Agenda item

All Members Matter Programme for Breckland District Council (Agenda Item 6)

Report of the Operations Manager – Cabinet.

Minutes:

The Scrutiny Officer presented the report and explained that the last Comprehensive Performance Assessment in 2004 asked Breckland Council to review the Training, Development and Support provided to its Elected Members.  The Local Government Information Unit had undertaken a review of Member Support and produced a report identifying possible area for improvement.  The Scrutiny Officer confirmed that Officers had analysed the report from the Local Government Information Unit and produced a draft action plan to deliver the improvements for Members’ consideration. 

 

Members thought the report was very thorough and suggested that there should be a priorities list for Members regarding training.  A Member suggested that for new Members it was very important that they receive training on anything they might need to know (e.g. the Code of Conduct) and in respect of longer standing members it was felt training was good to refresh their skills. 

 

The Scrutiny Officer highlighted parts 1.3 of the report, which detailed the phases used to compile the report and 4.2 and 4.3 detailing the possible areas for improvement for member support at Breckland Council. 

 

During discussion of the report, each section of the Action Plan (Appendix 2 of the report) was discussed and Members made the following comments:-

  • Introduce automatic ‘triggers’ to ensure that ward councillors are given advance notice and are consulted on issues that affect their wards.  What ‘triggers’ would be put in place to ensure that ward councillors were given advance notice and were consulted on issues that affect their wards?  Members confirmed that on several occasions correspondence had been sent to members of the public from Breckland Council Officers regarding enforcement or planning issues which was then discussed at parish council meetings however, the ward Member had received no knowledge of this communication.  Members agreed that this lack of communication had caused embarrassment on a number of the occasions. – The Scrutiny Officer confirmed that currently a survey was being undertaken of all Elected Members to ascertain how they wish the Ward Information to be provided to them.  Once this information was collated, it would determine the most appropriate way to provide the information electronically.  He confirmed that Committee Services was only providing the IT and Service Managers would be responsible for using it to let Members have details of anything within their Ward. 

Members sought clarification on the way in which electronic ward information would be displayed.  In response, the Committee Officer advised Members that based on research and feedback from Members to date they would probably be developing an electronic notice board for all Ward issues in the form of a website page for each ward on the Extranet for Members to view.  

Members requested that due to the relevance of information for each individual Member that all information must be posted on these pages for each service area especially issues and correspondence between Officers, Parish Councils and Members of the public regarding Environmental Health and Planning. 

  • Develop more regular communication between non-executive councillors and officers.  How would there be regular communication between non-executive councillors and officers? - The Scrutiny Officer advised that the Senior Committee Officer was looking at areas of best practice in local democracy in other councils to see how the council could improve the services they offer and that this issue would be covered as part of that review. 

 

  • Improving support for members in their external representative role.  Members reported that supporting them in their external representative role was very important as unless asked they had no forum for sharing information from their meetings.  In addition, a Member advised the Group that South Norfolk Council collected all the minutes from their Outside Body meetings for Members information. - The Scrutiny Officer confirmed that a review had been undertaken of outside bodies at the request of the Leader; and Overview and Scrutiny Commission also did a similar review concluding several appointments were not necessary anymore and a couple of new ones were made.  He confirmed they had started collating information about the outside bodies for Members serving on them.  Members were advised that copies of future agendas and minutes had been requested to be recorded on a new Members library which should be created shortly following which next year, more information about outside bodies would be posted on the website.  In addition, a Members survey during 2007/08 would be carried out to ascertain how the Council could help them on outside bodies.

 

  • Developing a ‘level playing field’ for members representing rural and urban wards by reviewing members allowances.  There was a huge difference in the amount of miles travelled by rural and urban councillors in dealing with case work.  It was confirmed that some wards were very spread out and covered many miles involving councillors travelling great distances to get to the public.  Members were advised that this was being referred to the Member Allowances Panel for discussion and determination during 2007/08.
  • Training and development programmes should be designed around Personal Development Plans for councillors.  It was agreed that Members should carry out sufficient training in order to fulfil their role and properly serve the public and that developing training programmes for each Member was a great idea.  However, Members sought clarification on how this would be achieved and that once training had been completed that it was recorded. - In response, the Scrutiny Officer confirmed that Breckland Council had signed up to achieve the East of England Regional Assembly Charter on Elected Member Development and Training by May 2008.  As part of that charter, they needed to assess Members training and development needs and agree a personal training plan with each member to cover their future requirements.  The process for doing that would be discussed at the next meeting of the Member Training Panel on 26 September 2007 and the assessments would start next month.

