SOUTH EAST ENGLAND REGIONAL ASSEMBLY by keara

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									Agenda Item SOUTH EAST ENGLAND REGIONAL ASSEMBLY ANNUAL MEETING Date: Subject: Report of: 23 July 2003 Review of the Assembly’s Constitution Chief Executive

2

Recommendations: 1. To agree the following changes to the constitution, as recommended by the Executive Committee, with immediate effect: (i) That the appropriate clauses in the constitution are amended so that the quorum for meetings of the Assembly and its committees is set at a third of the Assembly or committee membership, the meeting becoming inquorate whenever the numbers present fall below this threshold. To enlarge the Regional Planning Committee to 25 members, with the maximum limit of external (i.e. non-Assembly member) committee members increased from nine, as at present, to ten. That references in the constitution to minimum numbers of committee meetings per year should be deleted. To replace clause 12.5 of the constitution as follows: ‘The Executive Committee is responsible for carrying out the affairs of the Assembly in between plenary meetings. With the exception of changes to the Assembly’s constitution, approval of the Assembly’s budget, and final approval of the draft Regional Spatial Strategy, the draft Regional Transport Strategy, and the Regional Economic Strategy, any matter to be determined by the full Assembly may be decided by the Executive Committee on its behalf.’ (v) That planning policy matters should normally be determined by the full Assembly or, in between plenary meetings, by the Executive on the Assembly’s behalf, but not both. To insert a new paragraph as follows: ‘The Chair of the Assembly, the five Vice-Chairs and the Chair of the Regional Planning Committee will convene periodically with the secretariat in order to give guidance on the arrangements for processing the business of the Assembly. This group should involve other chairs of committees, forums and groups, and other Assembly members as is from time to time appropriate. The Chair may take

(ii)

(iii) (iv)

(vi)

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decisions in consultation with this group both on process issues and on urgent matters of policy.’ (vii) That any interregnum between the Assembly annual meeting and before a committee meets for the first time in the Assembly’s year should be covered by reference to the Chair of the Assembly. To add to clause 14.3 of the constitution: ‘If a local authority withdraws its support after the budget has been agreed by the Assembly, the subscription rate per vote will be adjusted to make up the shortfall.’ (ix) That an office of Deputy Chair be created, who would deputise for the Chair of the Assembly at Plenary and Executive Committee meetings and, with the Chair, represent the Assembly at important meetings and other external events. The Deputy Chair would be chosen, like the Chair, by the whole Assembly, from among the five Vice-Chairs.

(viii)

2. 2.1

To note that the Executive Committee on 11 April 2003 agreed: To change the Rules of Procedure as follows: (i) To add a new paragraph 6.2 to the Rules of Procedure as follows: ‘In order to increase the participation in the Assembly’s affairs of women, young people, people with disabilities and those from black and ethnic minorities, constituent bodies are encouraged to nominate their alternate member from an under-represented group if their full member is not.’ (ii) To insert into clause 8.3 of the Rule of Procedure, which reads: ‘Individuals with appropriate knowledge and experience who are not full members of the Assembly but who are members of a constituent organisation or network of the Assembly (e.g. a local authority, economic partnership, voluntary or business organisation) may be nominated to the Regional Planning Committee’, the following: ‘No more than two such members may also be members of the board of SEEDA.’

2.2

That two of the current three places nominated to by the Regional Cultural Consortium should be offered instead to the Regional Arts Council and the Regional Sports Board so that they have direct board level representation on the Assembly. Subject to agreement to the above recommendations to adopt the revised constitution annexed herewith (changes are tracked for ease of reference).

3.

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1. 1.1

Purpose of this Report This report is the culmination of a process of consultation and debate as follows:      Meetings of the Chair and Vice-Chairs Group on 18 September 2002, 24 January 2003 and 20 March 2003. Meetings of the Constitution Review Group on 25 October and 13 December 2002. Executive Committee on 24 January 2003. Party and partner group meetings on 5 March 2003. Executive Committee on 11 April 2003.

