Constitution Review - Area Committees
The Committee is asked to consider the report on Constitution Review – Area Committees.
The Chairman opened the debate by asking the Deputy Leader what the role of area committees was? The Deputy Leader responded by saying that the coalition wanted to introduce area committees to assist with public engagement, make democracy more transparent, and facilitate a closer link to Councillors with the public. He suggested a working group could be set up to decide on the purposes of the committees, how they should be split and what their spending powers should be.
Councillor Benjamin A Martin welcomed the introduction of area committees and spoke enthusiastically on public engagement and having the tools and funds to deliver local projects. He proposed the setting up of a working group to discuss ideas and report back to the Policy Development Review Committee (PDRC). Councillor Mike Dendor seconded the proposal which Members agreed. Later in the meeting the Deputy Leader suggested that Councillor Benjamin A Martin should chair the working group and liaise with the Policy and Performance Officer in recruiting other Members, including co-opting Councillor Ingleton.
The Head of Policy, Communications and Customer Services confirmed that there was no restriction on the geographical size of an area committee.
Members raised points which included:
· Researching ways of encouraging public to attend meetings;
· should take care that parish councils and area committees were not duplicating, and the relationships between parish and town councils should be considered;
· would there be extra funding for parish councils?;
· impact on and cost of officer time;
· the public were often only interested if there was funding for schemes;
· previous LEFs did not always communicate back after questions raised;
· the use of social media to inform residents was a powerful tool;
· parish councils should be kept separate;
· guest speakers at LEFs encouraged the public to attend;
· needed to differentiate between engagement and local decision making;
· the public would welcome decisions made at local level;
· there should be more joined up working with neighbouring wards;
· Swale Borough Councillors should all be engaging with the public anyway;
· consider use of technology such as webcasting meetings to engage the public;
· there needed to be a consistent approach in all areas;
· the definition of area committees should be set;
· there should be more use of local knowledge;
· consider using parish councils to pass information onto residents;
· some smaller issues could be dealt with at local level helping to reduce workloads;
· area committees should report back to Council to consolidate shared agendas; and
· consider excluding partner organisations from attendance as this was not successful in the past.
In response to a question from a Member, the Policy and Performance Officer clarified that item 3.12 on page 12 of the report was just an example of how other organisations operated.
The Leader clarified that area committees should be viewed differently to the previous LEFs. He said that area committees must have decision-making powers from those from within that area and advised that there was no extra funding available. He suggested that as there could be no changes to contracts, only those functions that could be devolved should be looked at.
The Chairman suggested that the first item on the working party agenda should be confirmation of the areas and what powers there were, and this would shape the structure going forward.
A Member said that different areas had different needs and suggested the area committees be divided into four committees – Sittingbourne Urban, Sittingbourne Rural, Isle of Sheppey and Faversham. Another Member added that four committees would provide a better focus on the needs of areas.
(1) That a working group be established to look at Area Committees as outlined in this minute.