I do find it bizarre that the Constitutional Group consists of the Leader, his deputy, and another member of the ruling Executive plus one Lib Dem Member; but when one adds the Standards Committee debacle to the workings (or not) of the Constitution, in my opinion this does not show Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) in much of a good light but again because of its majority, it’s the committee construction’s responsibility of the ruling party.
My question to the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, who are responsible for co-ordinating the Council's arrangements for holding the Executive to account; do they consider that the current membership of the CRWG will be seen by the Committee and by default our residents as more judge and jury rather than being democratic and so should be at least be reviewed soonest?
You imply in your question that CRWG is not democratic. I do not agree. Let me explain why.
There are no legal regulations around the process for reviewing and updating the Constitution - it is up to each local authority to decide its local arrangements.The Constitution Review Working Group (CRWG) was set up by Council on 27 October 2005. Council agreed that its purpose was “to review the whole of the Constitution in order to provide further consistency and clarification.”
The terms of reference of CRWG set out more broadly its purpose stating that it will undertake this role by:
a) Reviewing areas in the Constitution to ensure that they are fit for purpose and put forward appropriate changes;
b) Receiving requests to review certain areas of the Constitution;
c) Considering changes proposed by Members, Officers and Committees;
d) Recommending proposed changes to Council for approval.
Council agreed that the membership of CRWG should be four members and should be politically balanced. Members are appointed to CRWG at the Annual Council Meeting and I do not recall, Councillor Cowan, that you raised the issue about membership at that point. Maybe you did. My memory is not that strong on that sort of thing. I assume that you agreed it at the time, as the rest of us probably did.
The Overview and Scrutiny Committees are, indeed, tasked with holding the Executive to account. Since neither the Leader nor his deputy, nor any member of the Executive are on any of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees, they are well able to hold them to account.
In addition, CRWG is not about political point scoring, but is about process and procedure. Therefore, there is nothing to judge or to be a jury for. It is important to reiterate that CRWG is not, in any case, a decision making body. Any changes to the Constitution are decided by full Council. If Council wishes to change its current local arrangements, that would be a decision for the whole Council.
When I look at Overview and Scrutiny within an Executive model, from a Scrutiny perspective, I find it quite interesting. Under the Executive model, the Executive works under a corporate model. That model takes advice under a Group process and goes through a three line whip, as is the norm.
When you have a CRWG consisting of the Leader, the Deputy Leader and another member of the Executive as three of the four members and you go into the Standards Committee and see a similar arrangement, would you agree with me that the CRWG and the Standards model are not the best examples of democracy as we see it? Would you also agree that the current models for CRWG and Standards make Overview and Scrutiny monitoring difficult to carry out in their present form?
No, I do not find any difficulty in that. As the Chairman of this Overview and Scrutiny Committee I find no barriers at all to scrutinising anybody or any part of the organisation.
You mentioned the Standards Committee in the same breath. It is, perhaps, slightly different, but the thing that is common between them is that every one of us agreed (in two meetings) that the membership was acceptable. So, if there is any blame, every one of us is culpable. You will also remember that the Leader and an Executive Member stood down immediately from the Standards Committee. CRWG recommendations go to full Council for discussion.
So, I take your point but, I’m afraid, I cannot agree with it.