1.2

The recommendations are made in the body of the report according to the themes of the review and are in boxed text for clarity. Although it is only changes to the constitution that require full Assembly approval (Recommendation 1, above), all the issues considered as part of the review are included in this report. Because of this distinction the grouping of recommendations at the front of the report is different from the order in which they appear in the body of the paper. To avoid confusion, therefore, each recommendation is referenced only by its number in the list at the start of the report. Changes to the constitution require a two-thirds majority amongst both local authority delegates and partner representatives. The Assembly is invited to note the changes agreed by the Executive Committee to the rules of procedure and to the composition of the cultural representation on the Assembly (Recommendation 2). The Executive Committee also agreed to make no change in respect of further issues, as recorded in this report. Background The review of the Assembly’s constitution was originally prompted by the Government’s White Paper, ‘Your Region, Your Choice’, which was considered by the Assembly at its plenary meeting in July 2002. Given the prospect of elected regional assemblies emerging in other English regions the Assembly agreed that it would be important and timely for us to review how, as a partnership assembly, we can maximise our legitimacy and capacity as the voice of the region. A review group was accordingly nominated to review the constitution and to report to the Executive Committee on the proposed changes. The group was chaired by Mike Geddes, former Economic Partners Vice-Chair. The scope of the review was framed by the understanding that the South East has the opportunity to develop a model of regional governance which, although not in the foreseeable future involving direct elections, is nevertheless demonstrably effective and efficient. To be effective as an Assembly means maximising our influence, and in order to do that we need
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1.3

2. 2.1

2.2

2.3

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to show that the views we express and policies we adopt are as representative as possible. Above all therefore we need to be inclusive and open, ensuring that the diversity of the region’s communities is reflected in our work, and that the institutions and, as far as possible, the citizens of the region ‘buy in’ to what we do. To be efficient we also need to remain operationally lean and cost effective, minimising bureaucracy and making the best use of our members’ time. 2.4 The issues covered by the review were grouped into five headings, as follows:      2.5 Voting - voting procedures and majorities required for change. Representation and participation - how well does the membership reflect the community we aim to represent? Committees and ways of working - can we improve the way we deal with our business? Offices - eligibility, procedures and posts. Finance - the impact of direct funding on subscriptions.

Consideration was given and recommendations debated in relation to each of these themes. In some cases there was a clear consensus on particular proposals; in other cases, recognising that all party and partner groups in the Assembly have particular concerns, there was an agreement to differ. Subsequent discussions have enabled us to arrive at a list of proposals that it seems all party and partner groups will support; these were agreed by the Executive Committee at its meeting on 11 April 2003. Voting Quorums are at present set at 25% of the membership (of the Assembly or committee as appropriate) at the commencement of the meeting. These are viewed by some as too low. However, higher quorums would arguably risk the Assembly’s business being vulnerable to those voting with their feet, particularly given the distances travelled by members to most meetings. It is proposed that quorums should be set at a third of the membership (of the Assembly or committee as appropriate), and that this should apply throughout the meeting. Recommendation 1 (i) That the appropriate clauses in the constitution are amended so that the quorum for meetings of the Assembly and its committees is set at a third of the Assembly or committee membership; the meeting will become inquorate whenever the numbers present fall below this threshold.

