Agenda item

Constitution Review (Agenda Item 7)

Report of the Assistant Director for Democratic Services.


The Executive Member for Finance & Democratic Services presented the report.  She explained that the Constitution set out how the Council operated.  The Constitution Review Working Group had carried out a thorough review to update the Constitution in light of legislative changes, develop its transparency and align it where appropriate with South Holland’s Constitution.


The review had been a large and very challenging task.  The draft of Parts One to Four was being presented for comment.  The review of the Committee structure had been put on hold. 


After feedback and any suggested changes from the Commission the next stage would be for the draft to be independently reviewed and then presented to Cabinet and Council for approval.


The Memorandum of Agreement on Shared Management between Breckland and South Holland was being reviewed and therefore some changes to the draft Constitution might be required when it was presented to Council.


Part 3, Officers Delegations would also be updated before Council, as a management restructure was currently taking place.  A log of Officer delegations was being prepared, which would sit outside of the Constitution document.  It would provide clear evidence to Officers of their authority to act.


Section 4b had basically been completely rewritten by the Finance teams to comply with legislation.  Section 5 onwards would be reviewed at a later date. 

Proposed changes and additions to the Constitution had been printed in red for clarity.


The Assistant Director for Democratic Services then went through the document summarising the key changes. 


·        Part 1 - no fundamental changes 

·        Part 2 – additional information for clarity to Articles 4, 7, 10 13 & 14 based on the National model

·        Part 3       
-Introduction of Part A – Responsibility of Functions
-Introduction of Part C – Responsibility for Executive Arrangements
-Addition of Member Development Committee to the Committee structure

·        Part 4 - New additional procedure within Standing Order 5 to allow Questions With and Without Notice at Council meetings.

·        Parts 4a and 4b – fundamentally different in layout - to support understanding pages 187-190 provided a summary of the financial limits being proposed.  (An A3 printed copy of those pages was provided to Members as a printing problem had made them unclear on the Agenda).


The Chairman asked if the Draft reflected the South Holland Constitution as far as Shared Officers were concerned and he was advised that the Constitutions were almost the same and would be easier for Shared Officers to navigate.


Councillor Bambridge proposed that the right of the public to ask questions should be extended to all Committees and included under Article 3.

The Executive Member explained that that proposal had been discussed by the Working Group.  Such questions were allowed at South Holland but the consensus of opinion had been that at Breckland it should remain at the Chairman’s discretion, as presently.


The Vice-Chairman congratulated the Working Group and Officers on a job well done.  He had advocated the amendment to open up democracy and accountability and he thought that the right for members of the public to ask questions should be enshrined in the Constitution.


Councillor Kybird noted that there were a significant number of apostrophe errors.  He would provide a marked-up copy for correction.  He also suggested the following amendments:


·        Page 15 para 1.6.12 – should mention that it was a two stage process

·        Page 24 Article 5 – should refer to Chairman and Vice-Chairman

·        Page 27 para 6.4.4 – repetition of Overview and Scrutiny

·        Page 51 General Purposes – should include ‘to receive recommendations from LJCC’

·        Page 52 Appeals – Taxis and Hypnotism should be separate items

·        Page 57 Task & Finish Groups – clarify can comprise up to 10 Members.  Open to all Councillors except Executive Members.

·        Page 61/62 Member Development Panel – no mention of Substitute Members


Councillor Kiddle-Morris pointed out that references to the Deputy Chief Executive needed to be removed from the document and that consistency was needed for gender neutrality. 


In response it was noted that there were some specific delegations to the Deputy Chief Executive.  When the delegations were updated the changes would be made.


Councillor Gilbert asked about the appointment of Aldermen referred to at para 4.5.9 on page 22.  It was agreed that clarity was required that Aldermen and freemen had no voting rights.


Councillor Armes asked when changes could be made to the Constitution and the Assistant Director for Democratic Services advised that changes could be made at any time but they had to be made by full Council unless they were of a minor nature in which case she had delegated authority to amend the Constitution (para 14.2.2 on Page 41).  It was clarified that minor changes were those that made no material change to the way the Constitution worked.


Referring to Task & Finish Groups (Page 57) the Chairman was concerned that it might be detrimental to be limited to just three.  It was suggested that it would be better to change the limit to no more than eight T&FGs throughout one year due to resource implications.


On Page 65/66 reference needed to be made to the additional Executive Member without Portfolio, with responsibility for ARP. 


The Chairman was concerned that there was no reference to the Portfolio Holder on Page 169 para 3.8 Asset Disposal.  It was agreed that that should be amended to read “with the relevant Cabinet Member’s agreement”.


Councillor Kybird asked for something to be added to the Constitution about the role of Members appointed to Outside Bodies where they became Trustees. 

The Assistant Director for Democratic Services thanked Members for their input and said the suggested changes would be made before the draft was sent for independent legal review.


The Vice-Chairman noted that Councillor Bambridge had made a proposal about public speaking.  He asked for further discussion about the public right to speak at meetings and suggested that the public should be allowed to submit a written question to any Committee and then ask that question with a 15 minute time limit.


Councillor Kybird thought that questions should only relate to an item on the Agenda but Councillor Bambridge said they should only need to be relevant to the Committee.

The Executive Member for Finance & Democratic Services said that the Ward Representative should be asking the questions on behalf of the public.  South Holland already had wording to cover that issue and she suggested that the same wording could be added to the draft.


Councillor Kiddle-Morris made a plea that any supplementary questions raised could be answered in writing.


The Chairman proposed that no vote be taken on making that change until the South Holland wording had been seen.  Councillor Bambridge agreed with that as long as it conveyed the gist of what had been said.


The Executive Member for Finance & Democratic Services said that notes would be circulated to all O&SC Members on the points raised for comments before moving on, but quick responses would be required.


The Chairman asked that those responses were channelled through the Scrutiny Officer.


Councillor Rogers mentioned that he had still received no reply to his question about the amount of Breckland investment in the five Market Towns in the past and next three years.


The Executive Members concerned had both thought that the matter had been dealt with and confirmed that Councillor Rogers would receive a response.


In conclusion the Executive Member for Finance & Democratic Services thanked the Working Group and Officers for their stalwart work through a long and arduous process.


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