Issue - meetings

Coronavirus - Emergency Governance measures

Meeting: 22/07/2020 - Council (Item 56)

56 Coronavirus - Emergency Governance Measures (Agenda item 15) pdf icon PDF 146 KB

Report by Maxine O’Mahony, Executive Director of Strategy & Governance and Monitoring Officer.


Prior to presenting the report, the Executive Manager for Governance advised that he had a constitutional matter that required reporting for information only in respect of decisions that the Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission (O&SC) had approved as not being subject to call-in due to urgency.


There had been two decisions that were urgent directly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Two of the Council’s tenants had become subject to a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and in both cases a proxy vote on that matter needed to be taken very quickly. Relevant Members had been consulted and the reason for the urgency was that the Council would not have been able to respond in the timeline allowed had the Chairman not excluded the call-in. 


Referring to the report, the Executive Manager for Governance advised that the coronavirus emergency had changed the way that people lived and worked, Breckland Council was no exception. 


Social distancing requirements prevented the normal committee processes for decision making. 


Regulations were in place until May 2021 allowing virtual meetings.  There were a number of the Council’s usual rules within Standing Orders and elsewhere in the Constitution that needed to be amended in order to accommodate this new way of working.     


These changes would be temporary and the proposals within the report were set to expire at the point the regulations expired. 


In addition, the crisis had tested some of the Constitutional provisions and one such provision related to the Chief Executive’s emergency powers. Changes were only proposed to ensure that these powers could be used in the absence of the Chief Executive to make it clear that decisions taken in an emergency under emergency powers could not be called in.


Finally, Members were reminded of the implications if a Members failed to attend a meeting during a six month period. Many scheduled meetings had been cancelled for a significant period of time and although virtual meetings were now permissible, there were fewer meetings available for Members to attend.  At the same time, some Members could have potential difficulties that affected their capability to attend meetings, such as caring responsibilities, possible IT difficulties and potential illness.  The report, therefore, recommended that the Council approves in advance any absence exceeding six months, and such prior approval to be effective until the Annual meeting in 2021.


Councillor Birt drew attention to page 60 of the agenda pack at Appendix A where he had spotted a small typo under Standing Order 41.3 referred to itself twice rather than referring to 41.2.


Councillor Birt also expressed some concern over some of the proposed changes set out in Appendix B relating to consultation with Cabinet.


The Executive Manager for Governance responded that there was a provision in the Constitution that would enable him to correct minor numbering errors.  The changes proposed at Appendix B reflected the fact that, in an emergency, decisions often needed to be made immediately and it would not be practicable to do so in consultation  ...  view the full minutes text for item 56