Agenda item

Recommendations made at the Constitution Committee meeting on 12 June 2017

                                                                                                          (To follow)




Council approves the following changes to the Constitution:


1.    Voting System


That the Constitution is amended at Article 4.13.3 to change the voting system in full Council meetings from the use of the electronic voting system to a show of hands  by deleting Article 4.13.3 (i) and (ii) and inserting as a new Article 4.13.3:


Unless otherwise provided by law or in these procedure rules, the vote on any motion or amendment proposed at any meeting of the full Council shall be taken by means of a show of hands for, against and abstentions. Where a physical restriction prevents any Member from making a show of hands, on notifying the Chairman of that restriction that Member may vote by voice. An electronic voting system will remain available for all other committees of Council to use in the Council Chamber if required. It will be for each committee of the Council to determine the voting system to be used.


2.    Cabinet Meetings


·         After  Article 8.5.6 add new Article:


8.5.7 Attendance at Open Meetings of the Cabinet


Any Member of the Council may attend any open meeting of the Cabinet, its Committees and Sub Committees. That Member may speak and ask the relevant Cabinet Member questions (but not vote) on any item on the agenda of the meeting. The Council Procedure Rule 4.11.4 relating to the length of speeches whereby no speech may exceed 5 minutes without the consent of the Leader or other chairman of the Cabinet meeting will apply.


Consequential renumbering of subsequent clauses will be required.


·         Delete existing Article 8.6.2 and include the details of attendance at private meetings of the Cabinet by re-inserting the following wording at the new numbered Article 8.5.8 a)(iv):


In addition to  (iii) above, non-Cabinet Councillors will be permitted to attend private meetings of the Cabinet only by invitation of the Leader, and to speak in relation to specific items on the agenda only if the Leader’s prior consent has been obtained. Requests for such consent to speak shall be made in writing and delivered to the Leader or Chief Executive or other proper officer no later than noon on the preceding working day.


The Vice-Chairman of the Constitution Committee presented its recommendations. In proposing the recommendations, the proposal to replace the use of the electronic voting system with a show of hands in full Council meetings was outlined. Any other Committees that met in the Council Chamber and had historically used the electronic voting system would be able to determine whether they wished to continue using the electronic system or whether they too wanted to vote by a show of hands. The Committee had also recommended a change to the Constitution about the attendance of Members at Cabinet meetings giving them a right to speak on agenda items without having to seek consent from the Leader or Chief Executive.


The recommendations were seconded, at which point comments were made about voting by show of hands being normal practice for a majority of Councils. It was considered that the change would help improve the transparency of Council decision-making by allowing members of the public to see how their local Councillors voted. Providing opportunities for all Members to speak at Cabinet meetings was intended to provide a more inclusive way of working and an additional mechanism through which Members could put their questions directly to the Cabinet.


During debate a mix of views were raised about changes to the voting system. Several Members agreed that it would provide increased transparency for those members of the public who attended meetings. Some challenge was made about whether this would constitute full transparency as only those people who were present at the time of a vote would be able to see how their Councillors had voted and there would be no historical record.


While some Members supported increased transparency they felt that people would feel able to vote more freely using the electronic voting system, with the system and suggested that it could be set-up to record how each Member voted. There was concern that using a show of hands would mean that some Members felt pressured to vote in a particular way. The Leader challenged this view and stated that if any Member felt that they had been coerced to vote in a particular way, that complaint should be reported to the Chief Executive for investigation. It was suggested that using the electronic voting system and associating each voting button to a different Councillor would provide a compromise solution that would increase transparency with the freedom that had been associated with a blind vote. The meeting for which Members felt a show of hand would be most appropriate was Development Control Committee (name changed to Development Management Committee during this meeting), where there were often members of the public in the room during the vote. Some Members spoke to reassure the wider membership that they had never felt obliged to vote in a particular way, while further comments stated that the use of the electronic system to record the names of Councillors and their vote was effectively a recorded vote, for which separate provision was made in the Constitution.


An amendment was proposed and seconded that: to extend transparency further, rather than a show of hands only witnessed by the people in the room, a dual system of button pushing and hand raising should be used with a hyperlink in a meeting’s minutes to a list showing how each Member voted in the for the benefit of anyone unable to attend the meeting.


Some concern was expressed that the proposed amendment would be complicated for Members to put into practice however it was acknowledged that the debate and votes in the Council Chamber could have a wider audience. One member stated that they had canvassed residents in their Ward who felt knowing how their Councillors had voted was important; he added that while, at present only people able to attend the meeting would be able to see how their Councillor(s) had voted, the opportunity was there for them if they wished to attend. Further comments were made about the importance of transparency, with a comparison being drawn with Lincolnshire County Council, were votes were also taken by a show of hands however, its meetings were made available via webcast. These webcasts provided a historic record of how Members voted; no similar record would be available for residents in South Kesteven based on the existing facilities in the Council Chamber.


Notice was given of a new amendment: that the electronic voting system should continue to be used, a record kept through the system of how each Member voted and then moving to voting by show of hands when a solution to broadcast the meeting had been put in place. A member of the Cabinet gave a commitment to providing a solution to broadcast meetings on the internet; he stated that this would be in place by the time the Council next met in September 2017. As a consequence the Member who gave notice of the further amendment withdrew it.


The amendment was put to the vote and lost. The substantive proposition on changing the voting system was put to the vote and carried.


Following this decision of Council, all further decisions made during the meeting were taken by a show of hands.


The proposal to allow any member of the Council to attend Cabinet meetings, ask questions and speak on agenda items was put to the vote and carried unanimously.

Supporting documents: