Meeting documents

Meeting documents

Constitution Working Party
Monday, 31 January 2011 6.00 pm

Constitution Working Party Minutes

Monday, 31st January, 2011
6.00 p.m.
Town Hall, Watford

Attendance Details

Cllr A Forrest(Chair), Cllr J Connal, Cllr K Hastrick, Cllr S Johnson, Cllr C Leslie, Cllr I Sharpe, Cllr A Wylie
Also Present:
Councillor McLeod
Head of Legal & Property Services
Democratic Services Manager
Item Description/Resolution
Part A - Open to the Public
CWP1 - 10/11 Apologies for Absence
There were no apologies for absence.
CWP2 - 10/11 Disclosures of Interest
There were no disclosures of interest.
CWP3 - 10/11 Minutes
The minutes of the meeting held on 8th February 2010 were submitted and signed. The Chair asked that it be noted that for minute CWP8 09/10 point 2 the training should now be for the chair of the new overview and scrutiny committee following the decision of Council in November.
CWP4 - 10/11 The Future of Standards
The Localism Bill was published on 13th December 2010 and was proposing a total revision of the current standards regime. Standards for England would be abolished and it would be up to individual councils how they wanted to deal with conduct issues.

The Working Party was asked to consider how it wished to deal with standards when the Bill became law.

A Member said he welcomed the abolition of the Standards Board. He considered that the current system encouraged "tit for tat" and complaints with political motives. He added that there was merit in retaining a Code of Conduct and officers could be requested to look at the Code to see how it might be amended.

He spoke about the potential difficulties with issues between officers and members and referred to a case some years ago which had resulted in an Employment Tribunal. He said that there was a need to have some kind of system in place to eliminate petty complaints.

The Head of Legal & Property Services explained that the reason the case had ended up at an Employment Tribunal was because the Council had been unable to resolve the matter internally as there was no mechanism for dealing with complaints about Members.

In response to a question from another Member, the Head of Legal & Property Services said that the majority of cases the Council had received had been dealt with at the first stage. She went on to explain that provisions in the Localism Bill allowed local authorities to retain the Standards Committee, including independent members, but would not be regulated nationally. There would no longer be a single process for dealing with complaints. It was not clear at this stage whether there would be any guidance about penalties but there did not appear to be the ability to suspend or disqualify members.

Members agreed that any process should be transparent and not restricted to a single political group as the final arbiter. Another Member endorsed this approach and added that staff using the Code of Conduct to make a complaint would not want the matter dealt with by a political group.

A Member suggested using a Task Group to consider possible options.

Another Member said he was minded to propose the retention of a Code of Conduct and a sub committee with independent members. He suggested circulating the Code of Conduct to all Members to consider whether there should be any amendments. These could be discussed with the Head of Legal & Property Services at a future meeting. He wished to see a Code which avoided vexatious and frivolous actions and that had consensus across all Groups (including the Green Party Group who were not represented on the Working Party)

In response to a Member question about time constraints, the Head of Legal and Property Services said that the Localism Bill was due to become law in November with the relevant part on standards being implemented from April 2012 although this could not be confirmed at this stage. She suggested that a further meeting be held once more information was available following the Select Committee stage.

1.that Standards Committee receive a report seeking its views; all political groups be asked to consider what they would wish to see and Group Leaders invited to a future meeting to discuss the matter.

2.that the Code of Conduct be circulated to all Group Leaders asking their members to suggest possible amendments to simplify the current code and avoid vexatious and frivolous actions.

ACTION: Head of Legal & Property Services
CWP5 - 10/11 Revised Scrutiny Structure
Council at its meeting on 17th November 2010 had agreed to adopt a revised scrutiny structure with effect from May 2011 and tasked the Constitution Working Party with looking in detail at the proposed arrangements with a view to reporting back to Council in March. The proposal was to adopt an overarching committee to manage the scrutiny process, primarily through task groups, with a Budget Panel as a standing sub committee.

The Chair introduced the discussion by thanking the chair of the review group and officers for the work done. The Constitution Working Party was now being asked to agree the terms of reference for the overarching scrutiny committee and the budget panel; to agree a protocol for the involvement of members of the public in the process and to agree the level of remuneration for chairing the overarching committee and Budget Panel.

A Member reminded the Working Party that none of the opposition had voted in favour of the proposals. He asked for reassurance that there would be a review after the first year.

The Head of Legal & Property Services suggested that this Working Party could carry out the review. Another Member said that a review after 18 months rather than one year might be better.

