Meeting documents

Meeting documents

Constitution Working Party
Monday, 8 February 2010 6.00 pm

Constitution Working Party Minutes

Tuesday, 13th October, 2009
6:00 p.m.
Town Hall

Attendance Details

Cllr A Forrest (Chair), Cllr K Hastrick, Cllr S Johnson, Cllr C Leslie, Cllr I Sharpe, Cllr A Wylie
Head of Legal and Property
Democratic Services Manager
Item Description/Resolution
Part A - Open to the Public
CWP8 - 09/10 Apologies for Absence
There were no apologies for absence.

It was noted that there was an error on the membership of the Working Party as printed on the agenda. Councillor McQuire had been replaced by Councillor Johnson.

CWP9 - 09/10 Disclosures of Interest
There were no disclosures of interest.
CWP10 - 09/10 Minutes
The minutes of the meeting held on 25 June 2009 were submitted and signed.
CWP11 - 09/10 Matters arising from last meeting
a) Public Speaking at Committees

At the last meeting a Member had requested that the Working Party receive a paper on practices in other local authorities around open government, for example public speaking at committees, call-in by citizens as well as councillors.

Democratic Services Officers had carried out some research into public questions at Council meetings at a number of other councils and the results were attached to the agenda. The Chair thanked the officer for work carried out. He summarised the results and the range of different arrangements in place.

The current arrangement at Watford required 7 clear days notice to be given for a public question to Council. The Head of Legal and Property Services explained that this allowed for the question to be published with the agenda which had to be published 5 clear days before the meeting to meet legal requirements. The Chair added that the notice period also allowed time for officers to prepare considered responses to complex enquiries.

The Member commented that when the arrangement was first introduced at Watford, public speaking at council meetings was not that common. The practice had, however, been introduced more widely in recent years. He felt that it did not really matter whether the question was included on the agenda; it was more important to make it easy and accessible for people.

The Head of Legal and Property Services stressed the need to allow adequate time to prepare a response.

Another Member referred to supplementary questions which he said could also require technical answers which may need to be responded to after the meeting but should be included in the minutes. The Head of Legal and Property Services advised that supplementary questions were allowed in the Council's Procedure Rules but only for seeking clarification of the answer. There was also the provision to provide a written reply following the meeting. There was a time limit of 30 minutes for the item with each questioner allowed one question, or a maximum of 3 questions for an organisation but there was no overall limit on the number of questions which could be asked.

The Member said he would not like to see a situation where one person was able to monopolise the whole session. There was currently no provision in the Constitution to prevent this although in reality there was very little take up of the arrangement anyway.

Another Member commented that he considered the current scheme was fine; the problem was getting people to use it.

The Working Party AGREED that there was a need to look more widely at the whole process for public speaking at all committees. This already happened at scrutiny meetings, Development Control and Licensing Committees. There had also been occasions where people had been allowed to speak at Cabinet, for example, the recent meeting where the market traders had been permitted to speak. It was suggested that Members be asked to discuss the issue in their Groups and for officers to look at specific authorities in terms of public speaking generally. Kingston RBC and Three Rivers DC were suggested as worth looking at. A Member commented that it was also worth obtaining details of where arrangements had not worked so well.

The Democratic Services Manager advised that she had consulted neighbouring authorities about Councillor Call for Action and the responses had indicated no take up to date. She understood that Three Rivers DC had had two although they had not responded specifically to her enquiry.

b) Portfolio Holder Delegated Decisions

At the last meeting a Member had 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. The Democratic Services Manager circulated the results of some research carried out which demonstrated a variety of arrangements.

The Democratic Services Manager advised that the Council already had the facility to publish these decisions on the EGenda system and could implement the arrangement if Members agreed. The Head of Legal and Property Services confirmed that this would not require a change to the Constitution.

The Working Party AGREED that the publishing of Portfolio Holder decisions be implemented with immediate effect.

c) Shared Services

At the last meeting the Chair had asked for confirmation that the Shared Services arrangement complied with the Constitution and vice versa. The Head of Legal and Property Services confirmed that the necessary changes had been made to the Constitution and to the Scheme of Delegation. In response to a question from the Chair, she said that she would be consulting her Three Rivers DC counterparts and would email Members to confirm that this had been done.

d) Neighbourhood Forums

The Democratic Services Manager circulated a Quick Guide to Neighbourhood Forums which had been requested at the last meeting. She asked Members to get back to her with any comments; she would then circulate the guide to all other Members.

CWP12 - 09/10 Apologies at meetings
The Chair had suggested that the Working Party considered adding an 'Absent without apologies' category to official minutes for Members who failed to attend meetings without forwarding apologies in advance to either the Chair or the relevant officer.

A Member commented that, whilst he agreed with the principle of this proposal, there were occasions, particularly in emergency situations, when a Member did not have the opportunity to make contact before the meeting. He suggested that a proviso was included allowing notification up to 24 hours after the meeting in cases where the absence had been as a result of a genuine emergency.

A Member suggested that the number of meetings missed should be included in the minutes but the Working Party agreed that this information could be obtained from Democratic Services if required as had been the case in the past.

The Working Party AGREED that "Absent without apologies" should be included in the minutes subject to the 24 hour proviso and advising all members of the arrangement. The Head of Legal and Property Services confirmed that this would not require any changes to the Constitution.

CWP13 - 09/10 Future issues for discussion
a) Notice for Motions to Council

Councillor Bell had asked the Working Party to consider reducing the notice period for motions to Council from ten days to seven. The time limit had been increased from seven to ten several years ago to allow more time for officers to research the issues covered in the Motion and provide Members with information to feed into the debate.

The Working Party AGREED that the issue should be considered as part of a general discussion on notice periods and that Councillor Bell should be invited to the meeting to contribute to the debate. The Chair added that it was also necessary to get officers' perspective on what was a reasonable amount of time to prepare a response.

b) Report to Council

The Working Party AGREED that all the issues discussed should be pulled together in one report to Council rather than dealt with in a piecemeal fashion. The Head of Legal and Property Services said that the usual arrangement was for a report to go to Annual Council where she also reported on the Scheme of Delegation. The Working Party was anxious not to hold meetings in the election purdah period and suggested that the next meeting be held in February to discuss and agree on all the issues raised and report to Annual Council in May. The Head of Legal and Property Services suggested that all other Members be consulted to see if there were any other issues they wanted to raise which could also be considered at the February meeting.

CWP14 - 09/10 Date of Next Meeting
The Chair and the Democratic Services Manager to look at possible dates in February 2010.
Published on Monday, 1st February, 2010
The meeting started at 6.00pm
and finished at 6.50pm


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