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Key points for Monday 20th October

We would like to raise the following points at the Governance Commission meeting on Monday 20th October:-

1. DESIGN PRINCIPLES (Section 1):
‘Engagement’ appears as an afterthought, a poor relation of Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness. We suggest that ‘Empowerment’, ‘Transparency’, and ‘Accountability’ should be added, to achieve the right balance between ‘Best Value’ principles and ‘Democratic Process’ principles. The one-word principles also need to be briefly elucidated; they are not self-explanatory.

2. ROLE OF FULL COUNCIL (section 3):
The proposal that Full Council should have no power to overturn resolved decisions of committees appears to us to be incompatible with the defining feature of a committee system as correctly stated in section 2 – that decision-making flows from the full council meeting. We suggest that the power of ‘decision review’ proposed for the Policy & Resources Committee in section 19 should instead be exercised by Full Council. This would in effect give Full Council a limited but significant scrutiny role, as a power of call-in.

3. ROLE OF POLICY & RESOURCES COMMITTEE (section 4):
It is suggested in the paper that the other two Service Committees should, on some matters, make recommendations to the Policy Committee, but not vice versa. There is a danger that the Policy Committee could become an over-dominant committee (a new version of the Executive, even if all-party). The proposed powers for decision reviews by the Policy Committee (section 19 – see our point 2 above) add to this concern. We suggest that the roles of all three service committees should be on a par.

4. URGENCY PROVISIONS (section 15):
We are unhappy with Criterion d, that decisions can be classified as urgent if there is a risk of the council suffering financial loss. The danger is that this would enable many potentially controversial decisions to be classified as ‘urgent’ and to by-pass proper discussion.

5. COMMITTEE SIZE (section 16 and Appendix B):
Limiting the size of the three Service Committees to 9 councillors for each of them means that some councillors will not be on any of these three main committees. This seems odd, and contrary to the principle of Engagement. We suggest that each of these committees should have 13 members, and that each councillor should be on one Service Committee and one other committee (plus sub-committees for some of them).

6. CHAIRS AND VICE-CHAIRS OF COMMITTEES:
There is nothing in the paper about the election of Chairs and Vice-Chairs for committees – something which we identified as important in our submission. We should like to see a recommendation that each committee elect its own Chair, by secret ballot, and also elect a Vice-Chair from a different party group.

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  1. it’s arguable that "economy" and "efficiency" could be removed from the design principles, since (a) effectiveness is derived from these, and (2) there is no clear means of assessing either term in the context of committees – economy relating to procurement of something at the least cost, and efficiency relating to using the least amount of something to achieve an outcome. Even effectiveness (essentially, productivity / total cost) is hard to reconcile with designing a democratic committee system, since (for example) what is effective democratically may not be effective in speed of decision making – which is one of Cllr. Gilbey’s main points, I think. Equally, what is effective may not be efficient in terms of resource usage (officer time, for example). overall these hardly seem like design principles, but are rather indicators of whether a system is functioning well. In my view, such indicators don’t need to be principles of the design, but rather means of assessing the workability and affordability of any system. To adopt the first three proposed items as "principles" is to put the cart well and truly ahead of the horse, in my opinion.