Agenda item

Constitution – Update on its review

This report and its supporting presentation to the meeting provide an update on the work being undertaken to review the new Constitution of Somerset Council.

Decision:

Resolved that the Constitution and Governance Committee:-

1)     provided feedback and views on the proposed approach to the review;

2)    nominated five members of the Committee to the Constitution Working Group – Council Procedures and appointed a Chair of that Working Group;

3)    supported the proposals for the Constitution Working Group – Planning Committees and its proposed membership as set out in the presentation, as amended; and

4)    supported the proposals for the Constitution Working Group – Licensing and Regulatory Committees and its proposed membership as set out in the presentation.

Minutes:

The Head of Governance and Democratic Services, Scott Wooldridge, presented an update on the work being undertaken to review the new Constitution of Somerset Council.

 

During the discussion, the following points were raised:-

·       Councillors highlighted that a request to update the report templates had been made at the previous meeting of the Audit Committee, which they believed would have been debated by the Constitution and Governance Committee.

The Head of Governance and Democratic Services advised that the request was being dealt with elsewhere as it did not fall within the remit of the work for the Committee.

·       Councillors agreed that the Working Groups needed to be set up as soon as possible.

·       Councillors queried how they could submit feedback for the Working Groups to consider within their work programme.

The Head of Governance and Democratic Services advised he was happy to work with councillors to ascertain their feedback.

·       Clarification was sought on the composition of the Working Groups.

·       Councillors highlighted that the members of the Constitution and Governance Committee should be involved in all the Working Groups, especially the one for Planning Committee Terms of Reference.

The Head of Governance and Democratic Services advised that there would be a joint workshop held prior to the report coming back to Committee for debate, which would involve members of the Working Group plus the Constitution and Governance Committee members.

·       Councillor Mandy Chilcott proposed the following amendment which Councillor Helen Kay duly seconded:-

In line with the Constitution and Governance Committee guidance, that the committee was to give a steer to officers before any proposals came forward, that two members of the Constitution and Governance Committee be added to the Constitution Review Working Group for the Planning Committee Terms of Reference, along with the Chairs and Vice Chairs of each Planning Committee and the Lead Member for Economic Development, Planning and Assets.

The vote was taken, with five votes for and five votes against, therefore the Chair used his casting vote against and the amendment was not carried.

·       Councillors highlighted that there should be a lot of data already gathered because of the recent consultation plus the feedback forms submitted after each Planning Committee meeting.

·       Concern was raised that only the Chairs and Vice Chairs were being used for the Planning Committee Working Group.

·       Councillors suggested that an email could be issued out to request written feedback for the Working Groups to use as part of the review.

·       Councillor Dawn Johnson proposed the following amendment, which Councillor Helen Kay duly seconded:-

That all councillors be surveyed to ask for feedback and comments on the Planning Committee Terms of Reference which would feed into work of the Constitution Review Working Group for the Planning Committee.

The vote was taken with nine votes for and one abstention, therefore the amendment was carried.

·       Councillors were pleased to see that Working Groups were being set up to assist with the work on reviewing the Constitution.

 

Resolved that the Constitution and Governance Committee:-

1)     provided feedback and views on the proposed approach to the review;

2)    nominated five members of the Committee to the Constitution Working Group – Council Procedures and appointed a Chair of that Working Group;

3)    supported the proposals for the Constitution Working Group – Planning Committees and its proposed membership as set out in the presentation, as amended; and

4)    supported the proposals for the Constitution Working Group – Licensing and Regulatory Committees and its proposed membership as set out in the presentation.

 

The Service Director for Governance, Democratic and Legal Services and Monitoring Officer, David Clark, presented an update on the work being undertaken to review the Scheme of Delegation and Decision Making.

 

During the discussion, the following points were raised:-

·       Councillors requested a further breakdown of the number of officers surveyed.

·       Councillors queried whether the key decision threshold of £500,000 was still appropriate with the current budgetary concerns.

The Monitoring Officer advised that the threshold was used to determine whether the decision being taken was key or non-key.  The Head of Governance and Democratic Services advised that the figure had been used at Somerset County Council for approximately ten years and had been reviewed annually during that period.

·       Councillors queried whether the threshold would be lowered if a Section 114 Notice was issued.

The Monitoring Officer advised that it would be altered dependant on what restrictions were placed on the Council’s spending.

·       Councillors were glad that training was being provided for officers and that guidance was included on the report templates.

·       Concern was raised on the number of officers included in the sign-off process and that it could delay decisions being taken.

·       Concern was raised on the use of confidential appendices on individual decisions and that information should be in the public domain.

The Monitoring Officer agreed and advised that all information was subject to a public interest test.

Supporting documents: