Agenda item

Governance Review


Philip McCourt, Director of Governance and Assurance introduced the report of the Governance Review Working Group that informed that on 14 October 2019, Council passed a resolution that there be a move from Leader and Cabinet Executive arrangements to a Committee System form of governance arrangements to take effect from the Annual Council Meeting in 2020. The Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee had been charged with preparing a draft revised Constitution to propose to the Council meeting of 16 March 2020.


Following the resolution by Council to change the form of governance, there then followed a process of formal notification, and the report informed that legislation provides that, as soon as practicable after the Council has passed a resolution to change the form of its governance arrangements, it must secure that copies of the document setting out the provisions that are to have effect and ensure they are available at its principal office for inspection by members of the public; Council must also publish a notice in one or more newspapers circulating in its area.


This report further provided an update on the work undertaken by the Governance Working Group following the decision of the Council.


The Chair provided Members with a brief summary of the background to the Committee and Working Group’s work since May 2019, and the decision to move to a Committee System of working and the phases of work – i.e. to re-write the Council’s Constitution formalising governance arrangements for the Committee structures - with a view to presenting these matters to Council in March 2020.


The Director of Governance and Assurance informed the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee of a recent visit by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) who met with the political group leaders to discuss progress made. He added that in addition to the Member Working Group, a project group of Officers had also been established, assisted by a member from the Council’s project management office – to aid progress with 5 different workstreams, namely:


  • Committee design phase
  • Constitution re-write
  • Training: Members and Officers
  • Service review and Staffing re-design
  • Members Allowances Scheme


The Director of Governance and Assurance further informed of the iteration process used whereby key questions were put to Members about what they wished to achieve, whether what had been produced would meet those objectives, and consideration of the practical implications i.e. whether the new governance system would impact on the culture of the organisation – seeing the Council running in a different way. Members were apprised of the practical questions that had also formed a major part of the process to ensure the new system of governance was well designed, robust and fit for purpose. The agreed objectives included:


  • Accountability
  • Credibility
  • Transparency
  • Collaboration
  • Timeliness


The Director of Governance and Assurance apprised the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee of matters taken into consideration when progressing the workstreams, that included reference to new regulations, exceptions, possible arrangements for Overview and Scrutiny, and key risks and mitigations. He added that there were some disadvantages to a committee system i.e. the risk of ‘silo’ working, lack of leadership, lack of openness and transparency, slowing of decisionmaking process and increased bureaucracy. The Director informed arrangements were being considered to mitigate these issues, and that advantages of the new system included:


  • Cross party support for a proportionate system to engage all Members / all political groups in the democratic process.
  • Council is ‘supreme’ decision making body – all Members therefore play a part in key strategic decisions.
  • Separation in delegations between decisions that are regulatory, operational, policy formulation and policy setting.


He explained that the new arrangements would therefore not be a nostalgic return to the traditional committee system, but would retain the best of an open cabinet system in making decisions that were accountable but also reactive and commercial where required, and make use of ‘call-in’ overview and scrutiny principles.


Following consideration of the Director’s report and presentation, a question and answer session took place. Members questioned the Director and Chair on how specific areas of the decision making process would work in practice, covering areas such as:


  • The legal requirement for a scrutiny/partnership committee – legal requirement.
  • Addressing cultural issues.
  • The relationship between a Policy and Resources Committee and Council – their specific roles.
  • Delegation to a Policy and Resources Committee and how this might work.
  • Openness and transparency – giving all Councillors a voice.


The Chair advised Members that it was his understanding that Council was to be the primary decision making body, with a Policy and Resources Committee holding a policy and strategic role. He re-iterated the importance of a sound framework i.e. what committee has control of what and procedures for delegations to Officers.


In response to a question from a Member, the Director advised that the primary instruction given to him had been to produce a business like, timely and open framework and process that fully engaged with Councillors. He added that Officers had already commenced work on committee arrangements and terms of reference. These were currently being circulated to Members.


A Member questioned arrangements for issues to be taken out of delegation, whereby issues that may bring about significant opposition could be reviewed and/or halted. The Chair informed that a ‘Call In’ process would operate in a similar fashion to how it currently does - a further opportunity for review.


Further debate ensued, with Members providing additional views to the Director on proportionality, building in of flexibility in the system to deal with unplanned events, and highlighting that Council to be the place where major direction is set. A Member also expressed his support for cross party leader meetings and asked if consideration was being given to P&R question time and / or Lead Member question time.


In response, the Director informed that as part of the re-design of Council Standing Orders – access to public questions would be under review. He added that the Member Workshop was also expected to continue beyond next year, as the new committee system established itself.


The Chair thanked Officers and Members for their attendance and informed that the Governance Review was clearly work in progress and that the Member Working Group will continue its work and provide regular updates, he added that proposed arrangements were continually under review and that the Working Group will be discussing options around ‘call in’ and ‘dissent’.


Resolved - That the report and progress to date in designing the new committee structure be noted.

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