3. 3.1

3.2

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4. 4.1

Representation and Participation The questions of representation and participation are distinct but related. Membership of the Assembly is not the only means of inputting to our work. Indeed, because we are already a large Assembly, some members’ participation is limited to attending three plenary events a year. On the other hand, it is possible to contribute strongly to our work, e.g. through the advisory groups, without actually being in membership. It follows that an inclusive membership as such is not the only way of ensuring that the Assembly is representative, and we should be wary therefore of responding to representational issues by simply expanding the membership. Having said that, the Secretary of State’s designation letter in July 1999 set out his clear expectation that the Assembly should make progress in ensuring that membership of the Assembly reflects the diversity of the region’s communities. At present, out of 111 members, only 24 are women (an increase of five from 2001-02), and three are from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. Eight of the women and all of the BME members are social, environmental and economic partner members. There is a view that we jeopardise our legitimacy as a representative body and put at risk our influence with Government unless we take effective steps to address this imbalance, and are seen to be doing so. Because the Assembly comprises individuals nominated by constituent bodies, to prescribe the make up of the Assembly inevitably involves constraining those bodies’ freedom to nominate. In our last review of the constitution in February 2000 we considered proposals to improve the representativeness of the Assembly membership. A proposal that all groups agreed should be put to the Assembly at that time was that in choosing their alternate members, rather than their full members, nominating bodies should follow the practice outlined above - i.e. where their full member was not from an underrepresented group, their alternate should be. In the event this proposal was not carried by a sufficient majority in February 2000, but it was still favoured by a majority of the review group. Through the discussions that have followed the review group, the proposal has emerged for the rules of procedure to be amended to encourage, but not to oblige, this practice. Recommendation 2.1 (i): To note that the Executive Committee has agreed to add a new paragraph 6.2 to the Rules of Procedure as follows: ‘In order to increase the participation in the Assembly’s affairs of women, young people, people with disabilities and those from black and ethnic minorities, constituent bodies are encouraged to nominate their alternate member from an under-represented group if their full member is not.’

4.2

4.3

4.4

In addition to influencing the make up of the current 111 members, the review group considered the idea of increasing the membership specifically to achieve greater diversity. One solution therefore is to expand the Assembly to include members specifically from BME communities. At present we have just one member so nominated, who is elected via RAISE as one of their seven representatives. There now exists a regional BME umbrella group, the
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South East Race Equality Network (SEREN), and it would be possible to seek nominations directly through SEREN. 4.5 However, neither the review group nor the Chair and Vice-Chairs Group was able to reach agreement on this proposal, and this difference of opinion was born out in the soundings of party and partner groups. Accordingly no recommendation was made to the Executive Committee in this respect. Besides the diversity aspect, the group received submissions from two industry sector groups requesting direct representation on the Assembly. Firstly, the Faming and Rural Issues Group (FRIG) have repeated the request for membership that was considered but not conceded at the last review. At that time, members felt that the land-based industries behind FRIG should channel their views through existing industry representation, namely the economic partnerships, the CBI, FSB, and chambers of commerce. Efforts have also been made to ensure strong collaboration with this group through the Rural Advisory Group and officer dialogue. The South East Rural Affairs Forum provides a further channel for debate. However, FRIG continue to press their case. The review group for its part felt that the original decision not to grant specific representation to FRIG was sound. The second sector group seeking representation is the Construction Industry Council for the South East. Again, invitations have been made to the CIC to join appropriate planning advisory groups, but they continue to seek membership in addition. The review group agreed that the main difficulty with admitting industry sectors is that it opens the door to every business sector body. At present we have the region’s business community either represented geographically (economic partnerships) or through generic business groups. This makes the business representation overall reasonably strong; to increase it further may well provoke calls from other sectors for increased membership as a counterbalance. This is particularly the case given that the Assembly itself is a ‘foil’ to SEEDA, which is explicitly business led. The review group therefore decided not to recommend sector based membership of the Assembly. This was endorsed by the Executive Committee on 11 April 2003. A further issue on representation concerns the Regional Cultural Consortium (RCC). This nominates three members, having displaced those previously nominated directly from the sports, tourism and arts bodies for the region. The Government has recently reviewed the role of the RCCs, and has concluded that they will stay in order to continue their strategic role. However there is a question whether this provides too mediated a link between the Assembly and the various cultural constituencies. In the meantime the arts, sports and tourism bodies in the South East have all reconstituted themselves, and there may be a case for returning to direct representation from them. Although acknowledging the valuable role the RCC plays in representing the breadth of cultural interests in the region, the review group took the view that the arts and sport are the two cultural sectors that are most important to the Assembly’s work. The group therefore recommend that each should have direct board level representation on the Assembly. The group agreed the third RCC place should remain as an RCC nomination in order to cover
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4.6

