Agenda item

6 Month Review of New Governance Arrangements

Report of the Interim Director Legal and Governance



The Committee received a report from the Interim Director of Legal and Governance.



The Head of Policy and Partnerships, Laurie Brennan introduced the report. He explained that the Governance Committee agreed an outlined scope for how the Committee would carry out the 6-month review of new governance arrangements at the last meeting. The purpose of this report was to further define that scope and approach for the review. 



The proposed scope was based around 7 themes and 15 core questions which were set out in the report. The Business Change Manager, Hannah Matheau-Train gave a summary on each theme. The Committee then asked questions and made comments in respect to those themes.



Theme – Committee Working Practices


Question 1 – Are pre-meets and briefings working effectively for all members of a committee?


Question 2 – Is the preparation for committee meetings and briefings reasonable and proportionate?


Question 3 – Are the committees adequately supported?


Question 4 – Have the changes that you can see so far in the committee system delivered on your expectations?


Question 5 – Are committees undertaking the type of activities pertaining to policy and decision making that they were intended to do?


Question 6 – Are Local Area Committees (LACs) and committees working well together? Is there anything that can be improved?



In relation to question 2, a Member of the Committee raised that in some cases, Members were not receiving Policy Committee reports on time. Therefore, it was difficult to prepare for those meetings.



A Member of the Committee referred to Mr Slack’s first question. He agreed that the Council should carry out the review by looking at the more specific parts of the Committee System that required changes, rather than a wholesale review. He added that the questions in the report were very useful to prompt Members’ thinking, although there were many other aspects that were not picked up as part of the report. For example, he believed that substitutes should be allowed to sit on the Strategy & Resources Policy Committee, this was not part of the questions in the report although he hoped that it was a part of the system that the review looked into.


The Business Change Manager agreed the review should identify detailed aspects of the system. She stated that the spirit of this review was for continuous improvement and that the questions outlined in the report would hopefully lead to further detailed points. She anticipated that following the review, the Committee may recommend that specific aspects of the committee system needed a further review.


In response to the point made on substitutions, the Business Change Manager said that such specific points could be highlighted by the Committee. It did not matter if they currently did not fall within the themes or questions outlined in the report.



In relation to question 1 and relating to public engagement, a Member of the Committee mentioned that pre-meetings and briefings for Members might be seen as the Council not been open and transparent to the public.


The Director of Policy and Performance, James Henderson agreed there would be many aspects identified through the review, which were connected in some way. Like the comment made around pre-meetings and Committee meetings, Members should look at the balance between the two and recommend how they think the Committee System would be most effective.



A Member of the Committee referred to the Sub-Committee he sat on and mentioned that they had weekly briefings for the Chair, Deputy Chair and Group Spokesperson. He stated that a lot of detailed work was conducted in those briefings, although sometimes for good reason as there were confidential reports to consider.



A Member of the Committee explained that Group Whips recently met to review the scope of Full Council meetings, as part of their Full Council Review, tasked to them by the Governance Committee. It was mentioned that Group Whips identified an area which could be fed back into this review as part of the piece of engagement. The Member asked that when Officers were engaging with citizens, that they also asked citizens who have attended Full Council for their views and whether it had met their expectations since transitioning to a Committee System.


The Head of Policy and Partnerships agreed this was a good idea therefore would be picked up as part of the public engagement.



A Member of the Committee mentioned that when meetings were being put into Members diaries at short notice, it often meant that they did not have enough time to prepare.


The Head of Policy and Partnerships mentioned that standard meeting practices, and what works best for Members, could be looked at as part of the review.



A Member of the Committee stated that each Committee was working differently when it came to pre-meetings/briefings. Some Committees were not having whole committee briefings therefore Members do not always have all the information until they were at open committee meetings.



Theme  – Capacity and Resource


Question 7 – Do members and officers have the tools to support, deliver and develop in this system?


Question 8 – How well are we mitigating the risks identified in the Equalities Impact Assessment?



There were no questions or comments on this theme.



Theme  – Overall Structure


Question 9 – Do the Policy committees have clear remits, are they the right remits and are the links to other committee remits working?


Question 10 – Are the roles within the committee system clear and working as intended?




In relation to question 9, a Member of the Committee referred to Planning and Highways Committee which was meeting less regularly in the new system. She asked if this could be raised as part of the review. 


The Interim Director Legal and Governance, David Hollis advised that if there was an impact on Policy Committees due to the Planning and Highways Committee meeting less regularly, then this should be looked at in the review.


Another Member of the Committee referred to the recent issues that arose from a previous Planning and Highways Committee. She mentioned that a discussion between Members of that Committee would be beneficial, and that outcomes may be best fed back into the Governance Committee.


