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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 09/06/2003
Review of Constitution


10TH JUNE 2003

Review of the Constitution


1. The Council introduced a pilot modernised decision making process in February 2001 and approved final arrangements in December 2001. Following a report to the Executive in July 2002, it was agreed to conduct a review of the Constitution and that a Special Interest Group (SIG) be set up to deal with the following:-

(a) Member/Officer Protocol – to be examined following receipt of National Officer Code of Conduct;

(b) Scheme of Delegation; and

(c) Management Structure Charts – illustrative only of the present structure of the Council.

2. Subsequently, in November 2002, the Executive agreed that the SIG should conduct both the completion of the constitution work, set out at (a) to (c) above, and the review process of operation of the finally agreed Constitution implemented in December 2001. The SIG met on seven occasions between November 2002 and March 2003.

District Audit Review of Democratic Renewal

3. The District Auditor, at the Council’s request, also carried out a review of the operation of the Constitution. This concluded that the Constitution complied with government guidance, that the Council was committed to making the new arrangements work and that processes generally followed government guidance. It identified areas for improvement which coincided with those areas already identified by the Council, including:-

Focus and effectiveness of overview and scrutiny

Executive overload

Need for increased delegation

4. The SIG reviewed the issues raised by the District Auditor and put forward proposals to meet these.

SIG Proposals

5. The SIG looked at a range of issues, from fundamental areas such as those raised in the District Audit review, to detailed refinements of current practices to learn from experience of operating the Constitution. The main areas covered were:-

Making Overview and Scrutiny more effective

Streamlining the Executive’s decision-making process to free it up to concentrate on significant issues

Procedural refinements

Completion of deferred Constitution elements – Member/Officer Protocol etc.

6. The themes and approach used by the SIG were:-

Service focus – the democratic arrangements were intended to help provide better services and community leadership

Cultural change and new ways of working

Backbench member involvement to come up with ways of overcoming the sense of alienation felt by many members

Robustness of arrangements to cope with changes in political control

Making Overview and Scrutiny more Effective

Overview and Scrutiny (O&S) Roles

7. The SIG re-stated the range of roles, including: Overview, Scrutiny of Executive decisions, Select Committee investigation, policy development, community involvement, Performance monitoring, and a role in best value and Comprehensive Performance Assessment.

8. The SIG noted that call-in had been used on ten occasions and that procedures generally worked well. The SIG also felt that the more proactive roles discussed at the Overview and Scrutiny workshops should be developed and committees encouraged to focus on two or three major projects a year. These would then form the basis of reports to the Executive, as set out in the current Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules.

Committee Numbers and Terms of Reference

9. The Council agreed that the current three committees should re-focus their Terms of Reference. The aims were to achieve improved coherence, cohesion and integration. The SIG also felt that performance monitoring was better performed by O&S, with regular exception reports on performance covering a range of around fifteen key indicators. If necessary, observations requesting action would be reported to the Executive, but otherwise issues such as presentation or clarification could be acted on by officers. The new Committee Terms of Reference would also help Waverley prepare for Comprehensive Performance Assessment. It felt that each Committee should meet once a cycle, but with the option of setting up special and/or joint meetings on key issues, such as the budget.

Committee Memberships

10. The SIG acknowledged that there had been good initial reasons for setting the membership of the three committees at seventeen members, but felt that experience had shown that their size made these larger committees less effective. Accordingly, the SIG had suggested that a membership of eleven would be an appropriate number to balance effectiveness as a group with the need to include a broad range of members.

11. However, the Executive felt that this would exclude several members from the Overview and Scrutiny process and that this proposal needed further thought.

The Role of SIGs and O&S

12. The SIG recognised that all SIGs had performed a valuable role in the past, but felt that their roles could overlap with Overview and Scrutiny and remove from O&S members the policy development role, potentially one of the most rewarding and interesting activities.

13. The SIG wished to continue the process of a small group of members working with a portfolio holder, but proposed that this was best achieved by Sub-Groups of O&S Committees, either formally constituted Sub-Committees or informal groups on a similar basis to SIGs. Membership of these groups would be drawn from all members of the Council not on the Executive and would have the option of co-opting non-councillors. They would be intended to give opportunities to a broader group of members to have an input to policy development, performance monitoring and scrutinising of particular topics.

14. The SIG felt that the Member/Tenants’ SIG was an exception, and in effect a consultative group, and therefore should continue largely in its present form.

