Agenda item

Constitution - Proposed Variations

Report of Councillor Ian Sherwood, Executive Member for People, Communications & Governance.


Councillor Robinson, the Executive Member for Customer, Digital and Performance presented the report that considered variations to the Constitution.  Section 151 Officer has a very high workload and generally appoints a Deputy to assist. It is proposed that the constitution is amended to allow delegation of the S151 functions and will cover the exercise of the functions in all situations and not when the S151 Officer is absent.


Full Council meetings are lengthening due to the number and complexity of questions asked by members to both the Leader, cabinet members and supplemental questions on notice. It is proposed that all of these are now combined into one item in the Council agenda and to limit the time to a period of 30 minutes. The order of who can ask the questions will remain.


Members at committees and sub-committees may requisition a recorded vote, but the Constitution is not clear about how many members need to support that requisition. It is proposed that the calculation will be the same as the quorate figure for that particular committee.


It is proposed that the delegation to the S151 officer be amended to include the power to write off debts in accordance with the debt recovery policy which has already been approved, and also be able to dispose of obsolete stores or equipment.


It is proposed that Chief Officers are authorised to make payments of compensation in connection with complaints to a maximum of £10,000 subject to agreement with the monitoring officer and appropriate cabinet member/chair of committee and to inform OSC. Currently any payments over £1000 are submitted to Council for approval.


Councillor James questioned why the figure of compensation had risen from £1000 to £10000 and what calculations had been used to reach that figure. 


It was also noted that changes should be made to reflect the policy of the Council to ensure that the Constitution was updated to future proof and ensure it remained gender neutral.


Councillor Monument asked if Paragraph 10 (d) of Part 3 Section F1 be re-worded to say ‘The Section 151 Officer shall in all instances ensure that where there is a conflict of interest in relation to any matter detailed in paragraph (c) above the matter is dealt with by the duly appointed Deputy (remove reference to they s/he).


Councillor Birt also queried if there had ever been a report submitted to full Council to authorise payments of compensation in connection with complaints over the £1000 threshold.  He also questioned if it should be reported to a committee if any amounts were to be paid.


Members heard that the £10000 limit had been set as it was in line with the insurance excess limits already in place.  Councillor Monument recalled that there had not been a report to full council in over 20-years that had related to payments over the £1000 threshold.


Councillor Clarke asked if the proposals for the role of the S151 Officer had been proposed in line with the Local Government Act.  He went on to ask if the proposed changes to the questions without notice at full Council would allow for questions following the Leaders report, and if there would be discretion for the Chairman of the meeting to agree that if there was an urgent or contentious item, the Chairman could vary the amount of time spent in answering a question.


The Legal Services Manager confirmed that the proposed changes to the S151 Officer were in accordance with relevant legislation.  It was also confirmed that Standing Order 54 would allow the Chairman to suspend any Standing Order and would therefore allow for an increase in time.


The Chairman added that it would also fit with the Chairman’s discretion and if it was felt that more time would be needed then it would be seen as fair.


Mr Fowler asked if there was any clarification on where the compensation payments would be made and if it would be reported to full Council.  The Legal Services Manager confirmed that the Overview and Scrutiny Commission would be informed and therefore this would be dealt with in the minutes that would also be presented to full Council.


Councillor Morton asked what level of debt write off a Deputy S151 Officer would have, and if this would be reported.  The Legal Services Manager said that each case was assessed on its own merits.  The Assistant Director of Finance added  that debt write-offs were not reported as they tended to be of small value.


The Chairman suggested that it would be useful for the debt write-offs to be specifically recorded within the accounts and therefore would be brought to the attention of the Committee.  It was requested that any write-offs of £10,000 or over would be specifically listed within the Treasury Management Report that would form an annual report.




1)  In order to clarify those situations where the Section 151 Officer is able to appoint Deputies the Constitution be varied as shown in Appendix A of the report;


2)  Part 3 Section F3 Paragraph (v)(g) (Delegations to the S151 Officer) of the Constitution be varied to read as follows:


“(g) power to write off debts in accordance with the approved debt recovery policy; and power to authorise disposal of obsolete stores or equipment subject to compliance with any requirements contained elsewhere within the Constitution.”


3)  In order to ensure that full Council can undertake its business more efficiently Standing Orders no. 5 (Order of Business), no. 6 (Questions on Notice) and no. 7 (Questions Without Notice) be varied as shown in Appendix C of the report, and the variations be reviewed at the annual Council meeting in May 2023;


4)    In relation to complaints:


(a)     Item 1(h) of the terms of reference of full Council be varied to read as follows:


1(h) Payment or other benefits relating to complaints or findings of maladministration, other than minor payments/benefits of up to £10,000


(b)    Paragraph (j) of Part 3 Section F1 of the Constitution (Chief Officer general powers) be amended to read as follows:


(j) To authorise payments of compensation in connection with complaints (including those made to the Local Government Commissioner/ Ombudsman) of up to £10,000, subject to (i) the agreement of the Monitoring Officer and the appropriate Cabinet Member or Chairman of Committee and (ii) informing the Overview and Scrutiny Commission.


5)         That in order to refer to recorded votes, Standing Order no. 39 (Voting in Committees and Sub-Committees) be varied as shown in Appendix D of the report.


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