The Head of Policy and Partnerships explained that when the Council transitioned from a Leader and Cabinet Model to a Committee System, Regulatory Committees were not part of that transition and therefore were not part of this review. Although, if Regulatory Committees were impacting Policy Committees and the way they make decisions then the scope was broad enough to look at this issue. He added that a separate piece of work around the issues relating to Planning and Highways may be more practical.



In relation to question 10, a Member of the Committee asked if the role of Group Spokesperson will be defined as part of the review.


The Head of Democratic and Member Services, Jason Dietsch explained that the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) was looking at the allowances for Group Spokesperson. They were currently gathering evidence around the role of Group Spokespersons. Once the IRP had made some recommendations, it would be reported to Full Council.



In relation to question 10, a Member of the Committee suggested that the Committee may need to re-visit the role of Co-Chairs and whether they had been operating as intended.



In relation to question 9, a Member of the Committee stated that Licensing polices now came under the Waste and Street Scene Policy Committee. Therefore, the mechanics of this needed to be picked up as part of the review.


The Interim Director Legal and Governance explained that specific licensing polices were always approved by Full Council although policies were passed through Licensing Committee for comment before doing so. Since the transition to the Committee System, licensing policies were now a matter for  the relevant Policy Committee which was Waste and Street Scene Policy Committee. He added that whether this process was retained, was something that the Governance Committee could look at as part of the review.



A Member of the Committee asked whether support had been retained when for people transitioning from child to adult services. It was important for those Committees to work together to provide the best possible support for those transitioning.


The Director of Policy and Performance agreed that Committees which shared the same interest needed to have a good working relationship. He mentioned he would explore this further.



The Chair mentioned that the use of task and finish groups and additional sub-committees were not being used to their full potential in the new system. These cross-cutting issues may be better dealt with through those working groups or sub-committees.



Theme 4 – Decision Making & Delegation


Question 11 – Are decisions being made effectively and efficiently?



A Member of the Committee explained the Council’s intention when designing the Committee System was to have pre-scrutiny take place in Committees so that Members did not have to scrutinize once a decision was made. 


The Interim Director Legal and Governance mentioned there was a cross over between pre-scrutiny and policy development although it was important that issues relating to that came to policy committees, either through briefings or in committee meetings, at the earliest stage possible.


Following a discussion around reviewing policies and decisions, the Committee reflected on question 5 of the report. The Committee agreed to include ‘policy review’ therefore question 5 would be amended as follows ‘Are committees undertaking the type of activities pertaining to policy, decision making and policy review that they were intended to do?’.



Theme – Citizen and Community Engagement in the Work of Committees & Formal Participation Routes


Question 12 – What is working well in terms of engagement for the public with the committee system and are there any gaps?


Question 13 – What is the volume and nature of public questions and petitions?


Question 14 – How effective are we at responding to questions and petitions?



In relation to question 13, the Chair stated that in order to get the most out of that question, then they needed to look at public questions and petitions that go to all committees including Full Council.



Theme – Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, Communication & Information Availability


Question 15 – How accessible are the committees and the committee outputs?



A Member of the Committee raised the importance of the quality of the Council’s website and ensuring that was accessible to users.



Theme – The Constitution



A Member of the Committee stated that Members used to have the opportunity to review minutes of meetings through Full Council. He asked if this function should be considered again. This was due to amount of repetition through Members’ Questions, if Committee minutes were available for all Members to view, then this could reduce some of that repetition.


The Chair explained that Group Whips, who were tasked with reviewing Full Council operations, could look at this aspect and feedback their views into this Committee.


The Head of Policy and Partnerships agreed he would look back and what was discussed by the Committee previously, and feed that back as part of evidence gathering at a future meeting.



The Business Change Manager referred to a separate document, which were circulated to Members prior to the meeting. This outlined the key dates of different pieces of work for the review.



The Business Change Manager explained what work would be carried out following the meeting, and in the build up to the Annual Meeting of the Council in May 2023. This included how Officers intended to engage with Members, Officers, Citizens and Stakeholders through this review.



A Member of the Committee asked if they needed to put forward a proposal, to ensure that questions relating to Full Council, be picked up as part of the piece of the engagement.


The Interim Director Legal and Governance stated there did not need to be a formal proposal, it just needed to be picked up as part of that engagement work.



A Member of the Committee asked if that when the survey went out the Members, would there be a deadline and some form of tool that ensured responses were provided by a fair representation of Members.


The Business Change Manager explained there would initially be a deadline to the survey although they would continuously check that responses were coming from a variety of Members from different parties and who had different roles in the Committee System.



Th Chair mentioned that there could be an opportunity to engage with citizens through the round of Local Area Committees in January 2023.



The Interim Director Legal and Governance thanked Officers for the work they had put into shaping this review.



RESOLVED: That Governance Committee (1) approves the scope and research framework for the review subject to an amendment to question 5 of the report, as outlined at paragraph 6.22 of these minutes; and (2) formally launch the 6-month review of governance and commission officers to put in place the necessary arrangements to carry out the review.



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