This matter is the responsibility of the Leader of the Council, Councillor Federica Smith-Roberts.
During the discussion, the following points were raised:-
· Councillors queried what would happen to the district council responsibilities after the elections in May 2022, as the district councils were still sovereign councils until April 2023.
The Legal Adviser told councillors that counsel advice had been sought and once it had been received, the information and guidance would be distributed out to all councillors.
· Some concern was raised on the calculations used for political balance, as not all parties had representation.
· Other councillors highlighted that the political allocations were calculated in the same manner as all our other committees.
· Councillor Mansell proposed the following amendment, which was duly seconded by Councillor Wren:-
2.3 Full Council further resolves to propose an amendment to the Terms of Reference of the Joint Committee in the following form:
- The membership of the committee be amended to provide for three members from each District Council.
- The membership of the Committee to remain the same in terms of the County Council representation.
2.4 Full Council further resolves that this proposed amendment be sent to each of the four Councils with a view to their Full Councils at the first available meeting considering the proposed amendment and resolving whether to support it or not.
2.5 In the event of the approval by each Council to the amended Terms of Reference as proposed, the Terms of Reference are so amended and fresh nominations for three members are made by each District Council from the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee on to the Joint Scrutiny Committee. Such nominations to be in compliance with the political proportionality rules unless these rules are set aside by each Full Council complying with the procedural requirements of the Local Government (Committees and Political Groups) Regulations 1990. On this basis the Joint Committee is reconstituted with three members per District Council but the same membership for the County Council.
· Concern was raised on the county and district allocation on the committee and councillors wanted to ensure that there was appropriate district representation.
· Councillors wanted to ensure that the transition to a Unitary Authority was properly considered for the staff and residents.
· Concern was raised that the amendment would take too much time to go through the democratic pathway.
The Deputy Leader advised councillors on the process that would need to be followed if the amendment was carried and the delay it would cause based on another four Full Council meetings being held because Somerset County Council (SCC) had already approved the recommendations.
· Councillors agreed that scrutiny was an important role.
· Concern was raised that if the district representatives were increased, that so would the county representatives, which would make the committee numbers too high.
The Deputy Leader agreed with the concern raised and was not sure that SCC would accept the changes and would be likely to counter-argue and propose an increase in the county representatives.
· A vote was taken for the amendment, which was lost: eight for, thirty-seven against and one abstention.
· Councillors wanted to ensure that the district representatives were not ‘twin hatters’.
· Councillors wanted to ensure that there was plenty of opportunity for district input into the New Council.
· Councillors queried whether substitutes could be used on the Joint Scrutiny Committee.
The Legal Advisor gave the answer that yes, substitutes could be used.
Resolved that Full Council:-
2.1Approved the establishment of a Joint Scrutiny Committee together with the County Council and three other District Councils in Somerset constituted in accordance with and having the roles and responsibilities set out in the Terms of Reference attached at Appendix 1 (“Terms of Reference”).
2.2Nominated two (Districts) Members of the relevant overview and scrutiny committee onto the Joint Scrutiny Committee such nominations to be politically proportionate and based upon the political makeup of this council (this would mean at Somerset West and Taunton - 1 Liberal Democrat and 1 Independent Group nominee, as set out in section 4 of the report)