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					MANSFIELD DISTRICT COUNCIL

Report of Monitoring Officer To STANDARDS COMMITTEE On 22 OCTOBER 2008

MONITORING EFFECTIVENESS OF THE CONSTITUTION

1.

SUMMARY

This report sets out the issues which have arisen in relation to the Council’s Constitution and procedures at formal meetings, which have come to the attention of the Monitoring Officer, from April 2008, for consideration by members to review the effectiveness of the Constitution in line with the Standards Committee’s Work Programme for 2008/2009. 2. RECOMMENDATIONS (i) (ii) That the actions taken to date be noted. That in respect of suspension and amendment of Council Procedure Rules the Managing Director be required to advise the Council of the requirement for a motion to suspend procedure rules at Full Council to be supported by two-thirds of members present and voting for it to be carried. That when, following a call in, the decision-making person or body does not uphold, amend or reject the original decision within 5 working days of the matter being referred back to it with comments from a Select Commission, these occasions be monitored by the Monitoring Officer and reported back to the Standards Committee in twelve months’ time. That the Monitoring Officer be required to provide a briefing note to members by 30 November 2008 on the issues raised in relation to the matters identified namely call in and matters outside the Budget and Policy Framework, Amendments, and withdrawal of Motions at Full Council.

(iii)

(iv)

3. 3.1

BACKGROUND As part of the Standards Committee’s Work Programme it was identified that the Committee should review the effectiveness and compliance with the Council’s Constitution at two stages during the Council year being October 2008 and April 2009.

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3.2

An important part of the Standards Committee’s work is to monitor compliance with the Council’s Constitution and to this end members of the Committee observe the conduct of fellow members at meetings during a particular cycle usually in January each year. In turn the Standards Committee is also observed. Building on this work the Standards Committee could also make recommendations to Council as appropriate if it was felt that a particular part of the Constitution required amendment or was causing members particular concern. The role of the members of the Standards Committee in looking at the Constitution in this way is to ensure that the Standard of Ethical Governance within the Authority remains at the highest level and improves wherever possible. Clarity of and understanding of procedures at meetings aids Ethical Governance. To assist in this work the Democratic Services Officers attending meetings have been asked to note any constitutional or procedural issues arising to ensure that all matters are brought to the Monitoring Officer’s attention in the event that a matter arises when she is not in attendance. This report deals solely with the Council’s Constitution in place at this point in time, although it is noted that members are still undertaking a review of the proposed amendments to the Council’s Constitution following a report taken to Council on 24 June 2008. Over the course of the latest cycle of meetings the Monitoring Officer has noted the following matters:

3.3

3.4

3.5

3.6

Issues Arising 1. Registration of Votes at Planning Committee using the electronic voting system.

Background An issue arose at a Planning Committee whereby votes had not been registered on the voting system indicating “no choice”. The preliminary vote was announced before the members whose voting machines had registered “no choice” were asked to confirm which way they had voted. This was unsatisfactory and caused a complaint to be made to the Council.

Action Taken A process has since been introduced and Democratic Services Officers have been trained to ensure that whenever this occurs in the future before any result is announced they check to see whether any members’ votes are registered as “no choice” and in such cases each vote is verified before any result is announced.

Action required No further action required.

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Issues Arising 2. Suspension and Amendment of Council Procedure rules at Full Council

Background On one occasion at Council it was not clear that the requirement for at least two thirds of the members present and voting, not being less than one quarter of the whole, to suspend the Council’s Standing Orders was complied with. Although there was no challenge and no one was prejudiced the requirement for a number greater than the simple majority was not made clear.

Action Taken The Monitoring Officer has brought this matter to the attention of the Managing Director.

Action required The Managing Director is required to ensure that she advises Council that two thirds of members present and voting must support a motion to suspend the Councils procedure rules at Full Council for it to be carried and that this requirement is made clear in any briefing notes provided to the Chairman prior to any Full Council Meeting. Monitor the incidence of these matters over the next twelve months and consider in due course whether any recommendation should be made to Council with a suggested amendment to the Constitution. The wording for any such amendment should take into consideration any guidance issued by Government at that time.

3. Call in

Within the Constitution once a Call In has taken place and the comments of the Select Commission are provided to the decision taker, the decision taker is supposed to reconsider their earlier decision within 5 days. This does not always happen within this timescale and the Constitution does not provide for any sanction in such circumstances.

