Presentation by the Monitoring Officer.
The Interim Head of Legal Services gave a brief presentation on the review of the Constitution. The current Constitution had been based on the Local Government Act 2000 Model Constitution with local circumstances added. This had been patched over time so that the current Constitution was at times difficult to navigate. The Constitution should contain the powers, duties and functions of the Council. Levels of delegations should be clear, who they are exercised by (Council, Cabinet or officers) and to what extent, setting out the limits of the delegation. Decisions should be open, transparent and accountable. The difference between Key Decisions and Non-Key Decisions should be articulated in a clear manner.
The current Constitution contained 18 Articles which could be simplified and condensed. It was proposed that the new Constitution would contain six main chapters and would be modular in format so that revisions could be made quickly and simply without disrupting other content. The content would recognise the changing relationships that the Council now had, such as the different companies and joint ventures, and would standardise procedure rules. One Member commented about what other local authorities had within their Constitution and it was noted that as part of the work undertaken other authorities’ Constitutions would be looked at to incorporate best practice from across the country. A comment was made about legal wording within the Constitution and it was agreed that the Constitution should be in plain English. Members agreed with the modular approach suggested.
A project plan would be compiled, and the review would be over at least a six-month period with task and finish groups appointed. It was proposed that the Monitoring Officer and Interim Head of Legal would lead the review process, rather than bringing in external consultants. External legal challenge to the new Constitution would be undertaken by a firm of solicitors, which carried a lower cost than consultancy fees for the entire review. External legal challenge was to make sure that it was fit for purpose.
Members were pleased that the process would not be rushed and that views would be collated in relation to the draft document when complete. Members did feel that a hard copy of the Constitution should be made available to members of the Committee to enable them to make notes and have a starting base. Members were happy with the proposed timeline of at least six months and the use of task and finish groups of relevant officers and Members.
The Nolan Principles had been in effect for 25 years. In January the Committee on Standards in Public Life had published a report on local government ethical standards which looked at the current framework governing the behaviour of local government councillors and made a number of recommendations to promote and maintain the standards expected by the public. Roles and responsibilities had changed over time especially in today’s modern society with the prevalence of social media. The nature of gifts and hospitality had also changed and the code needed to be updated to reflect these changes. The local regime had very little teeth even if a breach was found and it was how this could be enhanced by having greater sanctions in place; this would be looked at as part of the local code by the LGA.
Members noted the proposed timetable and the possibility that a working group meeting may be convened before the next scheduled meeting of the Committee.