Governance Update - Development of Council Constitution
The Committee submitted the undernoted report:
“1.0 Relevant Background Information
1.1 Over the last few years the Council has been putting in place the frameworks and structures needed to make it a ‘fit for purpose’ local authority which can deliver the effective, value for money services that our citizens deserve. An important element of this has been the review of those key governance documents which underpin how the Council operates and makes its decisions.
1.2 As agreed previously by Members, work has been ongoing over recent months to develop a draft Council Constitution which would bring together into one document the key governance instruments which explain and govern how the Council operates; and to do so in a presentable and accessible way.
1.3 Members will note that the DoE issued a consultation document, on 30 November 2010, setting out local government reform policy proposals including the requirement for each council within Northern Ireland to prepare and publish a constitution. Whilst this legislative requirement does not currently exist, it is considered that the work underway will enable the Council to be more transparent and democratic, and will encourage and foster more efficient working practices.
1.4 The purpose of this report is to update Members on the current status of the Constitution and to set out a clear timetable scheduling when key strands of work will be submitted for the consideration of Committee.
2.0 Key Issues
2.1 Council Constitution - This is a key governance document which covers ‘Who we are’, ‘What we do’, ‘How we do it’ and ‘Our Values’. It will be a living document and, once in place it, along with its supporting documents will be reviewed, on a regular basis to ensure they remain up-to-date.
2.2 There is a number of supporting governance documents which will form an integral part of the Council’s Constitution, and which are currently under review to ensure they remain fit-for-purpose. These include:
1. Corporate Plan The Council’s key strategic planning document setting out the vision and strategic objectives of the Council. As Members are aware work is progressing on the development of the new Corporate Plan 2012?2015.
2. Standing Orders The rules which regulate the transaction of the business of the Council and its Committees and should be read in conjunction with the Council’s Financial Regulations and Scheme of Delegation.
3. Financial Regulations Provides the framework and processes for managing the council’s financial affairs. Currently being updated to take account of the requirements emerging from recent legislative changes including the ‘Local Government (Capital Finance and Accounting) Regulations (NI) 2011’ - need for capital financing and treasury management strategies and a medium term financial plan.
4. Scheme of Delegation Sets out the types of decisions, with a key focus on operational /routine matters, which designated officers can take on behalf of the Council.
The scheme is being reviewed to update it to take account of organisational change that has taken place over the last number of years. There are no proposals to extend delegated powers merely to rationalise them.
5. Conflicts of Interest Seeks to establish a register of
Policy Members interests and to provide clarity in respect to declarations of interests and provide advice on the declaration of private pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests at Council and Committee meetings. A separate, but related complementary paper will address the matter of Council representation on outside bodies and the role of Members on such bodies. Work is progressing on this.
6. Equality Scheme The Equality Commission published a revised Equality Guide for Public Authorities in April 2010. As part of this, the Council is required to submit a revised Equality Scheme and Action Plan.
7. Code of Governance Under the ‘Local Government (Accounts and Audit) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2006’ the Council is required to conduct a review each year of the effectiveness of its systems of internal control and prepare an annual governance statement.
8. External Relations Setting out how the Council
Strategy engages and works with key strategic partners to the betterment of the city. Work is progressing on this
2.3 Work is also ongoing on a number of other related strands of work including Members and officers codes of conduct and Member-officer relationship protocols.
2.4 Members will appreciate the complexity of each of these key governance instruments and the significant amount of work required to review and update these important documents. A proposed timetable for this is set out below for Members consideration.
3.0 Going forwards
3.1 In order to inform the development of this work, there will be continued engagement with Members through established mechanisms including the Party Leaders Forum, the Budget and Transformation Panel and, as required, Party Group briefing sessions.
4.0 Resource Implications
4.1 The updating of the relevant supporting governance documents will require resourcing from Departments. Lead officers from the relevant departments have been identified to update these. A central resource from the Chief Executive’s Department is co-ordinating this work and the overall collation and presentation of the Constitution.
5.1 Members are asked to note the content of this report and the proposed timetable when reports will be submitted to Committee for consideration.”
During discussion, the Members made the following points:
· consideration needed to be given as to whether or not the Equality Scheme and the External Relations Strategy should be included within the Constitution, as unlike the rest of the documents which had some legal basis, these were Council policies;
· there needed to be a review undertaken of the Equality Scheme and how it was implemented;
· the Conflicts of Interest Policy should be progressed, with a register established as a matter of urgency;
· consideration should be given to the establishment of a Scrutiny Committee; and
· a digital strategy for the Council needed to be developed in parallel with the Constitution.
The Assistant Chief Executive explained that the development of the Constitution would be Member-led and would include within it only those documents which the Members decided should be incorporated.
The Chief Executive pointed out that the Corporate Plan, the External Relations Strategy and Equality Scheme were central to the Constitution as they were cross?related to the content of the rest of the documents. For example, the Corporate Plan and Departmental Plans set out Council priorities that would be managed by Council Committees and officers under the Scheme of Delegation. With regard to the Equality Scheme, all Councils were required to undertake a five-year assessment of their Scheme. In addition, a revised Equality Guide for Public Authorities had been published in April, 2010 by the Equality Commission and, in light of that, the Council would be revising its Equality Scheme and Action Plan. In relation to external relations, he explained that currently there was no consistency in relation to the representation on deputations to meet with Ministers and how the Council was represented on Outside Bodies. These needed to be considered within the context of the External Relations Strategy and the Council’s overall governance arrangements.
The Democratic Services Manager stated that a report on the Conflicts of Interest Policy would be submitted to the Committee’s next meeting on 18th November and that the report would propose two possible dates, that is, January, 2012 or April, 2012 for the establishment of a register of Members’ interests.
After further discussion, the Committee noted the contents of the report, agreed that the issue of the establishment of a Scrutiny Committee be considered as part of the development of the Council constitution and agreed also that an All-Party Working Group, consisting of Members of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, where appropriate, be established to progress the matter and that, in the first instance, the Working Group consider the revision of Standing Orders and the development of associated protocols.
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