To receive any questions or petitions from members of the public.
The Committee received the following public questions, prior to the meeting. These questions responded to by the Head of Policy and Partnerships, as set out below:
Q1 Are the 7 themes and 15 core questions of this review manageable within current capacities (physical & financial) in the proposed timescale? SCC should avoid making this a wholesale review but choose to look in detail at priority aspects.
Answer: As we set out in the scope for the review and discussed at the last Governance Committee meeting, we recognise that we are still at the very early stages of what is a long-term change for how decisions are made in SCC. Rather than overhauling the new model, this is about listening and learning from Members, officers and citizens about what has worked well since May and what could be improved as we look to in-build continuous improvement our governance.
Q2 Working Practices - The first 7 questions on this theme are reasonably robust and are largely for internal consideration. However, will there also be space for asking the public and stakeholder bodies whether their experience feels any different and more in line with the Nolan principles?
Answer: Yes, that we are keen to understand how the change to Committee System feels for citizens and reflects the principles and ambitions that were agreed as part of the Transition to Committees project last year.
Q3 Capacity & Resource – Questions 7& 8 are important, however, we all know in this city the dire state of the City's finances. Will this theme therefore also consider ways of working that may provide more capacity to deliver these aims for the same money?
Answer: Local Government in England is under major financial pressure and Sheffield City Council has a significant budget challenge. The budget process is ongoing and alongside this, we will look to maximise the efficiency of the new governance system to improve the experience for citizens, Members and officers.
Q4 Overall Structure – This clearly calls for a well written (plain English) and well-defined set of guidelines. I was working through this method of guidance for committee members way back in my charity management days in the 80's. This should be particularly important for Chairs, in guiding their behaviour away from the one person rules all practices of the Cabinet model. Is there or, will there be, a useful handbook for all members after this process?
Answer: We are launching the review today, looking at what has worked well, what could be improved and the solutions we could implement to improve the model for all involved. We don’t want to jump straight to solutions at this stage but we’ll capture your idea for later in the review.
Q5 Decision Making and Delegation – My conversations with Officers & Members suggest a lot of current decisions are being made to catch up on time lost during the last 2 years of lockdowns etc. Can we look at ways of signalling to public as well as members where this is the case, compared to the new policy development work being undertaken?
Answer: It’s likely the picture is mixed across the Policy Committees but the review help us evidence and understand what is working well within PCs, what the balance of work and activity has been, where new policy development is happening and how Members and officers are managing decisions.
Q6 Citizen & Community Engagement – (NB please avoid the use of 'customer', 'client', 'consumer' etc. - we are residents or citizens, thanks you) – With Question 13, it seems clear the proposed 'triage' system for public questions is not working effectively. It is important for the public perception of how their questions are being taken seriously that they are directed to the best committee to respond to the question. We discussed at the transition design stage that this should not be about refusing to put questions to the committee the member of the public wants but in offering advice about where that question may be most effectively asked.
In the review of this issue can a clear set of guidelines be created (flowchart?) to help committee staff to advise the public? Can it be made clear to the public at what point responsibilities move from one committee to another, i.e. Regeneration to Housing or Governance to S&R?
Answer: In the scope that is set out in Item 7, there two areas looking at Public Questions specifically and it is an issue where Members, citizens and officers would like to see improvements quickly through the review. Again, we don’t want to pre-determine solutions here but the Review presents a good opportunity to reassess how the process around Public Questions works and the advice to citizens.
Q7 Direct Citizen & Stakeholder Engagement – Although commented on in the Review Aims 2. this issue appears to have slipped through the gaps. One of the key outcomes of the transition design process was the 'Engagement Toolkit' listing some 14 or more means by which Policy Committees were expected to engage with persons other than members in their development processes. Can this review ensure that the way the toolkit has been used to date has been effective (if it has been used at all) and how to encourage Policy Committees to use the expertise of stakeholders and residents in their work?
(i.e.- How many co-opted members, invitations to give evidence, etc. have been utilised?)
Answer: Public engagement is a fundamental review, particularly looking how Committees have undertaken this to date and how Committees can continue to develop and improve their connection to communities. There is strong interconnection here between the type of activity undertaken by Policy Committees to date.