Update to the Constitution
Report of the Cabinet Member Corporate Services
The Cabinet Member Corporate Services reported that the Constitution Working Group had met on the 27th January to discuss proposals for constitutional amendments. He suggested that since the proposed amendments cover a wide variety of issues, they should be approached one by one.
a) A change to Article 7, paragraph 7.2 of the Constitution to read “The Cabinet shall consist of the Leader of the Council together with at least two, but not more than nine Councillors”, allowing the introduction of two new portfolios for the climate emergency and the economic development in West Cheltenham.
The Conservative group leader added that the opposition agreed with this recommendation. The Leader of the Council explained that although the Cabinet role is assumed at two days a week, it is unfair to assume that this is automatically what is available. He added that GCC has increased its Cabinet size in the last few years, and this change brings CBC into line with similar councils and accounts for the Cabinet’s increased workload.
b) A reduction in the size of Planning Committee from 15 members to 11.
This would require Council approval at Annual and Selection Council on 18 May 2020 and, once approved, would have immediate effect.
The Cabinet Member Corporate Services suggested that this reduction would also bring CBC into line with other councils around the country. The Chair of the Licensing Committee added that Licensing has 10 members and meets 4 times a year, while there are 5 members on the sub-committee which meets 8 times a year, and 3 on the alcohol sub-committee. He suggested that reducing Planning to 11 therefore seems sensible. He also noted that the Chair’s casting vote is no less important as it is still an odd number, and planning applications can still be appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. One member suggested that if Planning is too big, this might mean that the council itself is too big too.
c) The introduction of the electronic voting system as an alternative to the show of hands currently required
One Member asked whether every vote could be a recorded vote. The Cabinet Member Corporate Services responded that the names of all councillors will appear on the main screen with their choice next to them. One member asked whether votes would be definitely recorded accurately, considering the possibility of user error. The Cabinet Member Corporate Services responded that members would likely know when they had pressed the wrong button and would be able to raise a point of order to have that noted. Members stressed that confidence in the system was key.
One Member asked about secret votes, while another asked how members can be sure that their vote had been recorded correctly. The Head of Law clarified these questions. A test vote and a secret vote were demonstrated for the benefit of members. One member noted that he could not remember the last example of a secret vote. He stressed that votes have to be open and accountable whenever possible.
The Cabinet Member Corporate Services responded that secret voting can be essential in some very specific circumstances. One Member added that he is averse to secret ballots for transparency reasons, though there can be good reasons to enter private sessions. He noted that during the test votes, a councillor sat next to him had been able to vote on his behalf. One Member added that under the present Code of Conduct, when a member is on an outside body or trust, they must leave the chamber so that they cannot influence votes.
The Head of Law clarified the difference between standard votes and recorded votes. Votes on exempt items are not secret votes – they are normal votes, just in exempt session. She explained that in order to move to all votes being recorded, a separate constitutional amendment would need to be approved by Council.
One Member asked whether, given the caveats expressed by members, it would be wise to simply retain the show of hands. The Cabinet Member Corporate Services clarified that the electronic system is being added to the constitution alongside a show of hands, rather than replacing it, so both options will be possible.
One Member asked that the
system take into account members not being present. The Head of Law
agreed that this would be better prepared at future meetings.
Member added that he was familiar with electronic voting at his previous council, and a key advantage was that it saved on having to do a roll call of all 40 members. He acknowledged the risk of human error, but noted that this is possible in any situation. One Member asked what would happen if a councillor with limited vision needed to vote. The Cabinet Member Corporate Services responded that the council needs to be as adaptable and inclusive as possible, and a solution would be found on a case-by-case basis.
The Mayor reiterated that the proposed change is simply to add the possibility of electronic voting to the constitution, not to do away with manual voting entirely.
d) Moving the start time of Council meetings from 2:30pm to 6:00pm in the Council Diary for 2020/21.
One Member stressed that the answer to this depends more on when meetings finish than when they start. If a meeting goes on past 10pm or 11pm, members run the risk of losing focus. He advocated leaving the start time as it is, at 2:30pm.
e) Delegating to the Borough Solicitor authority to make any textual or other amendments which are necessary to ensure accuracy, consistency and legality of the Constitution when incorporating the revisions authorised by Council.
1. A change to Article 7, paragraph 7.2 of the Constitution to read “The Cabinet shall consist of the Leader of the Council together with at least two, but not more than nine Councillors” be approved.
2. The financial implications that will arise from Recommendation 1 be approved.
3. It be noted that the proposed change in size of Planning Committee will require Council approval at Annual and Selection Council on 18 May 2020 and once approved would have immediate effect.
4. The use of the electronic voting system as an alternative to a show of hands currently required be approved.
5. Authority be delegated to the Borough Solicitor authority to make any textual or other amendments which are necessary to ensure accuracy, consistency and legality of the Constitution when incorporating the revisions authorised by Council.