15. The SIG’s preference was for informal sub-groups, and it submitted a suggested updated protocol.

16. The Executive did not support this proposal because of its effect on the role and responsibility of portfolio holders and the possibility of conflicting responsibilities for policy development. The Executive also felt that it could create difficulties for Senior Officers in briefing both the sub-groups and portfolio holders and ultimately lead to duplication and increased workloads for officers. The Executive also felt that SIGs had carried out valuable work and that this process should continue.

Streamlining Executive Decision Making

17. The experience of the first fifteen months of full Executive arrangements had proved that the Executive agenda were overloaded and that the Executive had not been able to focus on major issues. The District Audit report also suggested this was preventing the Council from gaining the maximum potential benefits of the new democratic arrangements.

Delegation of Routine Property Management Matters and Effect on Executive Agenda

18. The SIG proposed that routine property management matters be delegated to the Property and Development Manager, after notifying the appropriate ward member(s).

19. Officers analysed the last year’s agenda for the Executive, and the changes proposed by the SIG on property matters would have removed about 10% of items. The suggested re-routing of monitoring items proposed by the SIG would remove a further 5-10%, but this would have an effect on the Overview and Scrutiny Committees’ agenda. This could be dealt with, without overloading Overview and Scrutiny, if officers were more rigorous about reporting only exceptions from performance targets.

20. The SIG also proposed that Consultation Documents, except those directly affecting Waverley such as relevant Surrey County Council Documents, should be responded to by Directors, after consultation with the appropriate Portfolio Holder(s) and Management Board. Cumulatively, the proposed property management changes, diversion of monitoring reports and delegation of consultation responses would have achieved around a 30% reduction in the number of Executive agenda items over the last year.

21. However, the Executive did not feel that this would have enough impact on its decision-making workload. It also agreed that the officers needed to do further work to achieve the goal of freeing the Executive to concentrate on significant matters.

Procedural Improvements

22. The SIG proposed draft detailed changes to meet some of the issues raised by Members, together with consequential changes reflecting some of the SIG’s proposals.

23. The Executive noted that the changes to the focus and effectiveness of the Overview and Scrutiny process could largely be achieved without changes to the Articles or Procedure Rules of the Constitution. It felt that the detailed proposals needed further examination. However, it did propose some interim changes to detailed provisions of the Constitution relating to changes to financial limits, the terms of reference of the Licensing and Regulatory Committee and the job title change from Head of Legal Services to Solicitor to the Council and Head of Legal Services, and these were agreed by the Council.

Completing other Aspects of the Constitution

Member/Officer Protocol

24. A draft protocol has been considered by the SIG and its comments will be submitted to the Standards Committee for recommendation to the next Council meeting.

Resource Implications

25. The SIG recognised that no provision had been made in budgets for any additional support to the democratic support function, but felt that this should not constrain the Council in drawing up improved arrangements which might require additional resources.

26. The Executive appreciated the reasons for taking this approach, but felt that existing resource constraints had to be recognised.

Final Conclusions of the Executive on the SIG report

27. The Executive felt that the SIG and Members in their training days had already identified most of the areas highlighted in the District Auditor’s (DA) report and that proposals responded to the DA’s suggestions.

28. The Executive stressed that the Constitution, as currently drafted, allowed a large degree of flexibility in the set-up of the Executive and Overview and Scrutiny, with the only constraint being a commitment in the event of a single party Executive to allocating the Chairmanships of Overview and Scrutiny Committees to the Opposition.

29. The Executive recognised that there was a continuing process of cultural change for the Council, and that the new Council would eventually evolve its own way of working, and noted that there was an enhanced member training budget for next year to help change this process.

30. Having considered the SIG report in depth, the Executive recommended and the Council agreed that, apart from the immediate detailed changes to the Constitution and the rationalisation of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees’ terms of reference, the proposals of the SIG were more appropriately issues for the new Council to settle as it developed new ways of working. It also felt that, as the new Council would have at least seventeen new members following the retirements of current members, any new Members would not generally have experience of the previous Committee system and thus might be in a better position to devise more streamlined decision-making processes under the new Constitution. The Executive acknowledged the value of the collective experience of current Members and the work of the SIG and agreed that the SIG’s conclusions should be passed on to the new Council and reconsidered by the new Executive at its first meeting on 3rd June 2003.

31. Accordingly, the Executive recommended and the Council agreed that the remainder of the SIG’s proposals be referred to the new Council and considered at the next meeting of the Executive on 3rd June 2003.