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Agenda item

Approach to Designing a Committee System

Report of Director of Legal and Governance.



The Committee received a report of the Director of Legal and Governance concerning the approach to designing a committee system. The Assistant Director (Governance), Alexander Polak, explained the purpose of the report as per the papers.



The Assistant Director (Governance) explained that the Committee System Discussion Framework, highlighted in the report at Appendix 1, was a draft and would be likely to undergo many changes. The Committee was invited to discuss and suggest any alterations before agreeing the framework.



Members were referred to paragraph 4.7 of the report which highlighted that additional meetings of the Committee would need to be included before the end of 2021. These would appear as inquiry style workshops which would be scheduled in consultation with the Chair and Vice Chair.



The Assistant Director (Governance) explained that two stakeholder engagement events had taken place since the publication of the report. It was mentioned that both events received a relatively high interest and positive feedback from the public, although some attendees felt that not enough had been done to publicise the events.



Members of the Committee raised questions and main points to note were-



A question was asked concerning whether a record had been taken of which wards members of the public were attending from and whether there was an option to change the venues of where stakeholder engagements take place. The Assistant Director (Governance) confirmed that no information had been recorded from the previous sessions and that venues would be alternated to different areas in the city.



A question was asked asked if the stakeholder events had presence from people who didn’t vote for the change to a committee system. The Assistant Director (Governance) stated that a wide range of stakeholders from various groups attended, and it wasn’t felt that there was a dominant group within each of the sessions.



A Member of the Committee suggested that some form of communication be directed to the business communities within the city, with the aim to improve engagement.



A Member of the Committee suggested that engagement should also be carried out with Sheffield City Partnerships.



A Member of the Committee raised concerns, as Appendix A in the report stated between 3-10 Committees be organised in the new model. It was mentioned that this factor of the new model could be seen as pre-determined, although it is yet to be considered. The Assistant Director (Governance) agreed to remove the numbers referred to in the framework if the Committee wished.



Members discussed the impact on political decision-making of operating a committee system while the Council was in ‘no overall control’. It was suggested that there should be an option to call-in and scrutinise decisions even if they had been made by politically proportionate committees. It was also suggested that if a scrutiny function was to be incorporated into the new model, then Sheffield City Council decision-making processes should be made visible and understandable. The Assistant Director (Governance) explained that there was no requirement for an internal ‘overview and scrutiny’ function (in its specialised local government sense) although a mechanism for holding decision-makers to account would remain important, as per the design principles previously agreed by members. The inclusion in the future model of ‘overview and scrutiny’ was a matter for members to decide in due course. It was added that Full Council could be a route of overturning decisions made by Committees, through a system which would need defining. The Director of Legal and Governance acknowledged the request for policies to made available and stated that the Head of Policy and Partnerships, Laurie Brennan, was currently looking to put this together.



A Member of the Committee referred to the Statutory Responsibilities for Members section in Appendix A. It was suggested that the two statements were contradicting. The Assistant Director (Governance) explained that through a quirk of the legislation a Lead Member for Children’s Services must continue to be nominated, but in the committee system that person could not lawfully have any individual decision-making authority. The Director of Legal and Governance added that this made it very important for a trust relationship to be established between the Lead Member for Children’s Services and the relevant Director.



A Member of the Committee raised concerns that if the Overarching Committee’s functions were too similar to the functions of a Cabinet it would not be an acceptable response to the referendum.



A Member of the Committee suggested that a mechanism on how the public could challenge a decision should be included into the system.



RESOLVED: That (1) the progress in the five weeks since the Committee’s last meeting be noted;


(2) the framework at Appendix A be agreed, subject to the amendment highlighted at the meeting, for immediate public use to support conversations with stakeholders, the public, councillors and officers about the future model of the Council’s governance;


(3) that a whole-committee inquiry be conducted between now and Christmas 2021, with the goal of recommending a draft committee governance model to Full Council for endorsement in January. The inquiry will include:

  1. Open, council-led engagement with stakeholders, the public, members and council officers as per the engagement report elsewhere on today’s agenda
  2. Desktop research including review of all relevant material received in the 2019 Scrutiny exercise and since including the Big City Conversation
  3. Research into comparator authorities’ experiences and recognised best practice
  4. Lessons learnt from the active experimentation taking place via the Transitional Committees, Local Area Committees and other experiences of decision-making during the 2021/22 transitional year
  5. Whole-committee sessions on 30 November and up to three extraordinary meetings in early December, at which the committee may call expert witnesses as necessary to build on what has already been learned from the above; and

(4) that the approach be endorsed of using the draft governance model (after, and subject to, agreement by Full Council in January):

a.    As one of the starting points for the city-wide engagement exercise taking place in ‘phase three’ of the project in the new year, supported by Involve

b.    as the basis for progressing decisions about constitutional detail during January-March, subject to input from the simultaneous engagement exercise referred to at 4a, leading to a final agreement by Full Council in March 2022.



Supporting documents: