The Head of Legal Services presented a report to consider a review of the Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules which formed part of the Councils Constitution and Call-In Guidance for Councillors, contained within the Members Handbook.
The Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules had not been reviewed since 2002 and it was considered timely to undertake a review. The concept of overview and scrutiny was originally introduced to local authorities by the Local Government Act 2000 and consolidated in Schedule 2 of the Localism Act 2011. The legislation allowed every Council to establish a mechanism for Executive decisions made, but not yet implemented, to be 'called-in for consideration by Scrutiny. This included decisions taken by the Executive (collective or individual) or key decisions delegated to Chief Officers.
All Call-In by its nature acted as a delaying mechanism and should be used only in exceptional circumstances for decisions believed to be contrary to the Authoritys decision making principles. A Call-In should be constructive, and not merely there either always to oppose the Executive, or to rubber-stamp the Executives decisions.
In order to ensure that the process was fair and robust it was vital that Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Board and the decision maker(s) had enough information prior to any Call-In meeting to: enable them to form the basis of a debate; pose appropriate questions; to provide an explanation of the decision; have adequate information in relation to the concerns, procedural issues or alternative proposals to enable them to consider and determine their recommendations.
Middlesbrough Councils Call-In process was set out in the Overview and Scrutiny Rules contained within the Constitution. However, following on from recent Call-Ins it had become evident that more detailed direction, clarity and guidance was needed within the Constitution and the Members' Handbook to inform Members on the use of Call-Ins; to clarify the role of Members and Officers; to modify the criteria for assessing the validity of a Call-In; and to update the Call-In procedures at the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
It was recommended that a separate Call-In protocol was established. A copy of the revised protocol for inclusion in the Constitution was attached at Appendix 1 to the submitted report for consideration.
Following consultation with the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Board, the Committee was asked to consider the changes to the Constitution and agree the revised protocol which would be submitted to the Council for ratification. Further detailed guidance on Call-In would also be included within the Members' Handbook. A copy was attached at Appendix 2 to the submitted report.
The Head of Legal and Democratic Services highlighted that in order for a Call-In to be valid, Members must:
Use the prescribed Call-In Form (attached at Appendix A to the submitted report), which must be completed and returned to Democratic Services by 4 pm on the fifth working day following publication of the decision.
Explain why they believed the decision was contrary to the principles of good decision making.
Describe any perceived defects in the decision-making process.
Describe any adverse effects which were likely to arise from the decision being implemented.
Provide any evidence to support their reasoning.
Identify an alternative course of action or recommendation that they wished to propose.
It was noted that currently, if, following an objection to a decision, the Overview and Scrutiny Board did not meet within 17 working days of the decision, or did meet but did not refer the matter back to the decision making person or body, the decision would take effect on the date of the Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting, or the expiry of that 17 working day period, whichever was earlier.
Following discussion, it was agreed that the Call-In protocol was amended to include that: if the Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting was adjourned, then the decision would be held in abeyance until the Board had reached a decision.
Members also discussed the protocol with regard to urgent decisions. Under the Constitutions current Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules, urgent decisions could be agreed by the Chair of Overview and Scrutiny Board (or the Chair or Vice Chair of Council in their absence), where any delay likely to be caused by the Call-In process would seriously prejudice the interests of Council or the public. It was highlighted that this did not prevent any Member who had an interest in the decision from having an input, such as discussing it with the relevant Executive Member or Mayor. Urgent decisions were reported to Council on a quarterly basis.
An issue was raised in relation to the draft Scrutiny Call-In Request Form which included a section for the signatories to the Call-In to indicate whether or not they wished to speak at Committee. It was agreed that since it would be the Proposer who would speak at Committee, anyone else who wished to speak should complete the section of the Form which related to witnesses. It was therefore agreed that this section should be removed from the Form.
Members queries in relation to Declarations of Interest and tabling of evidence at Call-Ins were addressed by the Head of Legal and Democratic Services.
RECOMMENDED that the following were presented to Council for approval:
1. The new separate protocol for Call-Ins within the Constitution, as amended at the meeting.
2. Scrutiny Call-In Request Form, as amended at the meeting.
3. Revised procedure to be followed at Call-In meetings of the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
4. Revised Call-In Guidance for inclusion within the Members Handbook.