For Members to receive the Panel’s final report, consider its recommendations and proposals for their implementation.
Deputy Madam Mayor invited Dame Moira Gibb to make her presentation regarding the work of the Governance Review Panel. In inviting Dame Moira to speak, Madam Deputy Mayor thanked her for her outstanding work on the Governance Review Panel and presented her with a gift on behalf of Council.
Dame Moira provided Council with an introduction to the Governance Review Panel and its work. She noted that her role had been as an Independent Chair and that the panel had also had an Independent Member (Anne Smith). It was highlighted that the panel had found the Council’s governance arrangements fit for purpose encompassed by a robust written framework. Whilst abiding by the rules was straightforward, the spirit of the governance arrangements were harder to achieve against a challenging backdrop and within political realities. The review had found that Councillor knowledge was not put to best use and residents felt excluded from the decision-making process.
Overall the review had made 11 recommendations under four main themes. The review had focused on culture which had been found to be more important than structure. This was crucial for building a trusting relationship with residents and enabling all parts of the Council to work together to make more than the sum of its parts. Without the right culture it would be difficult to get other aspects right.
Additionally, all Members needed to be given the right support to be effective. The existing decision-making structure had been found to support ambitions and therefore it had been determined that a return to the committee system was not part of the answer. However, new advisory committees were recommended to help inform decisions and engage residents in the process.
Dame Moira reported how the panel had done a very good job in creating a coherent approach. However, putting this into effect would be more challenging. Dame Moira called on Council to support the work of the implementation group. Thanks was given to the supporting officers without whom Dame Moira stressed the review would not have been achieved and who would be crucial to the implementation phase.
Deputy Madam Mayor then called forward members of the Governance Review Panel to comment on its work, report, recommendations and implementation.
Councillor Collins described his pleasure in having supported the panel and its work. The Cabinet Member noted that he had served as a Croydon Councillor for 27 years and that the Governance Review Panel had been one of the very best examples of cross party participation he had experienced. Thanks was given to Councillors Perry, Redfern, Chatterjee and Roche for their contribution. The recommendations were described as open, transparent and engaging with Councillor Collins stating it was time for a 21st century approach characterised by vibrancy and the engagement of residents. Decision-making was best when all Councillors were allowed to be involved and were able to reflect on the views of their residents and wards. Councillor Collins envisaged a Council that shared positivity and was prepared to debate in public. The committee system was recalled; whilst this had facilitated discussion it was whipped and Councillor Collins recalled Members and officers had become parochial. The role of the new Advisory Committees would be to look at the bigger picture. This had been demonstrated by the positive work of Councillors Mills and Stranack on waste services. This had resulted in residents feeling listened to and was a good example of cross party working. This had been a good way to influence policy and lent itself to voluntary sector involvement. Councillor Collins concluded by describing the work of the Governance Review Panel and its recommendations as a progressive way forward. The motion to propose the recommendations was moved.
Councillor Tim Pollard thanked the panel and Dame Moira for their work. It was described how the Cabinet and Leader model of local government had streamed lined the decision-making process but to the detriment of transparency. This was a serious loss for service delivery and the service recipient. Councillors with a longer knowledge of council business would recall the committee system. It was questioned if the proposed Advisory Committees would allow the same opportunities and it was thought that this might be the case as long as they did not become a talking shop. It was noted that the new advisory committees would not have the same powers of a Select Committee and would not be able to require the Administration to attend or data to be provided. However, it was a good positive initiative and it would be seen how genuine the Administration was to change the culture. It was hoped that the fact the Leader was not proposing the recommendations did not mean a lessening of the commitment. Councillor Tim Pollard concluded by seconding the recommendations.
Councillor Prince spoke on behalf of backbench Councillors. It was noted that Councillors had a range of responsibilities. For example, to their wards, organisations within their wards, residents, the good of the Borough as a whole and that these may conflict. In order to do their best in their roles as Councillors, they needed the right information at the right time. However, it was noted that as a backbencher it could be hard to know what was coming up, who dealt with what and that if this was difficult as a member of the Administration it must be more difficult in Opposition. Councillor Prince welcomed the recommendations about earlier engagement as this would enable Councillors to gain the information they needed to do their job. The proposed training for Members and officers to better understand each other’s roles was welcomed along with the opportunity for backbench Councillors to contribute to a decision before it was finalised. It was envisaged that this would lead to broader more rounded information set being used to make decisions. The value of this approach being cross party and held in public was emphasised. Councillor Prince expressed her support for the implementation group. As a panel member she welcomed working together across parties; whilst there had been some awkwardness, trust had been built allowing recommendations to be formulated. Different philosophies were a strength and not a weakness and needed to be aired before decisions were taken.
