The Council’s Head of Democratic, Legal & Policy Services initially outlined the two major roles of the Commission;
· Improvement (input before Cabinet take a decision); and
· Review (scrutiny of Cabinet decisions including ‘Call-In’).
The Council has a scrutiny role by statute, which is discharged at Wycombe District Council through the Improvement and Review Commission.
The relationship of the Commission with the Cabinet was explained along with the limitation of the Commission’s powers in that they could not be used to review or challenge / scrutinise non-executive matters (e.g. Planning Committee decisions, staffing).
The requirement of Cabinet to consider all Commission recommendations and give reasons for rejection, if such occurred, in the Cabinet minutes, was outlined. Over the last three years of 66 recommendations made to Cabinet only 8 had been rejected and examples of the “added-value” work of the Commission were outlined.
The review of issues affecting the District was permitted and successful reviews had been undertaken in the past e.g. review of urgent health care.
The ‘exceptional’ nature of ‘Call-ins’ was explained along with the statutory process followed. ‘Call-ins’ effectively ‘froze’ Cabinet or Individual Cabinet Member decisions, until considered by the Commission and, if appropriate Cabinet. Call-ins could not be utilised for non-executive matters (e.g. planning and licensing applications), neither could they be used for Cabinet recommendations to Full Council.
The five scheduled Commission meetings were outlined along with how issues were brought to these meetings, including identifying items for consideration from the Cabinet Forward Plan, as well as from individual Members by requesting items for inclusion in the Commission’s work programme. In respect of the Task and Finish Groups set up to examine issues in detail; the three to six month timescale and their membership and size was explained.
The detailed Scrutiny Guide and the Improvement & Review Protocol (the latter featured in the Council Constitution) appended to the agenda were referenced as the key governance documents to the work of the Commission at Wycombe District Council.
Members raised a number of issues and received clarification on a number of queries as follows:
· The Councillor Call for Action facility had not been invoked at Wycombe District Council. This legislation was the means by which ward members could raise ward matters with the Commission on which they were making no progress with the relevant public bodies as a ‘last resort’. Here at Wycombe it was believe that good practice had prevent the need for such;
· The procedure in respect of valid ‘call-ins’ was explained, with the Commission deciding initially whether to debate. Then, if debated, whether recommendations to amend the decision were appropriate, whether the original decision should remain as was, or if further information and an adjournment of the ‘call-in’ was required;
· The prerogative of the Cabinet to decide whether Commission recommendations whether they be in respect of a ‘call in’ or any other matter be accepted or not, was outlined;
· The demarcation between Cabinet / Cabinet Member responsibility for Planning Policy (which could be scrutinised) and Planning Applications the remit of the Planning Committee (which could not) was explained; and
· The necessity of ‘scoping’ the work of a Task and Finish Group (usually at the first meeting of the Group), to prevent too big a topic being taken on with few real effective specific recommendations as a result, was emphasised.