The Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enabling presented a report detailing recommendations that had been made at a meeting of the Constitution Review Working Group held on 28th February 2022.
Council was informed that the recommendations in the report focused on three distinct areas: the introduction of parental leave guidance for Councillors, the proposal to introduce additional delegated powers for officers to act in emergencies, including a cyber incident, and a proposal not to hold Council meetings during a pre-election period.
In relation to the introduction of parental leave guidance for Councillors, Members were advised that the guidance would enable the Council to provide support and guidance to Councillors on maternity, paternity and adoption leave. This subject had been reviewed by the Constitution Review Working Group, following receipt of a Motion on the subject submitted by Councillor S. Robinson in January 2022. The introduction of the Parental Leave Guidance at Bromsgrove District Council would match best practice arrangements in place at other local authorities in the country. However, Members were asked to note that, despite the introduction of the guidance, there would remain a legal requirement for Councillors to attend at least one meeting every six months.
On the subject of the proposed delegations to the Chief Executive, Members were informed that Officers already had some limited powers to act in an emergency. However, there was a risk that civil emergencies could occur at any point and the Council would need to be able to respond swiftly under these circumstances. Increasingly, the Council, like other modern organisations, was reliant on IT software and systems and it was important to ensure that the authority did everything possible to keep these systems safe and secure from attack. Unfortunately, a cyber security incident at Gloucester City Council in December 2021 had demonstrated that smaller district Councils could be subject to a cyber attack as well as the damage that this could cause. By granting additional officer delegations to the Chief Executive to act in the event of an emergency, including a cyber attack, Bromsgrove District Council would be ensuring that the authority was better prepared to act in the event of an emergency and to minimise disruption to the vital services the Council delivered.
In respect of the proposal not to hold Council meetings during a pre-election period, Council was advised that it was important to note that it was not appropriate to set Council policy during a pre-election period. At Bromsgrove, there were elections every four years, and it was suggested that whichever administration was in control should have set Council policy prior to the start of the pre-election period at the end of those four years. Whilst a Council meeting had been booked in the 2022/23 calendar of meetings to take place in the pre-election period, if this recommendation was approved then officers would review the potential to reschedule the meeting prior to the start of the pre-election period. Members were also asked to note that the recommendation as printed, would provide an option to hold a Council meeting in a pre-election period should the Proper Officer conclude that a meeting was needed at that time.
Following the presentation of the report, Members discussed the proposals that had been made by the Constitution Review Working Group in detail. In doing so, Members welcomed the introduction of Parental Leave Guidance for Councillors. They noted that the guidance would help to provide clarity about the rules that would apply in the event that Councillors went on maternity, paternity or adoption leave.
However, concerns were raised about the proposal to not hold Council meetings during a pre-election period. Members commented that every Council meeting provided an opportunity for Councillors to express their different political views. Concerns were raised about the extent to which it would be appropriate for the Proper Officer to be involved in determining whether a Council meeting should be held during a pre-election period, although it was noted that meetings would only take place in these circumstances where urgent business needed to be considered. Members also raised concerns that there might be a risk that this arrangement could be extended to a decision not to hold Council meetings during the pre-election period for elections at Worcestershire County Council or at Parish Councils. Members commented that, should this occur, the frequency of Council meetings would reduce significantly.
Questions were also raised about the proposal to introduce further delegated authority for the Chief Executive to act in the event of an emergency. Members commented that this delegated authority would potentially help the Council to manage the impact of an emergency effectively. However, Members noted that these powers should only be used in exceptional circumstances where an emergency occurred and if this was the case, the report to Council should not just be to the next meeting of full Council but to an extraordinary meeting of Council that would need to take place as soon as possible.
At the end of the debate, separate votes were taken in respect of each of the recommendations in turn. In accordance with Procedure Rule 18.3 a recorded vote was taken on the third recommendation, in respect of holding Council meetings during a pre-election period, and the voting was as follows:
Members voting FOR the recommendation:
Councillors A. Beaumont, R. Deeming, G. Denaro, M. Glass, S. Hession, R. Hunter, H. Jones, J. King, A. Kriss, K. May, M. Middleton, C. Spencer, P. Thomas, M. Thompson, J. Till, K. Van Der Plank, S. Webb and P. Whittaker (18).
Members voting AGAINST the recommendation:
Councillors S. Baxter, S. Colella, S. Douglas, A. English, C. Hotham, L. Mallett, P. McDonald and H. Rone-Clarke (8).
Members ABSTAINING in the vote:
No Councillors (0).
The vote was therefore carried.
1) The Council should introduce Parental Leave Guidance for Councillors;
2) The Chief Executive should be granted delegated authority to act in the event of an emergency, including a cyber security attack on the Council; and
3) as a general rule there should be no full Council meetings in the pre-election period before a District Council election, unless the Proper Officer determines that a meeting is required.