Agenda item

Review of Council Meeting Structure WBC24-019

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 of Members voting for and against the recommendations were recorded as follows:

In favour:                                Councillors A-M Barker, G Cosnahan, W Forster, P Graves, S Greentree, S Hussain, I Johnson, A Kirby, R Leach, L Lyons, C Martin, L Morales, S Mukherjee, E Nicholson, L Rice, D Roberts, and M Sullivan.

Total in favour:                       17

Against:                                  Councillors J Brown, K Davis  and S Dorsett.

Total against:                         3

Present not voting:                 The Mayor and Councillors T Aziz and S Oades.

Total present not voting:        3

The recommendations were therefore carried by 17 votes in favour and 3 votes against.

ResolveD

That  (i)    from 20 May 2024, the current Overview and Scrutiny Committee be disbanded and replaced by three, directorate specific Committees, each with responsibility for overview and scrutiny, namely the Resource and Finance Scrutiny Committee, the Communities and Housing Scrutiny Committee and the Environment and Place Scrutiny Committee;

          (ii)   Officers be instructed to draw up a Committee Responsibility Protocol for consideration at Council in the new Municipal Year;

          (iii)  from 20 May 2024, the Standards and Audit Committee be renamed the Audit and Governance Committee;

          (iv)  annual training on audit and governance be made mandatory for the Members of the Committee;

          (v)   the Audit and Governance Committee completes a review of its function by the end of each Municipal Year;

          (vi)  an Employment Committee be constituted, to come into effect from 20 May 2024;

          (vii) Officers be instructed to draw up a protocol for the Group of Chairs for consideration at Council in the New Municipal Year;

          (viii) Officers be instructed to draw up a policy framework for decision-making for submission to Council in the new Municipal Year;

          (ix)  from 20 May 2024, the Appeals Committee be disbanded;

          (x)   the revised calendar of meetings for 2024/25, as set out in Annex 2 of the report, be adopted;

          (xi)  the Working Groups and Panels as set out in Section 28 of the Annex 1 be disbanded from 1 May 2024;

          (xii) authority be delegated to the Strategic Director for Place, in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Planning, to determine any applications for Community Infrastructure Levy funding below £10,000;

          (xiii) any outstanding pieces of work from the old Committee Structure, including Working Groups, be brought forward under the new arrangements;

          (xiv) a limit of four be placed on the total number of active task and finish groups operating at the Council at any one time unless exceptional circumstances exist as deemed by the Group of Chairs in consultation with Statutory Officers;

          (xv) the Monitoring Officer be instructed to make consequential amendments to the Constitution, the revised Constitution to be presented to Council on 20 May 2024; and

          (xvi) a joint Member-Officer review of the new structure be undertaken at the beginning of 2025, the outcomes to be reported to Council

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