Issue - meetings

Review of Council Meeting Structure

Meeting: 28/03/2024 - Council (Item 10)

10 Review of Council Meeting Structure WBC24-019 pdf icon PDF 120 KB

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Minutes:

The Council received a report which proposed the most significant changes to the Council’s Committee structure since the Authority moved away from the Committee structure to the Strong Leader model.  Extensive work had been undertaken to ensure that the proposals were put forward in a logical format, with informal Member briefings, a workshop led by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) and discussions by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Executive having been undertaken.  A comprehensive proposals paper had been drafted in support of the measures.

The proposals sought to achieve a number of objectives, including improved effectiveness and efficiency of meetings and decision making, greater openness and transparency, improved effectiveness of scrutiny and the rationalisation of ‘closed’ meetings such as working groups.  To achieve these objectives, a range of changes was proposed.  The changes included reconstituting the Overview and Scrutiny Committee as three distinct, directorate-based scrutiny committees, the renaming of the Standards and Audit Committee to the Audit and Governance Committee, the creation of an Employment Committee and the establishment of a Group of Chairs to help the Committees coordinate their workloads.

If the proposals paper was supported by the Council, a revised Constitution based on the agreed arrangements would be brought before the Council in May 2024.  A review of the new arrangements would be undertaken at the end of the year to identify areas for further improvement and development.

The Council debated the proposals at length.  A number of Councillors welcomed the objectives of the work, including the aim to increase transparency of decision making.  However, a number of concerns were raised, including the possibility that the changes would result in less scrutiny being undertaken and that it appeared that the number of meetings would significantly increase under the proposals.  Reservations were also expressed over the proposal to allow applications for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding of less than £10,000 to be determined by the (Acting) Strategic Director of Place in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Planning, with no option to appeal the decisions.  Finally, it was considered that the intention to bring the draft Constitution to the next meeting of Council would not allow for proper scrutiny.

The Leader of the Council responded to the points raised through the debate.  In respect of the CIL application process, it would remain key that the Ward Councillors submitted comprehensive applications which demonstrated local community support.  Whilst there was no appeals process, Ward Councillors were able to resubmit applications with additional details, addressing the reasons for the initial refusal.  In respect of scrutiny, it was noted that additional meetings could be scheduled if deemed necessary to undertake scrutiny, and that the Finance Task Group would continue to meet regularly to scrutinise the finances of the Council.  The Leader emphasised that the intention was not to limit activities but to create a framework to deliver key objectives.

In accordance with Standing Order 10.8, the recommendations set out in the report were put to a vote. The names  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10


Meeting: 21/03/2024 - Executive (Item 8)

8 Review of Council Meeting Structure EXE24-026 pdf icon PDF 62 KB

Reporting Person – Gareth John

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Minutes:

The Leader of the Council, Councillor Barker, introduced the paper which proposed a new Council meeting structure following a review of existing arrangements undertaken by Officers in partnership with a number of stakeholders including the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS).  The Leader explained that the proposals would provide greater openness and transparency of the decision-making process by increasing the number of meetings held in public, and would allow all Members to take a role in scrutinising the work of the Council.  No change would be made to the current Strong Leader Model operated by the Council.  It was proposed to rationalise the number of ‘closed’ meetings, such as Working Groups, Panels and Boards.  To improve the scrutiny function of the Council, it was proposed to reconstitute the Overview and Scrutiny Committee as three, directorate-specific, Scrutiny Committees.  It was noted that the proposed Scrutiny Committees would be able to establish Task and Finish Groups for undertaking a time-defined piece of work.  Further, it was proposed to rename the Standards and Audit Committee to the Audit and Governance Committee reflecting the important work of the Committee in the audit and governance of the Council.  A requirement would be included that Councillors received appropriate training to sit on the Audit and Governance Committee.  The Leader also set out plans for a Chair’s Group and an Employment Committee.

The Executive was advised that Members had been consulted on the proposals through workshops and briefing sessions.  It was noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had considered the proposals at its meeting on 18 March 2024.

Regarding Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) applications for funding below £10,000 on a neighbourhood basis, it was confirmed that the current requirement for Ward Councillors to be in agreement of such applications before submission to the Council would remain.

The Executive welcomed the proposed reduction in the number of ‘closed’ meetings which would increase openness and transparency.  The number of face to face meetings proposed was raised, and the environmental benefits of online meetings were highlighted.  It was noted that non-voting participants could be able to participate virtually.  It was commented that planned agendas could benefit the three Scrutiny Committees.  Concern was raised at the timescale to produce a revised Constitution by 20 May 2024.  It was also commented that the Chair’s Group should include Vice Chairs.  The Executive was keen to find an alternative way to take forward the benefits of the work of the Greener Woking Working Group, which had been a valued group.

The Executive was supportive of the proposals which would put in place a new Council meeting structure that would be more efficient, effective and use staff resources in the best way possible.  Officers were thanked for their hard work on putting together the proposals.  The Review of Council Meeting Structure report would be considered by Council at its meeting on 28 March 2024.

RESOLVEd

That comments of the Executive on the proposed new structure be submitted to Council.

Reason:   For the Executive to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8


Meeting: 18/03/2024 - Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Item 8)

8 Review of Council Meeting Structure OSC24-020 pdf icon PDF 62 KB

Reporting Person: Frank Jeffrey

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Minutes:

The Chief Executive introduced the item, noting that Officers had already provided two briefings to Members expounding the proposed new council meeting structure.

A range of views were expressed as to when the new structure should be reviewed.

As part of the restructure, it was proposed that the Strategic Director of Place be delegated authority to determine Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) fund applications below £10,000 in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Planning.  In response to concern raised Beverley Kuchar confirmed that the procedure currently followed to receive and consider the application would not be altered and only the final determination of those applications below £10,000 would shift.  Ward Councillors would still be inherently involved by virtue of submitting an application and their support being a necessary step of the procedure.  It was emphasised that officers were required to ensure that the proposed project met the requirements of CIL funding.

Views were expressed as to the best way to determine CIL applications; whether all should be determined only by Officers, or at Committee with cross-party representation.

Officers confirmed that Council had previously resolved that a number of training topics be made mandatory for Members to attend periodically but that there had been no resolution on enforcement.  Officers stated that training was necessary to be able to sit on planning and licensing committees.

In response to concern raised that the new structure would limit the ability to scrutinise Executive decisions Officers confirmed that the structure and calendar were designed to accommodate.  The proposed restructure would not impact the ability for scrutiny Chairs to call extraordinary meetings which would further mitigate concern of Executive decisions not available for scrutiny.

The extant structure kept parity between the number of meetings of the Executive and Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  Under the new structure there were scheduled to be more scrutiny meetings than Executive meetings.

The Chief Executive explained that the current Constitution set out that the scrutiny Chair would normally be from a political group different from the ruling one and that Officers did not propose altering the arrangement.

It was confirmed that the proposals for the Military Covenant Advisory Panel were to remove administrative (secretariat) support only and that Officers and Members would still be involved with partners.

The focus of Overview and Scrutiny on the Executive agenda was discussed and how much the former should consider scrutiny of other issues that affect the Borough and residents.

RESOLVED That

the report be noted.