This matter has been considered bearing in mind the intention of the Constitution with regard to the Call In process which is intended to examine a decision in detail before it is implemented. It is the Monitoring Officer’s view that should a decision remain unconfirmed following a Call In then it cannot be acted upon and in such circumstances the purpose of Call In is upheld. It is recognised however, that it is not conducive to effective leadership to leave a decision unconfirmed in this way and in such circumstances any matter could be placed upon the next Cabinet Agenda when an explanation could be sought regarding the particular case.

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Issues Arising

Background

Action Taken

Action required

4.

Call In of decisions Outside The Budget and Policy Framework

There has been occasion when members have sought to say that a decision maker did not have the authority to take a decision during the call in process of that decision. Where a Select Commission is of the opinion that an executive decision is, or if made would be contrary to the policy framework or contrary to or not wholly in accordance with the Council’s budget, then it shall seek advice from the Monitoring Officer, Chief Financial Officer and/or the Head of Paid Service. If the decision has yet to be made, or has been made but not yet implemented and the advice from the Statutory Officers is that the decision is or would be contrary to the policy framework or contrary to or not wholly in accordance with the budget, the Select Commission may refer the matter to Council. In such cases no further action will be taken in respect of the decision or its implementation until the Council has met and considered the matter.

Advice individual only.

given to members

The Monitoring Officer to provide a Briefing Note to all members on this matter highlighting the relevant parts of the Constitution.

5.

Amendments at Full Council

At Full Council it has been apparent that not all members are clear that once a matter has been moved and seconded and placed on the table for consideration by members then only one amendment may be considered at any one time. There has been a tendency for members to wish to consider a further amendment before disposing of the first amendment. This can lead to confusion during debate.

Advice has been given by the Managing Director at Full Council when such matters have occurred.

The Monitoring Officer to provide a Briefing Note to all members on this matter highlighting the relevant parts of the Constitution.

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Issues Arising 6. Withdrawal of Motions at Full Council

Background Once a Motion has been placed on a Council Summons it is the property of the Council. Although it is not always remembered by members the meeting must vote to agree that a Motion may be withdrawn. By contrast an amendment remains the property of the proposer and seconder of the amendment and can be withdrawn upon their joint agreement.

Action Taken Advice has been given by the Managing Director at Full Council when such matters have occurred.

Action required The Monitoring Officer to provide a Briefing Note to all members on this matter highlighting the relevant parts of the Constitution.

4.

OPTIONS AVAILABLE

To accept the recommendations and the action required, to recommend some other action or to take no action. 5. BUDGET/RESOURCE IMPLICATIONS

There are no budgetary or resource implications to this report.

6. Risk

RISK ASSESSMENT OF RECOMMENDATIONS AND OPTIONS Risk Assessment
Lack of understanding of the Constitution on the part of members or officers or failure to comply with the Constitution during meetings could lead to loss of reputation and in an extreme case judicial challenge of a decision.

Risk Level
Medium

Risk Management
Advice is available from officers at all meetings, the Managing Director or in her absence, the Monitoring Officer advises at Full Council. Legal Officers attend and advise at the Regulatory Committees. Training is provided to officers and members on the Constitution which is reviewed annually. The Standards Committee monitor the effectiveness of and compliance with the Constitution and may make recommendations to Council as required. The Managing Director ensures that any relevant guidance issued by Government is considered during any review of the Constitution.

Reputation

7.

ALIGNMENT TO COUNCIL PRIORITIES

To ensure that the Council’s Constitution is both effective and complied with aligns with the priority of effective leadership and management.

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8.

IMPLICATIONS RELATING TO RELEVANT LEGISLATION

Section 37 of the Local Governement Act 2000 provides that a local authority operating executive arrangements or alternative arrangements must prepare and keep up to date a constitution on how the Council will operate and take decisions. Section 53 of the Local Government Act 2000 requires a relevant authority to establish a Standards Committee to carry out the functions as set out in Section 54 of the Act. This section details the specific duties of the Committee but also provides that a local authority may arrange for their standards committee to exercise such other functions as the authority consider appropriate. The terms of reference for this Authority’s Standards Committee provides for the monitoring of complicance with the Constitution. 9. (a) (b) (c) 10. COMMENTS OF STATUTORY OFFICERS Head of Paid Service – none Monitoring Officer – Own report Head of Financial Services – no specific comments CONSULTATION

Democratic Services Manager 11. None Report Author Designation Telephone E-mail Anita Bradley Head of Legal and Member Services 01623 463051 abradley@mansfield.gov.uk
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