Councillor Redfern specifically thanked Dame Moira and the lead officer for the Governance Review Panel, Agnieszka Kutek. It was stressed that the success of the implementation of the review would not be determined by structure but depended on the commitment to cultural change. The panel had looked at different models of decision-making. This had included Sutton which was an example of Members working really hard together. In fact, the positive tone had been a revelation. This underlined that it was only with culture change that structural changes could work. The Panel had found that much that was recommended could already have been achieved. For example, the Constitution allowed for Neighbourhood Forums. More weight being given to Members outside of the Administration was welcomed. It was noted that this approach needed to come from the top and that personal attacks could not continue. Councillor Redfern called on Councillors to think about the language used inside and outside meetings. This had to apply to all Members – front or backbench. Councillor Redfern stressed that Council had a responsibility to residents of the Borough to make a success of the panel’s recommendations and described how the success of the implementation was in the gift of the Administration’s leadership. All Members were called on to vote in favour of the panel’s recommendations.
Councillor Fitzsimons described how adopting the panel’s recommendations could radically change how the Council was governed. It was noted that a less brave Administration could have forced through cosmetic changes without backbench or Opposition input. Councillor Fitzsimons noted that structures do have a role but that real change would be achieved through creating a different culture. The panel’s recommendations should lead to greater transparency and a greater role for all Councillors, especially backbenchers. Councillor Fitzsimons saw this as a chance to bring back collective decision-making, focused on improving outcomes for residents and service users. Councillor Fitzsimons described this as being about improving democracy which had to be undertaken on a cross party basis to ensure long term change.
Councillor Roche gave his thanks to Dame Moira, Anne Smith, the other panel members and officers whose dedication had produced the panel’s final report. The Governance Review had been a manifesto pledge for both the Conservative and Labour Groups. This envisaged wider participation and the utilisation of backbench talents along with better support for non-executive Members allowing them to contribute to areas about which they were passionate. Councillor Roche described how the panel’s recommendations would lead to increased openness and resident confidence. It was important that the voice of residents was not forgotten or seen as less important. A Council Forward Plan was welcomed and seen as important because it would clarify how the Council made decisions. It was described how concessions had been made through the review process to enable productive and meaningful progress with a lot of credit being due to the Chair for successfully guiding this process. Dame Moira’s calm and balanced approach was noted. The importance of the implementation group was stressed.
Councillor Ben-Hassel described how she had been a party member at the time the manifesto pledge to a governance review had been made. This had resulted from the desire for more transparency and engagement as the basis for policy implementation in the face of austerity. As a result the Group had recommended a Governance Review that should be cross party and independently chaired to ensure a greater voice to all Members and residents.
Councillor Ben-Hassel described how she was privileged to welcome the panel’s findings and recommendations. It was anticipated that further work would be done on defining key decisions. The panel had demonstrated how a cross party approach could be constructive and better for all – certainly better than half-truths on Twitter. The implementation of the panel’s recommendations would allow scrutiny to focus on in-depth reviews and to hold external partners to account.
Councillor Brew described how he was speaking as a backbencher in favour of the motion. It was described how the Council encouraged residents to make reports online. Whilst this was the most efficient way for the Council to receive feedback from residents it was not the most effective. Some residents, notably those who were older, had difficulties in using modern technology and preferred a friendly chat. Councillor Brew stressed his support for Cabinet and other Council committee to go on walk-abouts; these would open up new public forums for residents to hear from decision-makers and be more effective than Public Questions at Council meetings. Additionally, Advisory Committees would allow reviews to be conducted in public before decisions were made. Councillor Brew described how until Croydon had a directly elected Mayor and whilst power continued to be vested in the Leader, this was best way to get more resident involvement in the decision-making process. However, Public Questions at Council meetings should be retained until the Advisory Committees were up and running and had proved their effectiveness.
Madam Deputy Mayor put the recommendations to the vote.
RESOLVED: Council AGREED the recommendations contained in the report:
1. Noted the report by the Governance Review Panel as detailed in Appendix 8.1 to the report;
2. Agreed the recommendations of the Panel contained within the Governance Review Panel report and also detailed in Appendix 8.2 to the report;
3. Agreed the establishment of the Member-led implementation working group as detailed in paragraphs 5 to 5.4 of the report;
4. Agreed terms of reference for that working group as detailed in Appendix 8.3 to the report; and
5. Noted the timetable for implementation of the Panel’s recommendations as detailed in paragraph 5.5 of the report.