This report asks Economic Committee to note its terms of reference as given by Full Council to make any suggestions to Constitution Working Party for clarifying these terms of reference and to make delegations to Officers under matters reserved.
The Interim Monitoring Officer provided members with an overview of his report advising the Committee that they were being asked to make any suggestions to the Constitution Working Party in relation to any changes they wanted to be considered and to agree its reserved matters.
In turning to the debate members raised a number of points of which these were centred around Appendix 2, Reserved Matters, point 3 – Leasing etc, some comments made were that some members would like to review all leases with a view to look into new ways for the Council to make money.
Clarity was sought regarding regeneration and the General Fund as it had been interpreted by some members that these topics would be dealt with by Full Council only. It was confirmed that the latest version of the constitution that was available on the Council’s website had been agreed by Full Council at its part two meeting on 24 March 2021, further to that as the constitution was a living document, changes had also been made since the Annual Meeting of the Council on 19 May 2021. The Interim Monitoring Officer confirmed that Full Council had delegated its regeneration matters to the Economic Committee, however, he also stated that the Economic Committee could make recommendations to Full Council should the Committee feel that the regeneration is of such major regeneration for consultation purposes.
Returning back to Appendix 2, Reserved Matters, point 2 – Acquisitions and disposal, one member sought clarity regarding the figure of £250,001, he asked for confirmation that anything that came under this threshold would not come to Committee should the terms of reference be agreed, he then stated that he thought the Bognor and Littlehampton Regeneration Sub-Committees should be reformed as he felt that having these would reduce the workload of the Economic Committee and allow for agenda’s to be slimmed down, finally he asked for members question time to be considered to be the added to the Committee’s agenda. It was confirmed that the members interpretation of the reserved matters was correct, only acquisitions and disposals over £250,000 would be brought to Committee. It was also confirmed that there was already a proposal going to the Constitution Working Party meeting to be held on 28 June 2021 regarding Member Questions being added to Committee agenda’s and should this Committee wish to align itself with that proposal then it could. It was further explained by the Director of Place that the figure of £250,000 was an average house price within the district and therefore a relatively low amount. He also advised that there were approximately 150 leases and licenses, that were spread out over a number of years and given that the Committee had a limited number of meetings he would advise members to focus on the importance of their role which was to look at the strategic matters. The Chair suggested to the Committee that it did align itself with the proposal being sent to the Constitution Working Party, whilst reminding members that submitting questions in advance of the meeting in order to allow for full answers to be given at the meeting.
The Committee then agreed to allow non-members of the Committee to ask any questions they had a summary of the comments made are below;
§ Regarding Appendix 2, point 2 – Acquisitions and disposals it was commented that an upper limited should be considered to trigger a Full Council decision opposed to the Committee.
§ Further comments made regarding Full Councils delegation for regeneration matters to be made by the Economic Committee were made, including a suggestion that Full Council should ratify all decisions made by the Committee in relation to regeneration.
§ Further comments in relation to Bognor and Littlehampton regeneration Sub-Committees in support of reforming these were made
The Leader of the Council stated that he was concerned at the comments made by a number of members who were questioning the changes to the Constitution, given that these had been voted on a number of times after having clear explanations given at previous meetings. He asked the Interim Monitoring Officer what additional training could be provided to members on the Constitution that they had already approved. It was confirmed that several training sessions had been held in March 2021, of which, most Councillors had attended. However, Officers could look to deliver further training.
Members then had a discussion on the decisions that would fall to Officers should the terms of reference be approved as presented; it was clear that members were not supportive of this. The Interim Monitoring Officer advised members that Officers would be taking decisions on the operational tasks. He also stated that once an officer decision had been taken, members could not retake that decision. Officers did of course have the option to refer decisions on to the Committee should they feel it appropriate to do so. In response to the answer provided a member of the Committee reminded members of the Referral and Recovery process within the new Constitution, urging members to refer to this as it provided options for members to review any decisions that are made.
Councillor Stanley then proposed the following amendment to be made to Appendix 2, Reserved Matters, point 2 that;
the acquisitions and disposals figure be reduced to £200,000 and a quarterly report on any Officer decisions that had been made is reported to members outside of committee meetings on a quarterly basis.
This was seconded by Councillor Seex, turning to the debate clarification was sought from the Vice-Chair that this amendment would be being made to the Constitution Working Party for their consideration. This amendment was then put to the vote and was passed.
Councillor Seex then proposed a further amendment to be made to Appendix 2, Reserved Matters, point 3 that;
the lease or
licence land or building or any interest in land or buildings which
are or will be under the control of the Council
where the rent
exceeds £100,000 per annum (exclusive of rates) and the
term of letting, leasing or licensing exceeds 25 years
Councillor Bennett stated that he would only be happy to second this amendment should the following be inserted a quarterly report be provided for upcoming leases and licences to allow for members to select which they wished to review at Committee.
The Director of Place, the Leader of the Council and the Group Head of Technical services all provided further advice to members of the Committee which explained to members that removing thresholds for this item could potentially cause problems for the Committee in terms of taking up a lot of their time, that could be better spent elsewhere, as well as the need for the Council to demonstrate fairness in its review of any leases or license which this amendment would not do, a final point was made that this amendment could also potentially limit the Councils ability to operate within the property market. Based on the advice given Councillor Seex then changed her amendment to;
the lease or
licence land or building or any interest in land or buildings which
are or will be under the control of the Council where the rent
£100,000 £50,000 per annum
(exclusive of rates) and the term of letting, leasing or licensing
exceeds 25 years
The Chair then moved back to Councillor Bennett to check he was happy to second the proposal that had been put forward, to which he explained that he was not happy to do so unless the wording he put forward was to be included at which point the Leader of the Council then agreed to second the proposal as put forward and amended by Councillor Seex. This was then put to the vote and subsequently approved.
The Chair then returned to the substantive recommendations which were duly proposed and seconded;
RECOMMEND TO THE CONSTITUTION WORKING PARTY
1) that a reduction in the financial amounts in Appendix 2, point 2 be reduced to £200,000 with a quarterly report containing Officer decisions be provided to the Committee outside of Committee meetings for their review, and;
2) that a reduction in the financial amounts in Appendix 2, point 3 be reduced to £50,000
3) the matters reserved scheme whereby matters not reserved by committee to itself are delegated to Officers by default as set out in Appendix 2(attached)