Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions Review: latest draft proposals and next steps

Report of the Director of Policy and Democratic Engagement
















































































































The Committee considered a report of the Director of Policy and Democratic Engagement, James Henderson regarding Public Questions and Petition Review: latest draft proposals and next steps.  Laurie Brennan, Head of Policy and Partnership was in attendance to present the report to Members.


The purpose of the report was to provide the Committee with the developing draft proposals and recommendations from the review of public questions and petitions.  The working draft report following the review along with the draft recommendation was provided and this had been developed with citizens and members.  It was proposed that citizens were invited to provide final comments on the proposals by 6th March via the Governance Committee and the Have your Say Sheffield online engagement portal.


The finalised detailed proposals would be presented to the Committee on 27th March 2024 and subsequent approval at AGM in May 2024.


The Head of Policy and Partnership advised that the proposal would be to trial the new format from the new municipal year.


The Committee discussed the item and length and key points arising from the discussions were:-


·       The constitution includes guidelines in terms of the parameters around public questions, however the General Counsel advised that clarity was needed to ensure these applied to all Committees of the Council and not just Full Council.  There was a process in place that required the General Counsel and the Director of Policy and Democratic Engagement to check all Public Questions against the required parameters.


·       Councillor Turpin felt the 6 working deadline was useful, but that the deadline of 30 minutes before the meeting at the Chair’s discretion should be an hour or to remove ‘at the Chairs discretion’.


·       Councillor Turpin advised that he thought the LAC’s worked well and allowed public discussion, but a triaging system was needed to allow actions to followed through.


·       Councillor Milsom advised that the LAC’s were another way to engage and allowed for a lot more discursive discussion.  The LAC’s provided a good balance with the workshop style of meeting.  Councillor Misom advised that there could be more dialogue with the public before a LAC or other meeting and felt that more time should be built into the system to allow this.


·       Councillor Milsom advised that there were more ways for the public to engage with the Council rather than through Public Questions and there was plenty of opportunity to create this and modernise how the Council worked.


·       Councillor Hurst welcomed the exercise, but the system could sometimes pose barriers.  It was a big deal for citizens to attend Full Council and clarity should be given on whether we can do the things we say in our answers to public questions.


·       Councillor Alston found the change in deadline would be helpful and would reduce the times the council had to say, ‘we will come back to you with an answer’.


·       Councillor Alston advised that a word limit would be preferred, rather than a time limit.  Councillor Alston queried why there would be an option for a written answer to a statement when it was not a question.  The Council should also bear in mind that if the proposed process for public questions was not working, changes would be made, the trial would not run for the whole 12 months.


·       Ruth Hubbard found the report really positive and commented that Sheffield was the only Council in the Country to do a review on this.  Ms Hubbard advised that she would like to see effort made in making it more accessible to ask a question and see much more upfront, she highlighted that SCC was committed to making the process more accessible.  SCC did not see public questions as part of the system, they were dealt with separately.  SCC was the only Council to get high numbers of public questions and the question was, was the Council not responsive enough to its engagement.


·       John Johnson welcomed the work in progress and would like to see the process a lot less confrontational. Mr Johnson commented that there should be a mechanism to direct a question to another committee instead of disallowing.


·       Councillor Paul Turpin advised that enabling anonymity in the public forum could be a good and a bad thing.  He didn’t wish for this to be used as a way for a member of the public to continue torment of a Councillor and would want to know how this would be monitored.


·       Councillor Simon Clement-Jones wanted clarity around when someone leaves or turns up to a meeting will their question be read out and provided with an answer, this was part of accessibility, should it be read out?  The Chair advised that all public questions should be part of the public domain.


·       Jenny Carpenter added that allowing the public questions at the particular agenda points may allow for a better answer if the public could interact.


The Committee were broadly in agreement with the proposals put forward in the report.  It was advised that all the information and comments made from this meeting would be collated together and brought back to the next meeting on 27th March 2024.


Resolved: That the Governance Committee:


1.    thanks citizens and stakeholders for their contributions to the review of public questions and petitions;

2.    considered and commented on the draft proposals to reform public questions and invited contributions from citizens who wished to participate in the discussions at the committee;

3.    invites citizens and stakeholders to provide feedback on the current draft proposals by 6th March 2024; and

4.    agrees to receive a final draft set of proposals at the next meeting of the Governance Committee on 27th March 2024.




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