Southwark Council - What it does and how it works

What is the London Borough of Southwark?

Southwark is one of 32 boroughs in the Greater London area. London boroughs are administered by London borough councils (sometimes abbreviated LBCs) which are elected every four years. They are the principal local authorities in London and are responsible for running most local services, such as social services, environmental health, waste collection and roads. Some London-wide services are run by the Greater London Authority (GLA), and some borough services and lobbying of government on their behalf is pooled within London Councils.

Some councils develop partnerships together to deliver services, such as waste collection and disposal (e.g. the West London Waste Authority). Each borough council is a local education authority.

History of Southwark Borough Council

Southwark borough council provides the majority of local government services to residents in its area: this is in contrast to the strategic GLA, which has limited authority but works across all of Greater London. Southwark came into existence on 1 April 1965 as a consequence of the merging of the old boroughs of Bermondsey, Camberwell and Southwark.

Like every borough, it is divided into smaller areas called ‘electoral wards’, subject to periodic review, for the purpose of electing councilors. Council elections take place every four years, with the most recent elections in 2014 (and the next elections due in 2018).

For more details about the Council, wards and current councilors click here.  


Peter John is the leader of Southwark council

What Do Councilors Do?

Councilors are elected to the local council to represent their local community, so they must either live or work in the area. Becoming a councilor is both a rewarding and privileged form of public service; they are in a position to make a difference to the quality of other people’s daily lives and prospects. Being an effective councilor requires both commitment and hard work. Councilors have to balance the needs and interests of residents, the political party they represent (if any) and the council.

These will all make legitimate demands on a councilor’s time, on top of the demands and needs of their personal and professional lives. If you are considering becoming a councilor you should discuss it with family and friends to make sure they all understand what you are taking on; their support will be invaluable to you.

What do Council Officers Do?

Councils appoint a range of paid staff, to organise and deliver the range of services that address local people’s needs, which have been approved by the Councilors. In Southwark, staff are headed by a Chief Executive whose main focus is on regeneration, planning, human resources and corporate strategy (and has a small department to manage those functions): she is supported by four strategic directors, each heading a department whichcarries out specialist functions.

The departments are Children & Adult Services; Environment & Leisure; Finance & Governance; and Housing & Modernisation.

More details about the staffing structure and who does what can be found here.

How Southwark Council makes decisions

Southwark uses a Leader and Cabinet model for decision-making, one of a number of approaches (such as a directly elected Mayor) that could be introduced following the Local Government Act 2000.

It consists of the Leader (an individual who politically heads the council) and the Cabinet itself, which is usually formed by the majority party in the local authority (assuming there is one), or by a coalition coming together to elect a Leader. The Council (i.e. all elected councillors) elects the Leader, and the Leader appoints the members of the Cabinet, each of whom holds a separate area of responsibility (portfolio), such as housing, finance, economic development, or education.

Decisions may be delegated to the individual members, or taken by the Cabinet as a whole: these decisions are scrutinised by one or more scrutiny committees, which may be dedicated to one or more service areas.

The Leader and Cabinet are responsible for policies, plans, and strategies, which must be within the budget adopted by the Council; and reported to them at regular Council meetings. Ordinary committees follow and scrutinise the policies, etc., that have been taken by the Cabinet.

An overview and scrutiny committee holds the Cabinet to account for its decisions and is responsible that the democratic checks and balances are maintained.


Southwark council's offices are based at Tooley Street

The principle executive decisions taken by the Council are to appoint the Leader, to approve the Leader's budget, to adopt development plan documents, and to agree the Council's constitution. Beyond that it may raise issues; urge the Leader, Cabinet, or Cabinet members to take actions; or pass a vote of no confidence in the Leader.

The current arrangements specific to Southwark Council can be found here.

If you want to contact your local councilor for advice and information, or for help with a problem relating to the council, you can find contact details and surgery times here.

Further information and resources: 

If you have any questions about how Southwark council works, don't hesitate to get in touch.

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