Agenda and draft minutes

Constitution Working Group - Tuesday, 31st October, 2017 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL. View directions

Contact: Wendy Le, Democratic Services Officer  Email:

No. Item


Appointment of Chair


The Democratic Services Officer welcomed everyone to the meeting and outlined the process for the nomination and election of Chair.


Councillor Kerin nominated Councillor Redsell as Chair, this was seconded by Councillor Snell. Members agreed to Councillor Redsell as Chair.


Appointment of Vice-Chair


The Chair asked for nominations for the Vice-Chair position.


Councillor Kerin nominated Councillor Snell, which was seconded by The Chair. Members agreed to Councillor Snell as Vice-Chair.


Apologies for Absence


Councillor Ojetola and Councillor Fish.


Items of Urgent Business


There were no items of urgent business.


Declarations of Interest


There were no declarations of interest.


Terms of Reference pdf icon PDF 51 KB


The Deputy Monitoring Officer (DMO), Matthew Boulter, gave a brief outline of the role of the Constitution Working Group which aimed to improve public participation in council meetings.



Outline of What the Council Currently Provides in Terms of Public Participation


The DMO referred to the flowchart handout which outlined the democratic process on how members of the public could currently participate. The process for petitions and call-ins was currently working well. Changes were suggested for the following processes:


  • To accept the first public question and any repetitions after to be rejected and the residents to be encouraged to be liaised with on the first successfully accepted question.
  • To reduce the timeframe of repeat questions from 12 months to 6 months at Full Council and Overview & Scrutiny Committee meetings.
  • To include a new rule on urgent public questions.
  • To add a new paragraph in the Constitution underlining the Mayor’s ability to allow a resident to speak at the Mayor’s discretion.
  • To direct public questions to the relevant Portfolio Holder instead of the Councillor chosen due to expertise in the subject area.
  • To reduce the timeframe to submit a question or statement at Overview & Scrutiny Committees from three working days to two.


The Committee discussed the frequency of repeat questions which was currently quite low. Over the past two years, there had been instances where members of the public had submitted repeat questions several times. Members were concerned that members of the public were not aware of the process of asking questions at council meetings. Councillor Kerin was not worried about the repeat questions but was concerned on the quality of the answer given which would explain why the question was repeated. There may also be a different supplementary question lined up. The Vice-Chair agreed and suggested reducing the timeframe for repeat questions down to three months instead as the number of repeat questions was low. Councillor Spillman felt that if the timeframe for repeat questions were to be reduced to three months, Members could be asking repeat questions more often. He suggested the three Group Leaders should discuss general conduct rules to prevent this from happening if it were to happen.


The Committee went on to discuss the recent signing in procedure for members of the public which was acknowledged as important for the purposes of fire safety. It could also be for the purposes of accountability as members of the public could be held responsible if they broke the rules. The Chair pointed out that the public did not always know the rules and they could be made aware of these rules by incorporating it into the Mayor’s speech at the start of a council meeting.


In regards to introducing a new rule on urgent questions, the DMO stated this would be at the Mayor’s discretion to consider. The Monitoring Officer (MO), David Lawson, said this would need a standardised test which would consider whether the question is urgent enough to be put forward in the Full Council meeting or if it could wait until the Full Council meeting the month after. Councillor Kerin supported the idea of urgent questions as he understood from the benchmarking data in the next agenda item, that some councils had a longer deadline for  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.


Are There Additional Ways The Council Can Improve Public Participation? pdf icon PDF 53 KB

Additional documents:


The Democratic Services Officer (DSO), Wendy Le, gave a brief summary of the benchmarking data which compared 15 Unitary Authority Councils regarding public participation. The data showed Thurrock Council had more information on how members of the public could get involved in council meetings through asking a question, petitions and call-ins. From the benchmarking, the following improvements were suggested for Members to agree on:


  • a leaflet (attached as appendix D) could be provided to improve understanding;
  • a form on submitting questions (attached as appendix E) could be provided to be attached to the leaflet as well as used online;
  • there could be a dedicated page to public participation on the website with instructional videos on how the public could get involved; and
  • the dates of upcoming Full Council meetings could be placed on the website with dates of question submission deadlines.


The Vice-Chair sought clarification on the local councils used in the benchmarked group to which the DSO replied that Southend-On-Sea and Essex Council had been included.


The Chair mentioned that new Councillors were not always aware of the processes and rules as it differed across councils. She asked if a guide book was still provided to new Councillors. The DMO replied that a new digital version would be updated and provided.


The Vice-Chair said the deadlines for submitting questions could be put on the website alongside upcoming meetings to help make deadlines clearer. He felt the website did not need to change that much as it was easy to navigate but sections needed to be readjusted. He wondered if the time limit for questions should be adjusted as it limited the amount of questions that could be asked and would result in questions not being answered.


The Committee discussed how the public could be made more aware of how they could get involved in council meetings. The Chair suggested putting posters in libraries and other public offices. They also discussed the time limit for public questions at Full Council meetings which Councillor Spillman felt there should not be a time limit as the meetings were held once a month. He preferred to remove the ‘suspending orders’ rule which considers terminating meetings after two and a half hours or to continue depending on the votes of Members. The MO said there was no law on suspending orders. The DMO followed up by saying that questions that were not answered within the time limit were given written answers instead.


Referring back to the Members’ earlier points, the DMO summed up with:

  • The DSO would work with the Communications Team in regards to the DSCC’s earlier comments about using social media to widen public participation.
  • A smaller copy on the draft public participation leaflet in appendix D could be provided to the public.


The Members agreed on the suggested improvements to be made as stated earlier in the agenda item.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 38 KB


The Committee discussed whether another meeting needed to be held or if the changes could be reported back through email. The Chair felt another meeting should be held as two Members were currently not present.