Sunday 14 February 2016

Proposals that might breathe a little more life into Brent Council meetings

Brent Full Council meetings have become a bit of a joke with a familar structure of leader grandstanding from both sides, ritual party political exchanges in a pale imitation of the House of Commons that get worse nearer election time, brown-nosing questions from Labour backbencher to Cabinet members, and motions that the public are not able to see in advance.  It is a long time since there has been a debate on a petition from the public.

Not to forget of course the regular attempts by John Warren's Conservative Group to wrest the front row seats from Suresh Kansagra's Conservative Group. After their failure they spend the rest of the Full Council meeting gleefully inserting knives between the shoulder blades of  nominal colleagues seated in front of them.

Changes suggested in an officer's report introduce measures that may improve things to some extent. It is noteworthy that a decision on whether to accept a deputation rests with the Chief Executive, advised by the Chief Legal Officer.
3.0  Detail
Questions from members of the public

.        3.1  It is proposed that a new Standing Order will be inserted which allows members of the public to ask questions of Cabinet members. The revised Standing Order which in the Appendix 1 appears as Standing Order 40 would allow for questions to be submitted in writing and circulated with the agenda for full Council. A written answer would be circulated by close of business the day before full Council. One supplementary question could be asked during the full Council meeting.

External speaker

.        3.3  Provision is included in Standing Orders for an external speaker to be invited to attend full Council and speak for up to 10 minutes on an issue of relevance to Brent and for there to be an ensuing debate for up to 45 minutes. This will not be a standing item on the agenda but will be added to the agenda with the agreement of all Group Leaders. The relevant Lead Member will be permitted to speak for 5 minutes and will submit a motion in accordance with the normal rules on motions. Speeches by other members will not exceed 2 minutes.
Non cabinet members’ debate

.        3.4  It is proposed that, following a recent trial of such a debate, at two Full Council meetings, that there should be a regular debate for a maximum of 21 minutes on a topic selected by backbench members. Up to six members can speak for up to three minutes and the Lead Member will be permitted to speak for up to three minutes and shall provide a written report, for information only, at the next Full Council meeting with what follow up action has been taken.

Petitions scheme

.        3.5  It is proposed that the existing petitions scheme is retained but in addition there is provision for ward members, or a chair of a scrutiny committee to make reference to the receipt of a petition to Full Council. In the event that a petition submitted via the Brent petition scheme attracts more than 200 signatures then Standing Orders will allow for a debate at full Council to be requested.


3.6. It is proposed that the timescales for motions will be amended so that motions must be submitted 5 days in advance and that amendments to motions must be submitted close of business the previous working day. This will allow members of the public to have available to them printed copies of the motions and amendments and to follow the debate more easily.


.        3.7  It is proposed that the Chief Executive should have a power to determine whether or not a deputation should be accepted, on advice from the Chief Legal Officer.

Leader’s report
.        3.8  It is proposed that the Leader should have the opportunity to present an Annual report to Full Council. The Leader will be permitted to speak for 5 minutes and there will follow a debate for 20 minutes. Opposition Group Leaders will be able to speak for 2 minutes each and all other members will be able to speak for 2 minutes each until the time runs out.

Questions to Cabinet Members

.        3.9  It is proposed that the existing Standing Order is amended so that the original question and answer are provided in written form at the meeting of Full Council and there is provision for a member to ask one oral supplementary question lasting up to 1 minute and for the Cabinet member to reply taking up to 2 minutes.

1 comment:

Philip Grant said...

I welcome the proposal (3.7) on Deputations. I suspect that this is the result of Carolyn Downs' experience, on her first day as Brent's Chief Executive, when she saw the Chief Legal Officer prevent me from presenting a Deputation to Full Council on 7 September 2015 which I should have been allowed to present - see:

I believe that Ms Downs was embarrassed by this episode, which she could do nothing to prevent, as Brent's Standing Orders currently give absolute power to the Chief Legal Officer to exercise her discretion over whether to allow a Deputation to be presented. Fiona Alderman had already determined that I would not be allowed to speak at the Full Council meeting, even though it had been explained to her that the reasons she had given for this were incorrect and unreasonable, and the Chief Executive had no authority to override her. The new proposal, where the Chief Legal Officer can advise, but not dictate, on the decision will be an improvement.


P.S. The purpose of the Deputation I was not allowed to give was to welcome Carolyn Downs as Brent's new Chief Executive and to encourage members of the Council to support her in improving Standards, which (I maintain) had been allowed to slip under her predecessor.