Agenda item

Revisions to the Council's Constitution

The report of the Monitoring Officer is attached.


The Leader and Portfolio Holder for Strategic and Borough Wide Leadership, Councillor Robinson presented the report of the Monitoring Officer that outlined revisions to the Constitution. Councillor Robinson reminded Councillors that the Constitution was a live, working document that was reviewed throughout the year. The amendments outlined in the report were mainly due to the internal restructure undertaken by the Chief Executive, delegated decisions, the changes required to remove reference to remote meetings during the pandemic, and the trial arrangements for the Planning Committee moving forwards. All amendments to the Constitution were listed in the appendix to the report to make it clear what had been amended. Councillor Robinson informed Council that the Governance Scrutiny Group had considered the changes to the Constitution last month. The Leader highlighted an error in section 4.5 of the report which related to the date of this meeting which should read 24 June 2021.


Councillor Robinson focused on the changes to the start time of Planning Committee, which would be trialled for six months. He highlighted the success of previous trials on changes to processes, such as the changes to scrutiny in 2019, the introduction of e-learning and paperlite for Councillors and encouraged Councillors to give it a go even though they might have some reservations.


Councillor Gowland asked to move an amendment to the recommendation, that Council approved the revisions to the Constitution, without the change to Standing Orders to allow Planning Committee meetings to move to the afternoon. 


The amendment was seconded by Councillor Begum.


Councillor Gowland stated that although she appreciated that the change to the start time for Planning Committee was to be a trial, she considered that there were other alternatives, which could solve the issues that had been identified.  It was noted that sometimes residents who had attended evening meetings had been unable to speak, as meetings had been adjourned due to the lateness of the evening; however, it was important to realise that by moving the meetings to the daytime, many people who worked would have to take time off to attend.  It was accepted that sometimes less attention might be given to applications, if it was very late; however, it was hoped that other alternative solutions could be found, rather than moving the start time of the meeting.  It was important to ensure that people who worked were not discriminated against, and the impact that this would have on Councillors should also be acknowledged.  By moving meetings to the afternoon, it could mean that fewer Councillors who worked would be able to sit on the Committee. Although employers should give time off work to allow Councillors to attend meetings, it was noted that this often was not the case, and some employers were not supportive.  Councillor Gowland reiterated that although this was a trial, she considered that the issue should be revisited, with other alternative options, before this significant change was made.


Councillor Begum reiterated the comments made by Councillor Gowland and stated that some Councillors were already taking time off work to sit on other committees, and this change would add additional pressure to workloads.


Councillor Thomas requested a recorded vote on the amendment and informed Council that she felt this would be a significant and harmful change, as afternoon meetings would reduce democracy. Whilst she was aware that employers should offer time off for Councillors to attend to the business of the Council, she explained that many occupations did not lend themselves to this type of flexibility and that publishing the agenda one week in advance would not be enough notice to organise time-off.


Councillor Major reiterated comments previously made and stated that this change would lead to a significant proportion of both Councillors and residents being discounted from participating at Planning Committee meetings, even if it was for only six months, and that would be very damaging to the Council.


Councillor R Mallender reminded Councillors that other local authorities had daytime meetings, as well as evening meetings and that this change would undoubtedly affect which Councillors could participate in the Committee and who could attend meetings to speak due to work or childcare issues.


Councillor Brennan reminded Council that was proposed was a trial and that all aspects of this would be taken into account. She also highlighted that for many people, attending an evening meeting was just as difficult, such as those working in the hospitality industry or with emergency services, as well as those with children to care for.


Councillor Clarke pointed out that everyone was right and that it was because there were so many valid but opposing views that a trial was necessary to see what would work and what would not. He went on to say that to remain a good Council the authority needed to continually evolve and that those changes should be based on evidence, evidence that would be collected during the trial. He concluded by reminding Councillors that this change had been put before a cross-party scrutiny group, so everyone had already had the chance to comment and shape the trial moving forward. 


Councillor J Walker referred to people who were unable to be flexible regarding their working arrangements and stated that many would struggle to attend daytime meetings, and although it was acknowledged that this was a trial, she considered that it would not work. 


