To receive a report from the Director of Law and Governance setting out changes to the Council constitution.
This report is due to be considered by the Member and Democratic Services Group at a meeting to be held on 30 June 2020.
Councillor Nesil Caliskan moved and Councillor Tim Leaver seconded the report of the Director of Law and Governance setting out proposals for a revised streamlined committee structure and for an enhancement of the Council’s scrutiny function.
1. The report had been considered and agreed for recommendation to Council by the Member and Democratic Services Group at their meeting on 30 June 2020.
2. The Leader, Councillor Nesil Caliskan, presented the report highlighting the following:
· A review of the Council’s committee structure had been carried out and a revised streamlined structure proposed.
· The Centre for Public Scrutiny had reviewed the scrutiny function and its findings were noted as part of the report.
· Following the review, this was a proposal to enhance the Committee and Scrutiny Structure. The changes would enable councillors to dedicate more time and efforts to new and emerging priority areas, including Environment and Climate Change, Young People, Equalities and Economic Development, as well as vulnerable children as part of the work of the Fostering Panel.
· The Environment Forum will include membership from local community environment groups.
· The changes brought about are in response to calls to bolster and improve scrutiny and extra accountability and transparency in additional formal Committees of the Council. Enfield Council believes that the level of responsibility, work and scrutiny of these new key priorities are as important as the existing roles that have a Special Responsibility Allowance attached.
· Councillors can only claim one Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) and no Councillor has ever been forced to take either their basic allowance or their Special Responsibility Allowance that they are entitled to. It was down to individual Councillors to make a judgement on their own personal circumstances about whether they need to draw down their allowance. The report also proposed that there should be an additional associate cabinet member with a focus on young people.
3. Councillor Laban, the Leader of the Opposition, said that the Opposition although in favour of creating standing scrutiny panels, would not be supporting this report as they had concerns about the creation of a General Purposes Committee subsuming the work of the audit and electoral services, the proposal to merge the transport, green belt and conservation advisory committees into an Environment Forum and the creating of an additional Associate Cabinet Member post. Many of the various stakeholders in these groups also had concerns about the propsosals.
4. The comments of Councillor Levy as a member of the Community First group who while not objecting to the proposed changes to the scrutiny structure, felt that the real problem was the culture of the organisation and the scrutiny function’s lack of integrity and independence. This had caused reputational damage. He was looking for assurances that the function was independent and impartial.
5. The comments from majority group members:
· Welcome for the new structure and the view that it would help councillors play a greater role in shaping policy in areas such as housing.
· Support from the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Susan Erbil asserting the impartiality of the scrutiny function and expressing the view that many members had been calling for changes. The new proposals would enhance policy development and would enable all members, not just those involved in scrutiny, to make more of a difference to residents.
· Support for the Environment Forum which would enable a wider focus on environment issues across the borough, not just in the more prosperous areas to the west. It was felt that it would allow more attention to be paid to the Eastern side of the borough and on other environmental issues such as air pollution.
· The view that the new structure would improve democratic accountability and would enable greater input from members and community groups.
6. The comments from Opposition group members:
· Concern about the lack of consultation with the groups involved and in the wider community. For instance the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had not had an opportunity to discuss the Centre for Public Scrutiny findings or to feed into the proposals for the new committee structure.
· Whilst there was agreement that significant improvement was needed, there was some concern about some of the assertions in the Centre for Public Scrutiny report.
· Concern about the inconsistencies in the report and the ability of the new Environment Forum to address all the matters previously covered by the Green Belt Forum, Conservation Advisory Group and Public Transport Consultative Group. Some of the groups listed in the terms of reference no longer existed.
· Concern that the creation of the General Purposes Committee would dilute the effectiveness of the audit committee function.
· Concern about the possibility of an attack on the green belt.
· Concern about the growth in the number of paid positions for members of the administration.
· Concern about a lack of value for money and lack of accountability from the Associate Cabinet Members. The view that they did nothing more than could be achieved by a cabinet member.
7. Comments from the Community First group
· Concern that abolishing groups such as the Public Transport Users Group which had been instrumental in bringing about real change, for example at Winchmore Hill Train Station would prevent meaningful outcomes.
· Concern about the lack of accountability of the Associate Cabinet members.
8. The Leader summed up by saying that the proposals were not a waste of money, they had been subject to through consultation and had been discussed by both the main political groups. The scrutiny function would be enhanced with the return to thematic panels and that these changes would enable members to better feed into the thinking of the authority. The other groups would still be able to meet informally.
At the end of the debate the proposals were put to the vote and agreed with the following result:
1. To approve the revised streamlined Council’s committee structure to take immediate effect.
2. To note the review of the Council’s scrutiny function carried out by the Centre for Public Scrutiny and agree proposed Scrutiny Panels
3. To agree an additional Associate Cabinet Members focusing on children and young people in the borough.
4. To instruct the Monitoring Officer to make any necessary amendments to the Constitution as a result of these decisions.