Over the past year Broadland has experienced some subtle changes in our Councillor’s responsibilities. We are used to having “double hatters” whereby a Councillor holds a district and a county seat, however since the County Council has become a Coalition, some of our District Councillors have stepped up to take on more cabinet based roles. The impact of this has been a change in their time management and we are now beginning to flex where we can to enable them more time to attend all the meetings they need to.
Keeping this in mind I’ve tried to adapt the way Broadland conducts overview and scrutiny meetings. At the moment the Committee meet twice a month – once to discuss and progress activity outlined on their own work programme and secondly to meet a week before Cabinet meetings to discuss their papers and provide advice on decisions. So far this approach has worked to keep call-ins to a minimum and has helped to advise the Cabinet and provided opportunity to question the Cabinet before any decision is made. We want to keep that approach – if it’s not broken why change it!
However the approach to delivering their work programme could be adapted. Those agendas include both monitoring items and review items. The monitoring items follow either a quarterly or six monthly cycle. It’s not always easy to keep department monitoring items to one agenda and instead they spread across each month. This puts pressure on senior managers to attend every committee meeting.
It could be simpler and more effective to lengthen the scrutiny meeting (5 hours instead of 2 with a lunch break) and instead take all monitoring items in one meeting every quarter. I also noticed a natural trend where Councillors would attend scrutiny meetings more every three months and then peter off between. So why not add all this together to make sure both Officers and Councillors get more for their time. All the review items could be delegated to Time and Task Limited Panels where the Committee work in smaller groups and could meet more frequently to conclude the review – outcome reports and recommendations reported to Committee for approval at a ‘Review of Cabinet Papers’ meeting. There would be no more than two Panel’s running at the same time to enable Officer resources, and the most reviews on a work programme over a year does not usually exceed four subjects.
I am proposing that the committee pilot this alternative approach for the life of their next work programme; if it works then keep it, if it does not work then return to the current practice (two meetings per month).
I would be really interested to hear what approaches other Council’s take to holding Committee meetings. Does that approach work or where would you adapt it if you could? Does my approach sound realistic or will it fail after the first meeting?