  • Training and development programmes for officers. Members asked how a training and development programme for officers would take place.  In addition, Members suggested they carry out training with officers as it was felt that officers working in the field would ask questions that Members would not think of asking therefore they felt they would possibly learn a lot more. - It is suggested that this be included in the Corporate Induction process for new officers, with perhaps a session at the All Staff Briefing and/or team meetings for existing staff.  The Scrutiny Officer confirmed the possibility of Members training with Officers would be investigated by the Principal Committee Officer.

 

  • Reviewing Political group arrangements to support the role of the non-executive councillor.  Members questioned the need to review the political group arrangements to support the role of the non-executive councillor as they felt they were well informed and that it was the responsibility of each political group as to how they operate. - Members were referred to the suggestions made on page 21 of the report (paragraph 2.7) for further clarification.  In addition, it was suggested that the Group Leaders review their operation with the Chief Executive. 

 

  • Making members and employers aware of the rights for time off for Public Duties.  Clarification was sought of how Members would make their employers aware of their rights for time off for Public Duties. – The Scrutiny Officer referred Members to page 40 and 41 of the report for clarification and advised that the Democratic Services Manager would write a letter to Members, and enclose a letter for their employer (if appropriate). 

 

  • Provide induction training that describes the new democratic landscape in which members will have to work. Members asked for clarification on the induction training. The induction Programme was intended to include some of the suggestions in paragraph 2.9 on page 22 in Member Briefing sessions, as and when issues arise. 

 

  • Planning Applications to be posted within 24 hours of being determined and planning drawings to be put on-line.  The Chairman asked whether 24 hours after planning meetings the decision regarding an application could be posted on-line for members’ information.  It was suggested that this information could perhaps be posted on the Electronic Ward pages as mentioned above.  A Member stressed that there needed to be a better information flow from Breckland Officers to Members on Planning and Environmental Health issues as on numerous occasions Members have felt foolish when they see public due to the lack of knowledge they have regarding specially planning issues and not receiving notification of any minor amendments to planning applications. – The Development Services Manager had agreed to investigate this as part of looking at developing the use of IT and the Council’s website for Development Control Services.  The other issues would be examined in due course.

  • More discussion on budget – possibly through an extra General Purposes Committee meeting – and also more cross party working and regular officer briefings with Non-Executive Members. - The Scrutiny Officer advised Members that the Council was currently exploring the opportunity of establishing an Audit Committee which could have responsibility for budgetary matters.  The Chief Accountant had also agreed to consider providing more briefings on financial matters for non-executive Members.  The reason for the GP Committee to consider the budget was unknown. 

  • Ward Surgeries.  The need for members having assistance to carry out ward surgeries was questioned. - A survey will be undertaken to ascertain which Members would like assistance with ward surgeries and what help they require (e.g. how to hold them, publicity, hire of venue, etc). Assistance would  then be given as appropriate.

  • Provide Ward Pages in Breckland Voice.  Members felt this was a great idea and that these pages should cover ‘good news’ stories for the public to read about their Ward.  - It was confirmed that the Marketing Manager would be looking into the feasibility of doing this in future with her Executive Member. 

  • Improve information flows through the three tiers of Government.  Members expressed that the information flow through three tiers of Government was a very difficult job and were not sure whether, despite the efforts the Council had made, that it would be successful. - In response, the Scrutiny Officer confirmed that Democratic Services had been working on this issue for the past year.  A new Town and Parish Council Forum has been established and they were looking at holding an open evening for district, town and parish councillors in October/November (date to be agreed) with exhibitions and staff available to talk to Councillors from 5.30 pm to 8pm.  In addition, a lot of work around Local Democracy Week had been carried out and officers were working with schools and youth clubs to develop those links.  Further areas of work would be explored to endeavour to make the information flow a success. 

  • More Updates on Legal and Planning Issues for all Members.  Members felt this should be covered as previously discussed regarding updates from Environmental Health and Planning. - It was confirmed that Officers would be asked to provide updates by whatever mean is felt appropriate. 

  • Consider employing Political Assistants.  In light of the way Breckland is current constituted Members felt it did not warrant having a political assistant. - The issue would be explored and a report produced on the implications for Cabinet to consider. 

Members felt that a post for an officer that assisted Members was a good idea however, felt the title ‘Political Assistant’ was incorrect and be revised to, for example, ‘Groups Research Officer’. 

RESOLVED:

That the Overview and Scrutiny Commission be asked to recommend to Cabinet to agree and adopt the Action Plan, whilst noting the above comments. 

Supporting documents: