It includes guidance on establishing a conducive environment for managing risks and offers tools and techniques for risk management across government sectors.

Case studies and reports

Real-world examples and analytical reports showcasing successful governance models and lessons learned.

  • 'Devolution and Mayors: What Does It Mean?' from the UK Government provides an overview of the powers and responsibilities transferred to English regions through devolution deals. It explains the roles of newly established mayoral offices in various regions, detailing the specific powers and budgets allocated to them. The site includes information on different devolution deals across regions like Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Greater Manchester, and others, highlighting the unique aspects of each agreement. 
  • The 'Devolution and Good Mayoral Governance' document provides an analysis of the role and effectiveness of directly elected Mayors (DEMs) in English governance, particularly in the context of local and combined authorities. It examines the background, powers, and impact of DEMs, explores the characteristics that define "good" mayoral leadership, and discusses the accountability systems in place to ensure their effectiveness. The paper includes insights from interviews with stakeholders in mayoral governance and reviews the challenges and opportunities presented by the mayoral system, with a focus on how it contributes to local government improvement and devolution agendas.