Governance review at Mid Devon
Following a council resolution to review the current governance arrangements in place at Mid Devon District Council, a working group of members has been created to undertake this work and recommend any changes or improvements that could be made back to council in due course.
A workshop was held 13 March, 2020, which was facilitated by the Local Government Association (LGA). This session agreed the terms of reference for the work, making it clear that this was about identifying ways in which debate and discussion could achieve balanced and effective decision making, not about whether any form of governance was inherently ‘better’ than another.
Acting chair of the working group, Cllr Andrew Moore, said:
“Today’s discussion was very encouraging. I got the sense that there was a genuine willingness from all members attending to work collaboratively as we go through this process over the coming months. I know that many of us are looking forward to understanding what other options are available and visiting other councils to see how these work in practice, in order to learn how our own governance might be improved for the benefit of our residents.”
The working group is aiming to use a future meeting to explore how external partners and stakeholders can be given an opportunity to contribute to this review.
The Council's existing Governance structure consists of a 'Cabinet' system (formerly known as the 'Executive'), where each Cabinet Member holds a separate portfolio, to include: Environment; Community Well-being; Finance; Housing and Property Services; Planning and Economic Regeneration; Working Environment and Support Services, and; more recently, Climate Change. Decisions concerning Council policies, plans, and strategies are taken by the Cabinet as a whole, which are reported to the overall 'full' Council. The Cabinet and the decisions it takes is scrutinised and held to account by the Scrutiny Committee.
In December 2019, the Cabinet agreed that full Council would be able to vote to establish a politically balanced Governance Working Group comprising of 12 members. The aim of the group was to carry out a comprehensive review of Council governance arrangements in order to identify the different options available, to bring together best practice and develop a model tailored to the needs and aspirations of Mid Devon’s residents and stakeholders. The vote was carried at full Council on 8 January 2020.
Options which the Governance Working Group could consider to enhance the current arrangements are:
- The Cabinet may, at its discretion, “self-refer” to Full Council for a view before making a decision on controversial or locally significant matters - unless the decision is particularly urgent and cannot wait for the next scheduled meeting and an extraordinary meeting would be impractical. That would enable the Cabinet to sound out what all members think on a matter before taking the final decision. Of course, the Cabinet may decide not to go with the views of Full Council, but it will at least have a more detailed understanding of fellow members’ views – and such views can be expressed in the public domain at a formal meeting, rather than through informal consultation.
- Reports to Cabinet should include a section setting out whether the decision is within the Policy Framework and the Budget. This would assist members in understanding whether the decision is purely a Cabinet decision or one which could (or at times, must) be taken by Full Council.
- Special urgency – decisions to be published “in any event on the next working day” although the Constitution accords with statute by requiring “as soon as reasonably practicable”.
- Special urgency decisions referred to next Full Council, rather than quarterly. This would include decisions taken after the publication of the agenda but before the meeting. At times, it may require a verbal rather than a written report to meet this timescale.
Any recommendations will be made before the end of 2020 with a view of making any changes in the year 2021/22.