Councillor Combellack believed that the potential changes to the start time of the Planning Committee were timely, as it was right to assess the Council’s working practices as result of pandemic.


Cllr Butler reminded Council that he had considerable experience of chairing the Council’s Planning Committee and was in favour of the changes proposed.  Even with the slightly earlier start time, the meetings were very long and complex and whilst public speaking had introduced much more depth to the decision-making process it had also had an effect on the length of meetings. Unfortunately, he had not yet found a way of beating the human body clock and was concerned that the ability of the Committee to absorb information and make important decisions late into the evening was unreasonable. He reminded Council that the reviewers who had conducted the Planning Peer Review a few years ago had been concerned that the Council still held planning meetings in the evening as many other authorities had moved to day-time meetings. He concluded that whilst appreciating that the change would not suit all he wished for Council to agree the change so that evidence about the impact could be collected and assessed.


Councillor Gaunt expressed his disappointment that there had not been an opportunity to consider a range of options or alternatives to the single solution proposed for the trial. He went on to say that it was too early to assess the lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and how this would affect residents’ working arrangements and their future ability to attend Planning Committee.


Councillor Edyvean informed Council that speakers who could not attend a particular day-time meeting could submit a written statement, which would be read out at the meeting by the Chairman.


Councillor R Mallender asked for clarification on how the feedback from the trial would be captured.


Councillor Way expressed concern about the negative public perception of a written statement over the option of being able to address the meeting in person.


Councillor Robinson informed Council that he was disappointed that the proposals for Planning Committee had been met with such resistance as there were many other examples of trial periods resulting in significant and positive changes for the Council and the Borough’s residents. 


Councillor Gowland acknowledged that some people would find it difficult to attend meetings whenever they were held.  She went on to say that it would be useful to have an open discussion on all aspects of how the Planning Committee operated.  In conclusion, Councillor Gowland reiterated the importance of being able to come and speak in person at a meeting, rather than having to submit comments, that would be read out in their absence.


In accordance with Standing Orders - Council 16.4, a recorded vote was taken on the amendment to the motion as follows:


FOR: Councillors B Bansal, N Begum, M Gaunt, P Gowland, A Major, J Murray, K Shaw, C Thomas and J Walker


AGAINST: Councillors R Adair, S Bailey, M Barney, A Brennan, R Butler, N Clarke, T Combellack, G Dickman, A Edyvean, L Healy, R Inglis, Mrs C Jeffreys, D Mason, G Moore, A Phillips, F Purdue-Horan, S Robinson, J Stockwood, Mrs M Stockwood, R Upton, D Virdi, R Walker, D Wheeler and J Wheeler


ABSTENTIONS: Councillors K Beardsall, R Mallender, S Mallender, D Simms and Way


The amendment to the motion proposed by Councillor Gowland was lost.


Councillor Robinson informed Council that the proposed changes to the Constitution had been through scrutiny and had not been objected to by any Group or individual. He reminded Councillors that what was being proposed was a trial, feedback would be gathered from all parties and would be fully evaluated before a final decision was made.


Councillor Thomas requested a recorded vote on the original motion.


In accordance with Standing Orders - Council 16.4, a recorded vote was taken on the original motion as follows:


FOR: Councillors R Adair, S Bailey, M Barney, A Brennan, R Butler, N Clarke, T Combellack, G Dickman, A Edyvean, L Healy, R Inglis, Mrs C Jeffreys, D Mason, G Moore, A Phillips, F Purdue-Horan, S Robinson, J Stockwood, Mrs M Stockwood, R Upton, D Virdi, R Walker, L Way, D Wheeler and J Wheeler


AGAINST: Councillors N Begum, M Gaunt, P Gowland, A Major, J Murray, C Thomas and J Walker


ABSTENTIONS: Councillors B Bansal, K Beardsall, R Mallender, S Mallender, K Shaw and D Simms


The motion was carried.


It was proposed by Councillor Robinson and seconded by Councillor Edyvean and RESOLVED that the revisions to the Constitution be approved.

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