Report of the Deputy Leader of the Council on proposed changes to the operation of the Council’s committees.
The Deputy Leader of the Council proposed the recommendations in his report on arrangements for the operation of the Council’s Committees from May 2019. In so doing, he explained that the review process began when comments had been made during a full Council meeting in relation to the Council’s Committees and the overview and scrutiny function of the Council. He felt that it was important to complete the review prior to the election and to do so, a cross-party working group had been set up. He expressed his thanks to Ben Bix, the Council’s former Head of Governance, who had supported the review.
The Deputy Leader outlined the proposals, which included a reduction in the number of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees, with a change to the name of the Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee so it was more clear which items it would consider, and the joining of the Communities and Rural Overview and Scrutiny Committees because of the overlap in their remits. The revised overview and scrutiny committees would receive the support of a dedicated scrutiny officer.
The Deputy Leader highlighted changes to the Development Management Committee, which would see it renamed the Planning Committee and reduce from 15 members to 13. He also stated that it was proposed that all major applications would be considered by the Committee and outlined a change to the process through which Members could call-in decisions for consideration by the Committee.
The Deputy Leader concluded his overview by saying that each committee would determine the time, location and day of its meetings. The proposition was seconded.
There was some discussion about ensuring that all political groups were represented on the new Planning Committee as there was concern that, once the political balance rules had been applied, the smaller number of seats could mean that opposition groups would not be represented. Consideration was given to the proposition of an amendment that would require representation from all political groups on the Planning Committee. The Leader stated that he could not accept such a proposition but stated that he was keen for all groups to be represented and had gifted seats to groups in the past to ensure that they could play an active role in the Council’s Committees. In a gesture of good faith, no amendment was tabled. A suggestion was made that the Planning Committee could meet in the new municipal year to discuss its terms of reference, which could include the number of members. Some Members spoke against this suggestion as they felt that it was the Committee’s role to work within the terms of reference set out in the Constitution as prescribed by the Council. The number of Members on the Committee had been the source of debate in the working group; the recommendation was based on the average number of Members who attended the meeting, the size of other councils’ planning committees and the need to ensure that expertise was not lost.
Comments were made about the benefits of effective scrutiny and how it served an important role in improving the quality of decision-making. Some discussion ensued about the split of the scrutiny and policy development functions. Some Members found the separation beneficial while others felt that a single committee would not have sufficient capacity to carry out all the work that would be required of it given the ambitions of the Council.
One Member said that they welcomed the review and highlighted areas where he felt the current arrangements could have worked better. He spoke of his experience at overview and scrutiny committees and the need to ensure that there was sufficient time to scrutinise items before they were presented to Cabinet for decision; this sentiment was reiterated by other Members.
An amendment was proposed, that recommendation 13, which related to the proposed reduction in size of the Planning Committee, be removed. The proposition was not seconded, so the amendment fell.
One Member suggested that consideration should be given to ensuring that appointments to positions, including chairmanships, vice-chairmanships and Cabinet positions reflected the diversity of Members of the Council.
The Deputy Leader was given the opportunity to sum up; he stated that he believed in better accountability and hoped that this would be supported through the proposed changes. He suggested that the Cabinet Forward Plan could enhance the development of work programmes and help ensure that pre-decision scrutiny was built into the decision-making timeline. He added that he was keen for more Members to be given the opportunity to speak and participate.
The proposition was put to the vote and the Council AGREED to:
1. Dissolve the Growth Committee, the Communities and Wellbeing Committee, together with Rural Overview and Scrutiny Committees
2. Continue the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee as constituted
3. Continue the Culture and Visitor Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee as constituted
4. Establish a Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, of 9 Members
5. Establish a Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, of 7 Members
6. Amend clause 6.8.1 of the Constitution to insert (ix) Consider the Work Programme document for the Committee
7. Amend Article 7.1 (ii) of the Constitution: to Chair a quarterly meeting of the Chairmen of all Overview and Scrutiny Committees
8. Dissolve the Shareholder Committee
9. Establish a Companies Committee for 2019/20
10. The Constitution Committee reviewing and preparing terms of reference for all Committees as part of its forthcoming review of the Constitution
11. Amend Article 10.1 (i): The Constitution Committee will be composed of seven Councillors appointed annually at the annual Council meeting
12. Amend Article 9 of the Constitution to rename the Development Management Committee as the Planning Committee from 2019/20, and consequently thereafter throughout the Constitution
13. Amend clause 9.11 of the Constitution so that the Planning Committee be composed of 13 members
14. A new clause be inserted in Article 16 of the Constitution (page 119) – Officers – …Except in the following circumstances: All applications for major development, where “major development” means development involving any one or more of the following –
a) The provision of dwelling houses where –
i) The number of dwelling houses to be provided is 10 or more; or
ii) The development is to be carried out on a site having an area of 0.5 hectares or more, and it is not known whether the development falls within sub-paragraph (a) (i)
b) The provision of a building or buildings where the floor space to be created by the development is 1,000 square metres or more; or
c) Development carried out on a site having an area of 1 hectare or more
15. Amend Article 16 of the Constitution to insert a second bullet point on page 119 – Include a statement that the Councillor has consulted the Ward Member(s) for those Ward (s) in which the application was made
16. Amend Article 16, of the Constitution page 120, 3rd bullet point to state applications by or on behalf of the Council’s Senior Management Team, or an employee within the Development Management or Planning Policy functions of the Council
17. That a review of the effectiveness of these changes be undertaken after one year of operation