Meeting documents

Meeting documents

Constitution Working Party
Tuesday, 13 October 2009 6.00 pm

Constitution Working Party Minutes

Thursday, 25th June, 2009
7:30 p.m.
Town Hall

Attendance Details

Cllr A Forrest (Chair), Cllr K Hastrick, Cllr C Leslie, Cllr I Sharpe, Cllr A Wylie
Head of Legal and Property Services
Democratic Services Manager
Item Description/Resolution
Part A - Open to the Public
CWP1 - 09/10 Apologies for Absence
There were no apologies for absence.
CWP2 - 09/10 Disclosures of Interest
There were no disclosures of interest.
CWP3 - 09/10 Minutes
The minutes of the meeting held on 11 February 2009 were submitted and signed with one minor amendment, to include the words "and performance" in the reference to the Call-in and Performance Scrutiny Committee on page 3.
CWP4 - 09/10 Review of Neighbourhood Forums
At the meeting of the Working Party held on 11th February it had been resolved:

1.that, at the next meeting, the Working Party looks at further feedback from Members and officers and any difficulties they have faced with the process.

2.that the Call-in and Performance Scrutiny Committee be asked to include a review of Neighbourhood Forums in its work programme for next year.

All councillors had been asked for their views on the process. Eight councillors had replied and their responses had been circulated with the agenda. A report on the impact the change from area committees to neighbourhood forums had had on officer time was also attached to the agenda.

The Call-in and Performance Scrutiny Committee had added the review to their work programme for the 09-10 year. Annual reports on Neighbourhood Forums would be going to the July Council meeting.

The Chair thanked officers and Members for their comments which, he explained, demonstrated the following in terms of pros and cons:

•Levels of communication between councillors and residents appeared to have increased.
•Neighbourhood Forums provided a mechanism for ward councillors to support residents more directly.
•They created a less formal structure.


•Councillor time involved in administering the forums.
•Agreeing the time and place for meetings
•Whilst the time spent by Democratic Services Officers had reduced overall, the unscheduled nature of the meetings meant that work on neighbourhood forums could clash with other priorities. He also questioned whether it was appropriate for Democratic Services Officers to have to chase up minutes or deal with disputes over content.

He suggested the a way forward might be to ask residents what they wanted. He also thought that training sessions or a training manual might encourage those wards who had not yet participated by giving them some ideas about how it had worked in other areas.

A Member commented that, in his view, there were not too many negatives and that tailoring the forums to individual wards had worked well. He thought it would be a good idea to include all the different models and ideas adopted so far in one document for others to use if they so wished. He added that having to get three signatures before setting up a forum meeting was restrictive and that one member should be able to organise and run a meeting on his/her own.

The Head of Legal and Property Services responded that care had to be taken not to use the forums to promote party political matters and the risk of this happening would be greater if buy-in by all three ward councillors was not a requirement. It was not, however, necessary for all three ward councillors to attend the meeting but they had to all be given the opportunity to participate. She commented that there had been difficulties with some mixed wards whereas others had worked extremely well.

A Member commented that one lesson learnt from the previous year was to spend the money at an earlier stage and not leave it until near the year end. It was also good to see the money spent on worthwhile projects in the ward and not just on meetings.

Another Member drew the Working Party's attention to the fact that some councillors would be up for re-election next year and care would have to be taken to ensure that neighbourhood forum activities were not perceived as electioneering. The Head of Legal and Property Services confirmed that she would be giving clear advice in the run up to the election.

A Member commented that he was disappointed that some councillors had wanted to hang on to the old area committee system. He thought that having meetings on specific issues was good and attracted a good attendance. He also thought that helping small local organisations was a good way of utilising the budgets. He agreed that the money should be spent at an earlier stage in the year and also that councillors should do more for themselves rather than relying on Democratic Services Officers. It was, however, agreed that monitoring of the budgets and handling invoices should continue to be the responsibility of officers.

It was also agreed that the guidance notes needed to be firmed up and presented in bullet point format covering such things as meetings, contact with officers, purchasing etc. A Member commented that councillors should have the skills to call public meetings and needed to "get on and do it". It was also important to encourage public participation.

The Working Party discussed the minutes of forum meetings and how detailed they needed to be. The Head of Legal and Property Services confirmed that, as the forums were part of the Council's democratic structure and the meetings were public, it was necessary to produce a record but, as the forums were not decision-making meetings, the minutes should be simple and short. There had been some disputes over the accuracy of the minutes when an attempt was made to take a verbatim account. It was agreed that circulation to those who had attended was good practice as the minutes were published on the Council's website for others to see if they so wished.

The Working Party asked whether anything could be done regarding use of the budget in the following Financial Year where, for example, there was a commitment to match funding. The Head of Legal and Property Services responded that, if there was a good prospect of match funding and evidence of a firm commitment to a particular project it should be possible to carry some money over, subject to confirmation by the Head of Strategic Finance. It was agreed that a procedure for this process should be produced.


1.that the procedures for the running of neighbourhood forums be reviewed and re-issued along the lines suggested by the Working Party.

2.that a formal procedure be drawn up in respect of carrying over budgets where a firm commitment to a project can be evidenced.

3.that the views of the Working Party be passed onto the Call-in and Performance Scrutiny Committee to feed into its review.
CWP5 - 09/10 Review of Mayor's question time
At the meeting of the Working of the Working Party held on 11 February it had been resolved:

1.that the views of other Members not represented on the Working party be sought and the issue looked at again at the next meeting.

2.that officers be requested to research how this procedure is dealt with at other authorities.

A report by the Mayor's Political assistant on how Mayor's Question Time was dealt with at other mayoral authorities had been circulated with the agenda. Four Watford councillors had also submitted comments on the current arrangements and these were also attached.

The Chair asked for the Working Party's thanks to be passed on for the research the officer had done. He commented that Watford was quite unusual and that similar systems of Mayor's Question time only tended to be used in unitary authorities. The processes varied considerably between authorities.

A Member put the following proposal to the Working Party:

Discard the current arrangement of each Group taking turns, which he considered was quite contrived, and replace with an arrangement whereby the Chairman invited questions from all councillors. Councillors would have to register their interest to speak at the beginning of the item and would only be allowed one question each. There would be no time limit on the total time spent on the item.

Another Member said that he considered councillors should be able ask a question even if they had not registered at the start of the item and that this could be on something that had already been raised. In response to a question from the Head of Legal and Property Services, he confirmed that the questions would be without notice. Questions could also be on any subject and not just related to the Mayor's Report.

The Working Party discussed whether such an arrangement could result in very long Q&A sessions at Council but considered that this would probably not be the case. The Member who had proposed the new arrangement said that he considered it important that only people who had registered that they wanted to ask a question at the beginning of the item should be allowed to do so and this would act as a safeguard and ensure that only genuine questions were asked.

The Working Party agreed that the same rules in terms of length of question and the ability of the Chairman to rule out questions which were defamatory, offensive etc (Council Procedure Rule 9.3.5) would still apply.

The Working Party was informed that the Mayor had indicated that she would be happy to adopt these proposed new arrangements. There would still be the provision for her to pass the question over to one of the portfolio holders if appropriate.


1.That Council be recommended to adopt the following revised arrangements for Mayor's Question time:

that under the item "Mayor's Report" all councillors will be given the opportunity to ask one question by indicating at the beginning of the item by a show of hands. The Chairman will then take each question in turn. This will replace Council Procedure Rules 9.3, 9.3.2, 9.3.3 and 9.4. All other procedure rules relating to questions on the Mayor's Report will continue to apply

2.that the arrangement be reviewed in 1 year.
CWP6 - 09/10 Future issues for discussion
(a) Open Government

It was noted that Councillor Sharpe had requested that the Working party receive a paper later in the year on practices in other local authorities around open government e.g. public speaking at committee, call-in by citizens as well as councillors. He referred to the Shared Services Committee where 5 minute presentations were allowed and said he wanted to consider what was currently good practice.

(b) Portfolio Holder Delegated Decisions

A Member commented that the current practice was not to publish reports and minutes of Portfolio Holder delegated decisions on the website. In his view he considered it would be right to publish these documents and requested officers to research what was done at other authorities. He was not proposing to adopt this arrangement in respect of Officer Delegated decisions.

(c) Shared Services

The Chair asked for confirmation that the Constitution complied with the Shared Services arrangement. The Head of Legal and Property Services confirmed that most changes had been made although other changes may be necessary from time to time which would be reported to Council as necessary. She agreed to check the position, including with the Solicitor at Three Rivers District Council, and bring a brief report back to the Working Party.

(a)Open Government

Officers to research best practice at other authorities.

(b)Portfolio Holder Decisions

Officers to seek the views of other portfolio holders and research practices at other authorities.

(c) Reference to Shared Services in the Constitution.

The Head of Legal and Property Services to check the position, including with the Solicitor at Three Rivers District Council, and bring a brief report back to the Working Party.
CWP7 - 09/10 Future Meetings
The Chair and the Democratic Services Manager to look at possible dates in October 2009.
Published on Monday, 1st February, 2010
The meeting started at 7.30pm
and finished at 9.10pm


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