4.7

4.8

4.9

4.10

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the remaining cultural sectors. The group noted that the new tourist board has agreed that the Assembly should nominate one member to its board, usefully enabling the connection to be made there in reverse. Recommendation 2.2: To note that the Executive Committee has agreed that two of the current three places nominated to by the Regional Cultural Consortium should be offered instead to the Regional Arts Council and the Regional Sports Board so that they have direct board level representation on the Assembly. 4.11 A final issue considered by the group under this heading was the legitimacy of representation. Councillors are elected to their council by voters in an electoral ward, but thereafter proceed to represent their whole local authority area on the Assembly. Stakeholders represent constituencies of interest and are nominated by networks or bodies, except in the case of the seven RAISE members who are elected via an electoral college. At present our constitution simply requires that the procedures for nominating stakeholder representatives should be ‘inclusive, open and transparent’. Representations were made to the group that all stakeholder representatives should follow the RAISE example and elect their members through the offices of the Electoral Reform Society. However the review group did not agree with this view and felt that the current requirement was sufficient. This was endorsed by the Executive Committee on 11 April 2003. Committees and Ways of Working The review group considered a number of issues of Assembly process, with a view to ensuring that our growing volume of business can be handled satisfactorily. The merit or otherwise of expanding the size of the Regional Planning Committee was debated by the group. The RPC was deliberately created as a small committee both to develop a concentration of expertise and to ensure a regional perspective. While it is accepted that the RPC should remain advisory to the Assembly or, between plenaries, to the Executive Committee, the deliberately small membership of the RPC has arguably placed the detailed burden of a large agenda on a small number of people, not all of whom are themselves members of the Assembly. In expanding the RPC membership however we should seek to avoid geographical areas claiming representational rights and their representatives therefore contributing parochially. To maintain proportionality in an Assembly of two-thirds councillors and one-third stakeholders dictates that if we grow the committee we should do so to a figure divisible by three, namely 24. The question of town/parish council representation on the RPC has been pressed in the past. Town/parish councils do not feature in the templates and the constitution effectively provides for them to be accommodated at the discretion of the Executive. The group reconsidered this in the context of the larger committee and agreed that the RPC should be enlarged to 25, to include one place for town and parish councils. Templates showing the current make-up of the RPC and the proposed expanded committee are attached as Annex 1

5. 5.1

5.2

5.3

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to this report. It is proposed to raise the limit on external members from nine to ten. Recommendation 1 (ii): To enlarge the Regional Planning Committee to 25 members, with the maximum limit of external (i.e. non-Assembly member) committee members increased from nine, as at present, to ten. 5.4 The group agreed that there is little appetite for more meetings among members generally; not only do meetings cost, in both cash and staff time, the more meetings we hold the less we can do of other things. The constitution requires at least six meetings of the Executive Committee and three of the Regional Planning Committee (RPC) each year. These figures were set before the RPC got up to steam, and it now meets as frequently as the Executive. The group agreed it should not be necessary to set such detail in the constitution. Recommendation 1 (iii): That references in the constitution to minimum numbers of committee meetings per year should be deleted. 5.5 Our present constitution relies on the Assembly as a whole as the decisionmaking body, with the ability expressly to delegate matters to the Executive Committee. It states in clause 12.5: ‘The Executive Committee will consider policy and take decisions on matters authorised or as delegated by the Assembly. Also, in exceptional circumstances, by agreement with the Chair and in consultation with the Vice-Chairs, it will deal with matters that cannot be held over until the next meeting of the Assembly.’ The function of all other committees, fora and groups is to advise the Assembly. It is the Assembly as a whole that is the Regional Planning Body; RPC advises the Assembly through the Executive Committee. These arrangements have sometimes caused congestion. Committees that only have power to advise inevitably risk matters being debated at least twice. Although we have established a practice whereby planning matters normally go from the RPC to the Executive or to the Assembly but not to both, some issues are felt to be so important (transport, airports) that they deserve both the detailed ‘corporate’ input of the Executive as well as the formal endorsement of the full Assembly. However because the RPC comprises only a small number of members, some of whom are not actually Assembly members, it cannot reasonably be delegated powers to sign-off policy on its own. Reference to the Executive or, as provided in the constitution, the Assembly Chair in consultation with the Vice-Chairs is therefore appropriate. The Executive on the other hand could have greater delegated powers and, for the most part under the constitution as it stands, it is open to the Assembly to agree them. The exceptions are the budget, the constitution, and final approval of key strategies; it is felt appropriate that these should be reserved for the full Assembly to agree. However, it was also agreed that there should be greater clarity in the constitution that, in between full