A further Member commented that surveys on scrutiny had been carried out in the past with a mixed response. He hoped that the new system would generate more interest. He agreed that it made sense for this Working Party to carry out the review and stressed that any problems needed to be flagged up sooner rather than later.
Another Member suggested that the Working Party kept a watching brief on progress. A further Member added that including feedback on task groups in the survey would be useful.

The Working Party discussed the proposed Terms of reference. In response to a question on why issues dealt with by another Council committee (excluding Cabinet) could not be considered as a topic for task group, the Head of Legal & Property Services explained that it would not be appropriate for scrutiny to consider, for example, decisions of Development Control or individual Licensing sub committee decisions. There were other ways in which these decisions could be challenged.

A Member added that it was about "issues" rather than "decisions". For example, whilst it was not appropriate to scrutinise individual planning applications, planning policy could be the subject of scrutiny.

Another Member commented on the exclusion of issues considered within the past 24 months. Changes sometimes occurred which would require further scrutiny inside this timescale.

A Member asked whether all councillors would be able to attend and speak at the overarching committee. The Head of Legal and Property Services explained that the Constitution allowed for all councillors to attend all meetings and that they could speak with the committee's agreement. Cabinet members were excluded as members of scrutiny committees but could be invited to speak on a specific issue. A member (and portfolio holder) said that there should be a protocol on how Cabinet members engaged at scrutiny committee meetings.

With regard to the suggestion that the timescale be reduced from 24 months to twelve, a member commented that, whilst he had no problem with the 24 month period, a form of words could be added to allow for "material change". On balance, however, the Working Party considered that 12 months was a more practical timescale but that the word "issue" should be changed to "decision" in point v).

A Member reminded the Working Party that capacity was an issue that had to be borne in mind; officers could only do so much and deadlines had to be realistic. The Chair responded that a skilful chair would be aware of and have consideration for capacity issues. The Head of Legal & Property Services added that the issue of capacity was covered in the Terms of Reference (bullet point 10).

The Working Party agreed the Terms of reference for the Budget Panel. The Panel was not expected to set up task groups although a Member commented that he could see no reason why the Overview & Scrutiny Committee would not agree subject to capacity to support the work. It was suggested that the Chair of Budget Panel should also be a member of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee.

The Working Party also discussed the non member participation protocol attached as appendix 2 to the report. It was suggested that, in the penultimate paragraph, the word "formal" be added before " …member of any task group." The Head of Legal & Property Services advised that the paragraph was aimed at local residents who wanted to become involved rather than as experts or witnesses.

Another Member suggested that only one member of the public be allowed to attend on a regular basis.

The Working Party discussed long term work (paragraph 3.5 of the report) including the position with regard to the Community Safety Partnership Task Group and whether this should be set up as a standing task group. A Member said that the Community Safety Partnership Task Group involved a number of outside representatives and needed to be formally programmed into the calendar. The Head of Legal & Property Services advised that, if it were to be set up as a formal sub committee, it would have to politically balanced.

The Working Party then discussed remuneration. If the Community Safety Partnership Task Group were set up formally as a sub committee there was the issue of whether the chair would attract a payment. The current proposal was for payments to be made to the Chair and Vice Chair of Overview & Scrutiny Committee and the chair of Budget Panel. The Community Safety Partnership Task Group met 4/6 times each year whereas the vice chair of Overview & Scrutiny would only chair the meeting in the event of a call-in. All remuneration for scrutiny had to be kept within the existing budget. The Head of Legal & Property advised that any changes to the existing scheme would have to be referred to the Independent Member Remuneration Panel.

A Member said that payment of an allowance to the vice-chair was intended to maintain parity of esteem as this post would be held by an opposition member. He agreed to discuss with the majority group whether it would be prepared to allocate the chair of the Community Safety Partnership Task Group to an opposition member.

Splitting payments between task group chairs was not an option.

1.that the views of the Constitution Working Party on the terms of reference and composition for the overarching scrutiny committee and Budget Panel and the protocol for the involvement of members of the public in the scrutiny process be noted.

2.that the proposals for remuneration be circulated to all political groups for their views by the end of February and a further meeting of the Working Party arranged to discuss the outcome if necessary.

3.that the proposals, once agreed, be recommended to Council for approval.

ACTION: Head of Legal & Property Services
Published on Wednesday, 9th February, 2011
The meeting started at 6.00pm
and finished at 7.35 pm.


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