Members to discuss the current committee report template.
At a recent Overview and Scrutiny Committee, issues with the current report template had been raised. Questions were asked as to why it had not been before the Constitution Committee before it had been implemented. The Assistant Director of Governance and Deputy Monitoring Officer explained the rationale behind the implementation of the new template from 1 September 2022.
A key reason for the template change had been administrative. Officers had found the old template difficult to complete with technical fields and macros, also the report implications, such as finance and legal had previously been positioned at the end of the document which represented key aspects of the information presented in reports to Members.
The opportunity had been taken to re-design the template and to move the implications to the top of the document. The implications covered a wide variety of areas and it was for the report author to engage with the relevant officer for each area.
The sign-off of the report had also been highlighted and previously this had been in a prominent position on the front page of the report and undertaken by a senior officer, director and cabinet member. It was stated that this was an internal administrative process and would not normally be included in a public report. Discussions had been held with the Cabinet Member for Corporate Governance and Licensing who agreed that this should not be included in the new template as it was an internal control process. Although the signoff process was not shown on the report, assurance was given to Members that the process was still followed by the Democratic Service Team, but information relating to specific sign-offs was removed before the report was published.
Discussion followed with the following points being made.
· Who asked for the report template to be reviewed and why?
The previous template had contained fields and macros which didn’t work correctly and there were duplications within the report. In line with how the Constitution Review had been undertaken, the senior management team had asked for the template to be reviewed and this had been carried out in liaison with the Cabinet Member for Corporate Governance and Licensing.
· Some Members felt that the sign off information was useful and should not have been taken out of the public arena.
It was stated that there was no requirement to include the sign off information on the public report and the removal of the information did not affect the decision making of Members as all the necessary statutory information was contained within the report. Members had been circulated with a copy of the proposed new template at the beginning of August 2022 highlighting the key changes and when it was proposed to be used, from September 2022.
· A question was asked about if a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was submitted would the sign off information be available.
The information was removed by the Democracy Team before the report was published and was therefore not held on file and would not be available to be disclosed in a FOI. Assurance was given that the template had been circulated to all Members before it had gone into circulation and liaison had been undertaken with the Cabinet Member for Governance and Licensing. The sign off process was an internal administrative procedure and did not affect the decision making process.
Discussion then followed on whose name the reports were in. Reference was made to overview and scrutiny committee reports in Cabinet Members names, a recent report that had been submitted to the Companies Committee which had been in the company’s name and a LeisureSK Ltd report which had been in the name of a director of the company who had resigned. The Assistant Director of Governance and Deputy Monitoring explained about the journey of a report and the reasons why it was in a Cabinet Member’s name. Reports could be submitted in an officer’s name and an example of the political balance report which went to Council was given as it was in the Chief Executive’s name as the proper officer. There was also the opportunity for chairmen of overview and scrutiny committees to take reports to Cabinet which would be in their name. Following the scrutiny review that had taken place further consideration was to be taken in respect of the name that reports were submitted in.
A proposal was made to put the sign off information back into the report template as it had been previously. Further discussion on including the sign off information followed with the proposal being seconded. One Member asked if it was urgent that a decision was made at the meeting,
The Monitoring Officer stated that the proposed template had been circulated to Members in August. The new template had been in use for at least two months and liaison with the Cabinet Member had been undertaken prior to its implementation. Complaints about the template had only recently been made and it was reiterated that report sign-offs were an internal process. He also made the point that inclusion of sign-off details removed accountability and responsibility of the report writer for the content of the report.
As both the Chairman and Vice-Chairman were absent, together with the Cabinet Member for Governance and Licencing, the original proposal was withdrawn and it was proposed, seconded and AGREED to defer any decision on the report template to the next meeting of the Committee when more Members of the Committee and the Cabinet Member for Governance and Licensing could be present.
To defer any decision in respect of the report template to the next meeting of the Constitution Committee.