The Democratic Team Leader and Elections Manager:
(a) Presented a report which provided the Ethics and Engagement Committee with an opportunity to consider amending the terms of reference of the Council’s Scrutiny Committees to set an earlier start time for meetings and place a cap on the duration of meetings.
(b) Provided a number of options for the Committee to consider, including:
· setting a revised start time of 5.30pm for Scrutiny Committee meetings as opposed to 6pm;
· agreeing that no Scrutiny Committee meeting should exceed a set duration, such as two hours for example;
· agreeing that no Scrutiny Committee meeting should exceed a set duration, such as two hours for example, without agreement of at least the majority of voting members present;
· an amalgamation of (i), (ii) and (iii) above in respect of Scrutiny Committee meetings;
· setting a consistent start time for all of the Council’s evening meetings;
· making no changes to the existing arrangements.
(c) Invited members’ questions and comments.
Discussion ensued and the following points were noted:
· there had been instances at some meetings where there had been long agendas to get through and important issues towards the end of the agenda had not always had the full consideration they perhaps justified. There had also been occasions where some members had been unable to contribute as they had left the meeting prior to its close due to the longer than anticipated duration. In order to address this agendas could be scheduled so that the more urgent, important or contentious items were listed first;
· meetings should start at 6pm and aim to conclude by 8pm. The majority of members in attendance should be in agreement to proceed beyond 8pm although it was acknowledged that this could not apply to the Executive or regulatory bodies such as the Planning Committee;
· if an agenda included a significant number of items, the Chair, Vice-Chair and officers should highlight this at pre-meetings and make provision for an additional meeting in order that all items could be properly considered;
· meetings at 5.30pm made it especially difficult for those members who worked and could potentially put people off standing for election in the future. The minimum start time for meetings should be 6pm to allow those members who worked sufficient time to travel to City Hall;
· there should be more training for Chairs and Vice-Chairs with regard to agenda management in order that meetings ran smoother in the first instance. This should be mandatory for any Chair at the Council;
· there were not that many meetings held in the last year that had exceeded three hours in duration;
· it was a good thing that members were able to contribute and challenge at meetings such as Scrutiny Committees, irrespective of how long meetings took to reach a conclusion. If meetings needed to take a certain amount of time then they should be allowed to take that long;
· the Performance Scrutiny Committee was the main meeting which tended to overrun and which normally had a significant amount of business on its agendas. A proposal was put forward to set up a new committee or sub-committee solely responsible for holding Portfolio Holders to account, leaving the Performance Scrutiny Committee to continue monitoring the performance of the Council’s services. It was suggested that the new Committee could replace the Community Leadership Scrutiny Committee;
· all meetings were politically balanced, so the suggestion of capping the length of meetings could be perceived as delaying opportunities to challenge or contribute, especially in relation to any contentious items that may be under scrutiny;
· the length of time it sometimes took officers to present reports or deliver presentations also prolonged meetings. Information should be circulated and read in advance, reducing the need for officers to spend lots of time presenting their items;
· the Community Leadership Scrutiny Committee was another body where its meetings had lasted longer than three hours. The difficulty with this meeting was the fact that external representatives were invited to attend and provide evidence. It should therefore be made clearer to external representatives that they had limited time to make their initial address to the Committee in order that the agenda could be more effectively managed.
The Leader of the Council made the point that the purpose of this report was to take stock of how efficient and effective the management of the Council’s business was from the perspective of elected members, as well as officers and members of the public. He emphasised that it in no way sought to change or interfere with the integrity of the Council’s scrutiny function and was not about curtailing discussion, indicating that he would like to see a consensus of opinion in relation to any change to the way in which the Council’s meetings operated.
RESOLVED that the Council’s administration be asked to note the comments made at this meeting and give due consideration in particular to the following:
· a proposal to commence all of the Council’s evening meetings at 6pm;
· a proposal to change the format of the Performance Scrutiny Committee in that a new Committee or Sub-Committee be established to scrutinise Portfolio Holders, with the Performance Scrutiny Committee retaining its role of scrutinising the performance of the Council’s services;
· a proposal to ensure that a vote of unanimous support is achieved prior to any meeting closing before all business having been adequately considered, should a cap be introduced on the duration of meetings.