5.6

5.7

5.8

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meetings of the Assembly, the Executive Committee could act as the Assembly on all other matters. Recommendation 1 (iv): To replace clause 12.5 of the constitution as follows: ‘The Executive Committee is responsible for carrying out the affairs of the Assembly in between plenary meetings. With the exception of changes to the Assembly’s constitution, approval of the Assembly’s budget, and final approval of the draft Regional Spatial Strategy, the draft Regional Transport Strategy, and the Regional Economic Strategy, any matter to be determined by the full Assembly may be decided by the Executive Committee on its behalf.’ 5.9 Besides this change, the group felt it would be helpful to formalise the practice that policy issues are either determined by the Assembly as a whole or by the Executive on its behalf. RPC recommendations in particular should go on to one or the other for decision, not to both. Recommendation 1 (v): That planning policy matters should normally be determined by the full Assembly or, in between plenary meetings, by the Executive on the Assembly’s behalf, but not both. 5.10 There will be decisions, principally about process but occasionally about policy, that need to be made when there is no wider forum available. The Chair of the Assembly, in consultation with the Assembly Vice-Chairs and, in RPC matters, in consultation with the Chair and Vice-Chair of that Committee, should therefore have the power to make such decisions on the Assembly’s behalf, and to account later to the Executive and/or the full Assembly. The Chair and Vice-Chairs already meet regularly to give the secretariat a steer on policy issues and assistance in managing the Assembly’s business. It was agreed that the business management role of this group should be recognised formally in the constitution, and that it should include the Chair of the Planning Committee as a matter of course. The group will of course include the Deputy Chair if that proposal in Recommendation 1(ix) is accepted. Recommendation 1 (vi): To insert a new paragraph as follows: The Chair of the Assembly, the five Vice-Chairs and the Chair of the Regional Planning Committee will convene periodically with the secretariat in order to give guidance on the arrangements for processing the business of the Assembly. This group should involve other chairs of committees, forums and groups, and other Assembly members as is from time to time appropriate. The Chair may take decisions in consultation with this group both on process issues and on urgent matters of policy. 5.11 The location of Assembly meetings was discussed by the group; opinion seems divided amongst the membership on this point. At present, committee meetings are normally held in central London; this is the most accessible location by public transport and offers a range of high quality institutional
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venues that, importantly, do not have a local government feel to them and can cope satisfactorily with public access. Plenary meetings and workshops are held at various venues across the region; these inevitably require longer travel for some than others and a much higher proportion of participants travel by car. Feedback from our plenary hearing in central London on 4 October was very positive; however shows of hands taken at previous plenaries have confirmed members’ preference for travelling around the region for full Assembly meetings. The group agreed that opinion should be tested again in the second members’ survey taking place this month; this found that the majority view still prefer to roam the region for plenaries. 6. 6.1 Offices At present only an elected councillor can be the Chair of the Assembly. This eligibility rule is the only difference between local authority and stakeholder members and is a matter of principled concern to both. This was debated at length in the last constitution review and little has changed. The merits of various approaches to choosing the Chair were considered then, such as rotation instead of election, but the status quo prevailed. As part of this review, the Social and Environmental Partners floated the idea of creating an office of Speaker of the Assembly, as distinct from the Chair. Under such an arrangement the Speaker would only have responsibility for chairing the plenary sessions and as such would be the guardian of the constitution and rules of procedure for these meetings. It was suggested that the role of Speaker could rotate between the six party and partner groups. With the exception of chairing plenaries, the role of the Chair would remain as it is at present, with the same election procedure and with the office restricted to local authority members. Consistent with the Executive Committee having greater delegation, the plenary meeting would be the place where the Assembly holds the Executive, through the Chair, to account. During the group’s discussions a further alternative was proposed. This involves creating a post of Deputy Chair, rather than a Speaker. The Deputy Chair would either be elected by the whole Assembly from among the five Vice-Chairs or would rotate among the party or partner groups, including the Social/Environmental and Economic Partners. The Deputy Chair would deputise for the Chair of the Assembly at Plenary and Executive Committee meetings and, with the Chair, represent the Assembly at important meetings and other external events. They could also chair those parts of the plenary meetings when the Assembly Chair is giving account to the full Assembly for the Executive’s actions since the last plenary meeting. Full consensus could not be reached by the review group on this proposal, and it was agreed that it should be put to the Executive for decision. The Executive Committee on 11 April 2003 agreed to recommend to the Assembly the creation of the new office of Deputy Chair, to be elected from among the five Vice-Chairs. Recommendation 1 (ix): That an office of Deputy Chair be created, who would deputise for the Chair of the Assembly at Plenary and Executive Committee meetings and, with the Chair, represent the Assembly at important meetings and other external events. The Deputy Chair would be chosen, like the Chair, by the whole Assembly, from among the five Vice-Chairs.
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6.2

