(Chairman of the Constitution Working Group) To receive a report from the Constitution Working Group recommending a review of Article 4, The Full Council Terms of Reference sub-paragraph 1(c) and to agree the recommendations.
In the absence of the Chairman of the Constitution Working Group, Councillor S Rackham, Councillor J Philip presented the report on her behalf.
Councillor J Philip advised that this review had occurred as a result of questions from members on a Constitution training course in May 2021. It was felt that a majority of the plans and strategies either did not exist, were no longer needed or had already been replaced. At the Constitution Working Group (CWG) on the 23 November 2021 members of the CWG considered and took the time to go through each one of the plans and strategies and agreed on what was to be either removed or updated. He therefore urged Councillors to agree the recommendations in the report on pages 73-80 of the agenda.
Councillor S Murray stated that he felt there was not enough information in the report to agree the recommendations and stated that he had four statements to make and referred to appendix 1 (pages 74-75 of the agenda).
(a) Community Plan / Strategy which was being removed from being reported to Council. He felt that this was important and should not be removed.
(b) Economic Development Strategy being removed from Council to go to a Scrutiny Committee and then to Cabinet and stated that the Economic Development Strategy was important and should be reported to Full Council where all Councillors would have a chance to debate that as a member of the debating group which was key to the district.
(c) Local Transport Plan he stated that anyone that uses buses in the district would know that the Council did not have a Local Transport Plan but he said it should not be removed.
(d) Social Inclusion Strategy he stated he felt very strongly about this strategy, there had been no evidence of adoption by Full Council recently so it was recommended to be removed. The Social Inclusion Strategy was absolutely crucial and he gave an example relating to the Food Bank that the Council had an agreement with operated the Food in School Holiday meals (FISH) and over the last two days over 73 families had been referred to them by primary schools, feeding over 304 people through the school holidays. Any Youth worker, teacher that you speak to will tell you that social exclusion exists and therefore social inclusion in Epping Forest was really important. He stated that social exclusion was a growing problem and sadly not a diminishing problem and thought that this should not be removed as it was a strategy that should be a part of a Full Council agenda when it was relevant to be.
Councillor J Philip commented on the Social Inclusion Strategy and stated that the last reference to this strategy was in 2008 and if that was the last time there was a reference to a Social Inclusion Strategy then clearly this Council doesn’t think it was something that was needed to have as a strategy adopted by the Council otherwise it would have come forward before now. Therefore given that the Council do not have a Social Inclusion Strategy, given that the Council last had one 14 years ago and given that there were currently no plans to produce one, it made no sense to the Council being the body which it should come to.
The same could be said of the other areas that Councillor Murray referred to. There were areas of the Economic Development Strategy, the Economic Development Department with the Council consists of 3.5 people which was less than one percent of the FTE equivalent in the Council therefore it did not make sense to come to Council. The Council were working on Economic Development, looking at town centres, a town centre project manager was employed working with Town and Parish Councils to drive things forward for economic development which had clearly not been successful from the Town and Parish Councils point of view and was something the Council needed to look at but it did not fit in with an Economic Development Strategy.
Councillor Chris Pond referred to the Local Transport Plan and advised that he had spent many hours at County Hall in 2011 discussing the Local Transport Plan and it was concluded that it was the responsibility of upper tier authorities and I am not quite sure how it found its way into this Council’s Constitution. He stated that he shared some of the issues that Councillor Murray raised and agreed that this district did need a Local Transport Plan but it was down to Essex County Council to reinitiate it to which I believe will happen in the next few months.
Councillor Pond then referred to Appendix 2 on pages 77-80 of the agenda, the sentence which half way down page 77 that ended with statue should read statute and asked for this to be amended.
Councillor J McIvor stated a point of clarity that most of the matters discussed at CWG were discussed at the Scrutiny committees, where many members had the opportunity to raise questions and scrutinise them they also appeared in Cabinet members reports to Council where members were entitled to ask questions of the Cabinet members report at Full Council. If members had a specific concern they are entitled to ask officers or ask to meet with a Cabinet member to discuss those concerns.
Councillor Janet Whitehouse stated that she was at the Constitution Working Group when these recommendations were put forward and she agreed with Councillor Murray regarding the Social Inclusion Strategy and that it should not be abandoned as there were a lot of people that felt excluded and maybe the Council should be looking to work again on a Social Inclusion Strategy and have one that comes to Full Council to be adopted.
Councillor J Philip stated that the fact was the Council did not have a Social Inclusion Strategy, there were no plans to create one it was not something that had been identified in terms of the work programme of Overview and Scrutiny, it had not been identified as a key decision for the Cabinet to look at going forward and there were no plans for it to fit within the role of the Council at this present time. If the Council finds that they need a strategy of this nature then the Council will go through a process of identifying where that strategy needed to come from and where it needed to go which would probably be through scrutiny first. He reiterated that Council did not have a Social Inclusion Policy and it had not been discussed at Council since 2008.
Councillor Chris Pond stated as we have just adopted the Anti-Fraud and Corruption Strategy that it should now be added to Appendix 2.
Councillor J Philip stated that as this strategy had now been adopted he would be happy for it to be added to Appendix 2.
That the recommendations of the Constitution Working Group as set out below be agreed:
(1) Recommending that the following amendments to Article 4, 1(c) be made as detailed in Appendix 2 (attached); and
(2) That pursuant to Recommendation (1) above, the Monitoring Officer be authorised to make necessary revisions to the Council’s Constitution.