Agenda item

Scrutiny Review of Standing Orders and Cabinet Response

-           Director of Legal and Democratic Services to report.


Further to Minute No. 51 of the meeting of the Council held on 10th September, 2014, Councillor Watson, Chairman of the Scrutiny Review Group, introduced a report which set out recommendations of the scrutiny review of Standing Orders, undertaken by the Self Regulation Select Commission.


The Review Group met on five separate occasions and examined the Standing Orders in detail; followed by webcasting and petitions. Information was sought from other Councils to examine how they addressed general questions, questions to decision makers and representatives on other bodies and committees and questions from members of the public. The proposed amendments were discussed with the Monitoring Officer and Legal and Democratic Services Officers. The final meeting agreed the report for submission to Cabinet to inform its recommendations to Council.


A number of other issues arose during the review relating to the wider Constitution and procedural rules. However, due to the time frame for reporting its findings, the Review Group were not able to give proper consideration to these issues. It was recommended, therefore, that a further review be undertaken to report back to Cabinet early in the new Municipal Year.


Taking matters forward the Review Group were suggesting:-



·           The time limit in which to ask questions that have previously been asked and answered, be reduced from six months to three Council meetings.


·            The length of notice required for submission of general questions be extended; in effect all questions must be submitted in writing to the Chief Executive by 10.00 a.m. three working days before the day of the Council meeting (usually the Friday preceding the Council meeting held on a Wednesday).


·           If a Member who had submitted a valid question, was unable to attend and had submitted apologies, a written answer be supplied.


·           The guillotine on general question be removed.


·            If submitted questions were ruled to duplicate other submitted questions and one was excluded; that the Member who submitted the excluded question be allowed to ask a supplementary question on the subject of the excluded matter.


·            A new provision to ask ‘urgent’ questions be introduced.


·            In line with the amendment to submission of general questions; the length of notice required for questions from members of the public be extended to 10.00 a.m. three working days before the Council meeting (usually the Friday preceding the Council meeting held on a Wednesday).


·           That Paragraph 19 of the Council’s Scheme for Handling Petitions be amended to 2,000 signatures to trigger a debate of the Council.


·           The current threshold of 750 to ask for a senior council officer to give evidence at a public meeting be maintained and extended to include member(s) of Cabinet.


It was suggested that the proposed amendments be reviewed after six months to ascertain if they were fit for purpose.


There were no changes proposed to Paragraph 9: Moving the minutes of the Cabinet, Members of the Cabinet and Committees and the Council’s Standards Committee (commonly referred to as questions to the White Book).


In terms of the recording of questions asked of Council minutes contained in the White Book it was suggested that:-


·           That all questions and responses (including questions from public) should be recorded in the minutes.


·           That written responses should be ‘captured’ and appended to minutes.


·           Written responses to questions to be circulated to all Members within a defined timescale (which was administratively practical i.e. seven working days).


The Review Group was not able to undertake a full review of the Council’s Scheme for Handling Petitions in the time allocated to the review. In the interim, the Review Group recommended that, with the proviso of the changes outlined above and with minor administrative amendments, the scheme remain in place pending the wider constitutional review.


In the interest of openness and transparency, the Review Group fully endorsed the move towards regular webcasting of meetings. Given the resource implications attached to this the Group were suggesting:-


·           Given the layout and existing audio system, that the Council Chamber be used for webcasting meetings.


·           That consideration be given to the installation of ‘fixed’ microphones in the public galleries.


·           Further consideration be given to how the staffing of webcast meetings was resourced to ensure that it was sustainable.


·           In principle, each meeting of full Council; Cabinet, Planning Board and Overview and Scrutiny Management Board be webcast. Other meetings of ‘significant interest’ may be webcast as an exception.


In addition to the review of Standing Orders the Review Group explored web-based models for recording executive decisions. For example, based on the plan of key decisions  the ‘Doncaster’ model set out the decision to be made, who would take it and when and what consultation had been undertaken.


As part of the wider constitutional review, it recommended that alternative models be explored to see if this was appropriate for adoption.


Cabinet Members welcomed the outcome of the review and the speed in which it was conducted.  Removal of the guillotine could lead to the general business of the meeting being disrupted and could be left to the Mayor to use his discretion to extend.  However, in the main any removal could be closely monitored and reviewed in due course.


The proposals to seek a permanent solution to webcasting and the reduction in the numbers for the handling of petitions were moves in the right direction for the Council to demonstrate more openness and transparency.


Cabinet Members noted the concerns of the Monitoring Officer about the removal of the guillotine, but having heard comments from the Chairman of the Review Group about the reasons for no guillotine, the changes to the submission date and the reluctance to place a guillotine on the length of the meeting, were happy for Council to agree the recommendations being put forward.


In addition, Cabinet Members were in agreement with the proposal to safeguard any disruption to the conduct of general business by moving the agenda item for questions to Cabinet Members and Committee Chairmen to the end of the agenda.


(1)  Resolved:-  That the report be received and the contents noted.


(2)  Recommended:- (a)  That the proposed amendments to the Council’s Standing Orders be approved.


(b)  That the proposals regarding web-casting be adopted.


(c)  That the recording and circulation of responses to written questions be approved.


(d)  That the further consideration of web-based models for recording executive decisions be explored.


(e)  That the Self Regulation Select Commission conducts a further review of the Constitution, the Council’s Scheme for Handling Petitions and the potential for web-based models for recording executive decisions and reports its findings to Cabinet after the 2015 summer recess.


(f)  That the agenda item for Questions to Cabinet Members and Committee Chairmen be moved to the end of the Council Meeting agenda to allow for normal business to be conducted first.

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