[Deborah Breedon, Scrutiny Officer, to present report on future arrangements for dealing with petitions.]
Colin Parr, Head of Governance outlined the report highlighting the need for Scrutiny Board to consider the following:
· The proposed protocol for petitions to Scrutiny Panels (appendix to the report).
· The agenda template could include petition items as the first item at panel meetings.
· The Chairs of scrutiny panels to have discretion over the arrangements when a petition is heard, according to the topic of the petition and numbers of public attending the meeting.
· There is potential for ombudsman complaints should process not be applied equally and transparently.
Cllr Peter O’Neill suggested that a desk top exercise be undertaken to identify the numbers and type of petition received in recent years and the potential impact on work programmes for the scrutiny panels.
The Head of Governance clarified that the new arrangements allowed for the majority of petitions with less than 50 signatories to be dealt with by officers and that he would allocate cross cutting petition topics to the panel with the most relevant remit. He advised that performance indicators relating to dealing with petitions would reported to Scrutiny Board on a regular basis and confirmed that there would be a review of the petitions process at the end of the first year.
In response to questions the Head of Governance confirmed that training would be available to councillors to familiarise themselves with the process and protocols for petitions at scrutiny panel meetings, which would also consider councillors declarations of interest.
In relation to the discretion of Chairs at Scrutiny Panel meetings councillors debated the benefits of having the formal protocol to follow or whether to include in the protocol that the Chairs, at the meeting, should have discretion to vary the proceedings. Cllr Julie Hodgkiss suggested that a cautious approach should be adopted to ensure that each petition follows the same process. The Head of Governance referred to the benefits of having a laminated protocol document to place on the table at meetings for public and petitioners to follow.
In response to points raised by Cllr Ian Angus and Cllr Paula Brookfield relating to scrutiny items being pushed back in the agenda the Head of Governance suggested that there should be a maximum of two petitions to any scrutiny agenda and that the manner in which any outstanding petitions are dealt with be agreed with the Chair of the scrutiny panel, whether by an additional meeting or any other mechanism.
The panel considered whether it was appropriate to restrict the number of questions, the need to ask all three questions together and the timelines to ask questions.
The panel considered establishing a sub group
of each Scrutiny Panel with terms of reference to hear petitions
and it was suggested that each sub group should consist of three
members. The Head of Governance added that this could be a
mechanism to hear petitions should it be time sensitive and the
next scrutiny panel would be outside the timelines as an
alternative to calling an additional panel.
In relation to e-petitions the scrutiny councillors highlighted the risk of rising numbers of petitions and the impact on the scrutiny panel work programmes. The Head of Governance confirmed that this was not currently an issue and that the numbers of petitions would be monitored and regularly reported to Scrutiny Board.
1. That the schedule of petitions and revised arrangements be noted.
2. That the scheme be agreed and piloted for the first few petitions of the municipal year.
3. That further work is carried out and reported back to a meeting of Scrutiny Board on 1 November 2016 taking into account the following comments made at the meeting:
i. Desk top research to be carried out of the numbers of petitions received and numbers of signatories for the previous year.
ii. To give further consideration of the terms of reference of sub groups of Scrutiny Panels.
iii. The following be included in the protocol:
· All three questions being raised at the same time.
· The inclusion of a Chair’s discretion paragraph.
· Merging the question and response sections of the protocol to create an open discussion of the issues.
· Make appropriate arrangements for keepers to be available in case of disruption at the meeting.