Agenda item

Amendments to the Constitution: Provisions to provide clarity and accountability in emergency scenarios

A report of the Leader of the Council and the Chairman of the Constitution Committee proposing amendments to the Council’s Constitution to provide clarity in future emergency situations.

Minutes:

The Chairman of the Constitution Committee informed Members that the Coronavirus pandemic had meant that the Council had to look at how things could be done differently. Decisions had needed to be made quickly to ensure that services could continue to be delivered; decision-making also needed to be transparent.  Relying on current provisions within the Constitution and taking account of arrangements that were being used by other local authorities, three areas were identified where greater clarity was needed.  Those areas were the powers of the Chief Executive, contingency arrangements in the absence of the Leader of the Council and arrangements for postponing meetings.  Research was undertaken and wording drafted to provide clarity in any future emergency situation to which the Council needed to respond.  The Chairman of the Constitution Committee proposed the recommendations contained within the report with the addition of a sentence on page 26 at (iii) under the Chief Executive’s emergency powers to include “Informing the Opposition Group Leaders of the action that has been taken”.  The proposal including the addition was seconded.

 

One of the opposition group leaders stated that while some decisions needed to be taken urgently, where practicable, the opposition leaders should be consulted.  She proposed an amendment, changing the word “informed”, to “consulted”.  

 

The other opposition leader felt that he had been kept informed and supported the original use of the word informed.  He stated that this had been discussed at a recent group leaders’ meeting to which all opposition leaders had been invited. He urged Members of his group to support the original proposition. 

 

Further discussion followed and the amendment to replace the word consulted with informed was seconded. 

 

The Leader and the Chief Executive were thanked in relation to the early decisions that had been taken and the circulation of information to Members in relation to COVID-19.  Some Members who spoke in support of the amendment  felt that the word “consulted” should be used rather than “informed” and they referred back to the speech that the Leader had made when he was elected and his speech about collaboration across all parties.  Supporters of the amendment felt that by using the word “informed” they were being dictated too. 

 

The Independent Group Leader repeated that he did not object to the word informed. The Leader of the Council confirmed that the issue had been discussed at a recent Group Leaders’ meeting which he said one of the Group Leaders had unfortunately been unable to attend. He stated that the Council was run under the strong leader model and whether it was “informed” or “consulted” decisions still needed to be taken. The Leader stated that he was taking decisions were taken in consultation with the Chief Executive and he always tried to work with other group leaders.  He reiterated his support for the word “informed” which had been agreed at the recent Group Leaders’ meeting.

 

One Member stated that the reason for a leader was to represent the Group,  and therefore she felt that the independents should support their Group Leader.

 

The Leader of the Labour group stated that she did not feel that felt she had been kept informed, which she had raised at a previous Group Leaders’ meeting and  was why she wanted the word “consulted” to replace “informed”.  She said that she appreciated that in an emergency decisions needed to be made urgently and she acknowledged that all Members had been notified by e-mail of the decisions taken, but they had not been consulted and she felt that for clarity the wording should be consulted whenever possible.

 

A point of clarification was raised about when the notification happened and whether it was before or after a decision was made by the Leader.  It was stated that the Leader would have consulted with the Chief Executive or a Strategic Director before the decision was made.

 

During the vote for the amendment, it was noted that the Chairman of the Constitution Committee had not had the opportunity to sum up. The vote was suspended to give her that opportunity.  The Chairman of the Constitution Committee thanked Members for the opportunity to sum up and although she had listened to the debate, she was still happy to go forward with the original proposal for opposition leaders to be informed.  The voting on the proposition for the wording consulted recommenced and was lost. The original proposal with the inclusion of the sentence “Informing the Opposition Group Leaders of the action that has been taken” was taken.

 

It was AGREED that the following be included within the Constitution:

 

a)         Powers of the Chief Executive       

Add at Article 16, Functions of the Chief Executive:

Emergency powers

In an emergency, the Chief Executive (and any officer(s) authorised by the Chief Executive) is authorised to take any and / all action(s) he/she considers appropriate to protect and / or further the best interests of the Council, the district of South Kesteven and / or the public, subject to:

i)           Consultation with the Leader of the Council or in his / her absence the Deputy Leader and any appropriate member of the Cabinet

ii)          A report of the action taken and the reasons behind it being presented to the next meeting of the Cabinet, the Council or the relevant Committee

iii)         Informing the Opposition Group Leaders of the action that has been taken

This includes exercising the Council’s powers under Section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972 to incur expenditure (regardless of whether the value would equate to a key decision) and to suspend aspects of business as usual to enable the Council to comply with its duties under the Civil Contingencies Act.

If the Chief Executive is unwell, unobtainable or unable to act or where there is no Chief Executive in post, a Strategic Director may act in their absence.

b)         Contingency arrangements in the absence of the Leader of the Council

To add a new section at Article 8.3:

(c)    Deputy Leader

The Deputy Leader will be a Councillor who is appointed to the position by the Leader of the Council.            

o      Where a vacancy occurs in the office of Deputy Leader, the Leader must appoint another person in his or her place

o      If for any reason the Leader is unable to act or the office of Leader is vacant, the Deputy Leader will act in his or her place until a new Leader can be elected by Council

o      If for any reason the Leader is unable to act or the office of Leader is vacant, and the Deputy Leader is unable to act or the office of Deputy Leader is vacant, the Cabinet must act in the Leader’s place, or arrange for a Cabinet Member to act in his or her place until a new Leader can be elected

c)          Postponement of meetings

to be added at Article 4 of the Constitution between Article 4.43 (Extraordinary meetings) and Article 4.5 (Appointment of Substitute Members of Committees and Sub-Committees)

Postponement of meetings (full Council)

Where exceptional circumstances apply and the Chairman of the Council, following consultation with the Vice-Chairman of the Council and the Chief Executive and the Leaders of the political groups, considers that attendance at a convened meeting of the full Council would involve health and safety issues (e.g. pandemic, civil emergency, inclement weather, etc) the Chairman of the Council may postpone the meeting. Following postponement, notification must immediately be given to all members of the Council and to the press and notice of the postponement must be posted at the Council Offices and on the Council’s website. Where a meeting is postponed, no less than five clear working days’ notice (or such other period as required by law) shall be given of the new date for the meeting.

 

To be added at each committee article:

Postponement of meetings (committees)

Where exceptional circumstances apply and the Chairman of the Committee, following consultation with the Vice-Chairman of the Committee and the Chief Executive, or any officer so nominated by them, considers that attendance at a convened meeting of the Committee would involve health and safety issues (e.g. pandemic, civil emergency, inclement weather, etc.) the Chairman of that Committee may postpone the meeting. Following postponement, notification must immediately be given to all members of the Council and to the press and notice of the postponement must be posted at the Council Offices and on the Council’s website. Where a meeting is postponed, no less than five clear working days’ notice (or such other period as required by law) shall be given of the new date for the meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supporting documents: