Agenda item

Decision-Making Arrangements during the Covid-19 Pandemic

The Council is RECOMMENDED to agree the arrangements set out in Appendix A to the agenda pack.

Minutes:

 

The Council considered a report included at Appendix A of the agenda which set out the options for the operation of decision making arrangements, including virtual Council and Committee meetings, during the ongoing Covid-19 emergency.

The Covid-19 pandemic has required the Council to rapidly refocus its resources to prioritise support to local health and care services, vulnerable residents and local businesses. It had also presented unprecedented challenges in the operation of the normal decision-making process, as social distancing rules and the requirement to stay at home initially made the transaction of business through Committee meetings impossible.  At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Council had therefore taken the exceptional step of temporarily cancelling its formal committee meetings in the interests of public safety. This ensured that the Council was well placed to comply with subsequent guidance from the Government on social distancing, and the instructions for people to stay safe in their homes. The transaction of all non-urgent business had been postponed, and urgency decision-making mechanisms within the Council’s Constitution had enabled the Chief Executive and Executive Directors to take urgent decisions in consultation with specified Members; public notice had been given of those decisions taken.

However, in the interests of transparency and democratic accountability, the Council considered it essential to re-introduce collective decision-making by Members in Committee as soon as safe and practicable to do so. While the ongoing emergency prevented public gatherings, the Government had brought in new Regulations with effect from 4 April 2020

(applying until May 2021) to enable Council and committee meetings for the first time to be held in virtual form.

The report proposed a streamlined schedule of virtual Committee meetings to enable the Council to focus staffing and management resources on the delivery of critical frontline services and its support to the local community during the Covid-19 pandemic, while maintaining the appropriate levels of democratic accountability and transparency in decision-making. The interim arrangements will be reviewed by Council at its meeting in October.

The arrangements include the immediate resumption of regulatory Committees dealing with planning and licensing applications and the establishment of a temporary Response and Recovery Committee, meeting on a monthly basis to exercise all the functions of the five Strategic Committees for decisions which cannot wait until the resumption of normal business.  The Committee will also receive reports and updates on the Council’s Covid-19 response.

A correction to Annex 3 of the report (the proportionality calculations) was circulated prior to the meeting to amend the reference from 1 Independent Member to 1 ‘Green’ Member.

 

(1)       An amendment from the Conservative Group on the Council to the recommendations of the report, which had been circulated prior to the meeting, was proposed by Councillor Kevin Davis and seconded by Councillor Rowena Bass, as follows: 

‘To delete the recommendations set out on the agenda and replace with:

‘To RESOLVE that:

1.         a Response & Recovery Committee consisting of 11 Members be established to exercise all functions currently delegated to Strategic Committees (with the exception of the delegation to the Finance and Partnerships Committee) and to receive briefings and updates on the Council’s Covid-19 response for the period until the next meeting of Council on 7 July 2020 at which point the Council can decide to rescind or continue these arrangements;

2.         the Finance and Partnerships Committee, the Health and Wellbeing Board and the Health Overview Panel meet in the period to the next meeting of Full Council;

3.         the revised calendar of meetings for the period to 12 October 2020 attached at Annex 1 be adopted until the Full Council meeting of the 7 July 2020, with the addition of dates (the selection of which is delegated to the Monitoring Officer) for those committees set out at paragraph 2 not already timetabled and the expectation of a further revision to the timetable at the meeting of Full Council on 7 July 2020; and

4.         the guidance for Members participating in virtual Committee and Council meetings set out at Annex 2 be noted.

‘Reasons for the amendment:

The Coronavirus crisis is a fast changing period in our history.  Because of this, the proposer and seconder of this motion believe council business set out in this agenda are already out of date as we start to lift the restrictions created by Covid19.   Many other councils, including that of our near neighbours, are holding Annual Councils and conducting “business as usual” as much as possible.  The council governance needs to be agile during this period and not making changes that are appropriate to what is already past, but what we are doing today and will need tomorrow.   This amendment seeks not to criticise the administration but to accept that we are in a different time and any changes we make should acknowledge this.

The decision making processes set out on the agenda should not be desirable to any democracy and we should not therefore be embedding them into the functioning of this Council for a period of 5 months.  These arrangements should instead be reviewed for their continuance at every future Full Council meeting until the crisis passes and only be extended from Council meeting to Council meeting.

The Response and Recovery Committee is a decision making committee to make all the decisions of the Council - much like a cross-party Cabinet model.  However, Cabinet model decisions should not be taken without effective scrutiny and an examination of the metrics around the COVID-19 crisis and the Council’s performance.  There are two main issues facing the Council during this crisis; the health of the community as we unlock and the finances of the council in the recovery period.  It is therefore imperative that these two areas continue to be properly scrutinised by Councillors and for this reason we believe it appropriate for the Finance and Partnerships Committee, the Health and Wellbeing Board and the Health Overview Panel to continue to meet - although it is also our belief that in the case of health this might be best addressed by the chairs of both HWB and HOP convening a joint meeting or seminar should a joint committee “meeting” not be permissible in law.’

 

(2)       After debate, the above amendment was put to the vote and was declared defeated –

Voting:

For: 10 members of the Council (Councillors Roy Arora, Rowena Bass,

David Cunningham, Kevin Davis, Sharron Falchikov-Sumner, Ed Fram, Ian George, Jason Hughes, Maria Netley and Nicola Sheppard).

 

Against: 37 Members of the Council (The Mayor, Councillor Margaret Thompson, the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Sushila Abraham, and Councillors Zain Abbas, Stephanie Archer, Kim Bailey, Mark Beynon, Fiona Boult, Olivia Boult, Tim Cobbett, Emily Davey, Lorraine Dunstone, Mark Durrant, Simon Edwards, Sam Foulder-Hughes, Hilary Gander, Dennis Goodship, Liz Green, Jaesung Ha, Lesley Heap, Alison Holt, Caroline Kerr, Andreas Kirsch, Katrina Lidbetter, Rebekah Moll, Munir Ravalia, Dave Ryder-Mills, Anita Schaper, Malcolm Self, Christine Stuart, John Sweeney, Thay Thayalan, Jon Tolley, Olly Wehring, Diane White, Annette Wookey, Yogan Yoganathan and Sharon Young.)

(3)       After further debate, the recommendations set out in the report at Appendix A to the agenda were put to the meeting, and it was:

Resolved that:

1.            a Response and Recovery Committee consisting of 11 Members be established to exercise all functions currently delegated to Strategic Committees and to receive briefings and updates on the Council’s Covid-19 response for the period until 12 October 2020;

2.            the revised calendar of meetings for the period to 12 October 2020 attached at Annex 1 of the report be adopted;

3.            the guidance for Members participating in virtual Committee and Council meetings set out at Annex 2 of the report be noted; and

4.            consideration be given to the need for any further interim decision-making arrangements at the meeting of Council on 13 October 2020.

Voting:

For: 37 Members of the Council (The Mayor, Councillor Margaret Thompson, the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Sushila Abraham, and Councillors Zain Abbas, Stephanie Archer, Kim Bailey, Mark Beynon, Fiona Boult, Olivia Boult, Tim Cobbett, Emily Davey, Lorraine Dunstone, Mark Durrant, Simon Edwards, Sam Foulder-Hughes, Hilary Gander, Dennis Goodship, Liz Green, Jaesung Ha, Lesley Heap, Alison Holt, Caroline Kerr, Andreas Kirsch, Katrina Lidbetter, Rebekah Moll, Munir Ravalia, Dave Ryder-Mills, Anita Schaper, Malcolm Self, Christine Stuart, John Sweeney, Thay Thayalan, Jon Tolley, Olly Wehring, Diane White, Annette Wookey, Yogan Yoganathan and Sharon Young.)

Abstaining: 10 members of the Council (Councillors Roy Arora, Rowena Bass, David Cunningham, Kevin Davis, Sharron Falchikov-Sumner, Ed Fram, Ian George, Jason Hughes, Maria Netley and Nicola Sheppard).

 

Supporting documents: