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, outlining proposed revisions to the Council’s Constitution.


In presenting the item, the Leader proposed that following the meeting of Governance Scrutiny Group, two additional changes had been recommended, which he asked the Monitoring Officer to make:


·        Part 2 Committee Structure – to include an additional bullet point for the Governance Scrutiny Group to cover the Review of the Council as a “Going Concern.”

·        Part 3 A process for the remuneration of the Chief Executive to clarify that the pay scale is set by Council, it is movement along the scale that is determined by the Leader, Deputy Leader and Leader of the Opposition, who are advised by an agreed external professional and the Strategic Human Resources Manager.


The Leader advised that it had further been requested that the reference to the Director of Development and Economic Growth be removed from the changes proposed on pages 32 and 92, and that this was agreed.


The Leader explained that this was an administrative item proposing constitutional changes to procedures relating to the paid structures for the Chief Executive, GDPR, and to Planning Committee and referred to the summarised changes, details of which were set out in Appendix One of the report.  The Leader confirmed that this item had been considered and approved by the Governance Scrutiny Group at its meeting on 30 June 2022.


Councillor Edyvean seconded the recommendation and reserved the right to speak.


Councillor Gowland advised that the Labour Group was generally in support of the report, apart from the changes to Planning Committee, as by moving Planning Committee to the afternoon, the Council would be effectively excluding a wide number of people in the population from becoming Councillors, because that if they worked, they could not become a Councillor and attend Planning Committee.


Councillor Jones welcomed the majority of the changes, and particularly the removal of the reference to the Director Development and Economic Growth referred to above. However, Councillor Jones stated that he was also concerned about moving Planning Committee to the afternoon and including that in the Constitution.  The Council wanted a variety of candidates to come forward to stand for election, and young people in work would find afternoon meetings difficult to attend. Councillor Jones understood that it was beneficial to developers and officers but said that it had an impact on the availability of Councillors.


Councillor R Mallender thanked officers for their work on this report and was pleased to see the updates and amendments coming through from Standards Committee.  Councillor Mallender shared the concerns expressed by other Councillors regarding the start time of Planning Committee meetings and questioned why this was being included in the Constitution and stated that it should be a matter that was dealt with by the Planning Committee itself. Councillor Mallender felt that writing it into the Constitution would fetter the discretion of the Chair and members of that Committee as to how they might best serve their community.


Councillor Thomas also welcomed the removal of the reference to the Director of Development and Economic Growth; however, she could not support permanently moving Planning Committee to the afternoon. Councillor Thomas stated that this reduced democratic representation, making it more difficult for Councillors and members of the public who worked during the day to be involved, and left smaller groups within the Council more disproportionately affected.


Councillor Edyvean advised that many people either worked in the evenings, or had commitments, including Councillors, and Council was reminded that whatever time a meeting was held, some parts of the population would be excluded.


Councillor R Mallender asked for clarification as to why it was necessary for the Planning Committee start time to be included in the Constitution.


Councillor Upton agreed that there was never going to be a perfect time to hold the meeting, that working patterns had changed dramatically and the nine to five working day had disappeared. Councillor Upton referred to evening meetings where members of the public had attended to hear their application debated, only to be told that the Committee had run out of time and they would have to wait until the next meeting.  Councillor Upton reminded Council that a six month pilot had taken place, with a significant consultation process, involving members of the public, applicants, developers, and Councillors, with the majority support being for Planning Committee to be held in the afternoon.


Councillor Butler agreed with Councillor Upton that sometimes when applications were very complex and detailed, there were occasions where the Committee would run out of time, which was not helpful to anyone, including members of the public attending the meeting.  Councillor Butler referred to Councillor R Mallender’s concerns about fettering the decisions of the Chair and stated that he did not understand why that would be the case. Councillor Butler added that Planning Committee was quasi-judicial, that it was important that procedures were followed, and that by 10pm at night there was danger of losing attention to detail and members did not want to make mistakes on important decisions.  Councillor Butler stated that it was unusual for other similar decision making bodies to have meetings starting after 7pm.


Councillor Gaunt acknowledged that the time had been changed as it was felt that the earlier start time worked better, although he himself could now not attend any meetings to represent his community, but echoed Councillor R Mallender’s question as to why this was to be included in the Constitution.


Councillor Simms stated that as a working person he was confused as to why this was to be included as part of the Constitution and considered that the earlier start time worked for Councillors who were retired; however, he and many other working people would not be able to attend.  Councillor Simms questioned why it was being mandated in the Constitution and advised that if meetings were too long, then it was for officers to plan the meetings so that they ran appropriately, in the same way that the courts planned their cases.  Councillor Simms stated that he could not support the proposal and asked why the possibility of holding a daytime and an evening meeting on alternate months had not been considered.


The Leader advised that the report related to revisions to the Constitution and was not a debate about Planning Committee, given that there had previously been many hours of debate already on that subject, a six month pilot, feedback surveys completed, the process had been transparent, and approved by Council.  The Leader explained that all meetings, including Full Council, Cabinet and Scrutiny meetings were included in the Constitution and that this formed part of how a well-run Council governed itself.  Council was advised that whilst those changes were being included in the Constitution, the Planning Committee Chairman could amend the time of the meeting.


It was RESOLVED that the revisions to the Constitution be approved.

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