6.3

6.4

At present committee chairs are elected at the first meeting of the committee each year following the Annual Meeting. This is to ensure that the chair has the confidence of the committee. However, there is clearly likely to be an interregnum between the Assembly annual meeting and the first meeting of a committee where the leadership of that policy area is ambiguous. This can create difficulty for example in the case of an ongoing dialogue with Government Ministers. In those circumstances only the Chair of the Assembly has the legitimacy to take issues forward and/or to nominate a lead member to do so on their behalf. The alternative is to elect committee chairs at the annual meeting. However this risks being procedurally cumbersome (does the whole Assembly elect a committee chair or just the members of the committee?), as well as time consuming. Recommendation I (vii): That any interregnum between the Assembly annual meeting and before a committee meets for the first time in the Assembly’s year should be covered by reference to the Chair of the Assembly.

6.5

The constitutional bar on members of the SEEDA board also being members of the Assembly was discussed, and the group was unanimous in its view that this should remain. However, recent SEEDA board appointments have included external members of the Regional Planning Committee. The Executive Committee at its meeting on 13 December agreed that, particularly in the light of Government guidance in this area, SEEDA board members should not be excluded from RPC membership, but there should be an upper limit on the numbers so involved. Recommendation 2.1 (ii): To note that the Executive Committee has agreed to insert in clause 8.3 of the Rules of Procedure, which reads: ‘Individuals with appropriate knowledge and experience who are not full members of the Assembly but who are members of a constituent organisation or network of the Assembly (e.g. a local authority, economic partnership, voluntary or business organisation) may be nominated to the Regional Planning Committee’, the following: ‘No more than two such members may also be members of the board of SEEDA.’

7. 7.1

Finance Consideration was given to the withdrawal of subscribing member bodies. Smaller authorities facing particularly difficult budget decisions may understandably review their contribution to - and therefore membership of the Assembly. In order to assist financial management, the group agreed to establish the principle that were a local authority to withdraw support after the budget has been agreed the basic subscription rate per vote should be adjusted to make up the shortfall. This principle was noted by the Assembly when it set the provisional budget for 2003-04 at the November plenary meeting.

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Recommendation 1 (viii): To add to clause 14.3 of the constitution: ‘If a local authority withdraws its support after the budget has been agreed by the Assembly, the subscription rate per vote will be adjusted to make up the shortfall.’ 8. 8.1 Consequential Changes and Updating The constitution and rules of procedure require amendment not only as a consequence of any of the recommendations here that may be agreed, but also to make the constitution in particular clearer about the Assembly’s role and purpose. Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the present constitution are repetitive and, understandably, do not wholly capture the Assembly’s current and developing role. A redraft of these sections was agreed by the review group, and a fully amended document with tracked changes is attached herewith for members’ reference and adoption by the Assembly.

Paul Bevan Chief Executive 9 July 2003

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