Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority

Item 5

Governance Committee

15/03/200526 July 2005

Error! Bookmark not defined.Constitutional Status of the Corporate Management Team

Report by the Chief Officer and Clerk

Contact: David Howells, Director of Corporate Services Tel: 023 8062 6833

Jeff Pattison, Tel: 01962 847321

1

Summary

 
   

1.1

The opportunity has been taken to explore - in the context of the Authority's policy and code on corporate governance - whether there are any other viable options that might help address the Committee's concerns about the constitutional status of the Corporate Management Team (CMT) in terms of its `openness and accountability'. This report concludes that while other options are possible they are likely to compromise the significant advantages of the current arrangements which have been recognised during the recent Comprehensive Performance Review as adding real value to Authority's corporate governance arrangements.

   

1.2

The arrangements provide an effective consultative forum for the initial consideration of emerging issues and a means of ensuring early member engagement in drafting new strategic policies for subsequent debate and consideration by the full authority or its standing committees. However, there is scope to improve the flow of information about the work of CMT to all members of the authority and to engage other members at its meetings - on an ad hoc basis - where such attendance would add particular value to CMT's deliberations of a particular item.

   

2

RecommendationError! Bookmark not defined.s

   

2.1

That it be recommended to the Authority that:

   
 

1

That, in acknowledging that the Corporate Management Team (CMT), is not a formal decision making body of the Authority, it should remain as a non-executive, informal, joint (cross-party) member / officer working group comprising senior members of the Authority and principal officers of the Service;

     
 

2

That periodic bulletins on the items and issues that the CMT is currently dealing with is communicated to all members of the Authority via the Chief Officer's Members' Update;

     
 

3

That CMT consider inviting other members of the Authority to its meetings if there are items on the agenda where the attendance of those members would be of particular mutual value;

     
 

4

That the Clerk ensures that Terms of Reference for CMT are appropriately amended to reflect the revisions set out in these recommendations.

     

3

Introduction Error! Bookmark not defined.and Background

   

3.1

At its last meeting (held on 8 March 2005) the Committee considered a report by the Clerk examining the constitutional status of the Corporate Management Team. The Committee was invited to approve a recommendation endorsing the continuance of CMT's current non-executive status with the provisos that all members of the Authority should be kept informed of the subjects and nature of discussions taking place at meetings of the CMT; and, that any substantive matters would be referred to the Authority for decision.

   

3.2

During discussion members accepted that the CMT provided an effective forum for an informal dialogue between senior members (from all political parties) and senior officers. In particular, it was recognised as a useful sounding board for consideration of current and emerging issues impacting on the Authority and the initial development of policies and strategies to deal with them. However, mindful of the need to comply with the Authority's own recently adopted `Corporate Governance Policy' and `Code of Corporate Governance', members felt that as meetings of CMT were held in private the existing and proposed arrangements appeared to be contrary to the spirit of openness and accountability. The Committee requested that a further report be produced with options that might address these concerns.

   

4

Contribution to Corporate Aims and Objectives

   

4.1

Providing opportunities for joint member / officer dialogue - in addition to those afforded by the formal constitutional committee structure - is important if genuine member engagement is to be achieved at the earliest stages of developing corporate aims and objectives.

   

4.2

Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) places significant emphasis on the need for robust corporate governance policies and structures that both underpin and encourage effective working relationships between members and officers. Given that we want to be in the top 20% of best performing fire and rescue authorities, it makes sense that do all we can to put in place arrangements that facilitate and strengthen effective joint working.

   

5

Recap on current role of CMT

   

5.1

CMT evolved from the need to establish an informal, cross-party, working group to assist officers in developing a strategy to deal with a particularly complicated and urgent issue. At about the same time, the requirement to make rapid progress in developing the Authority's Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) occurred. The Authority took the view that it made sense to use this same joint member / officer group to produce a first draft of the IRMP for consideration by the whole Authority.

   

5.2

Subsequently, the useful role CMT could play in giving initial consideration to strategic and emerging issues became increasingly recognised. For example, during the preparation of the Draft Budget for 2005/06, the Authority gave specific delegated powers to CMT to determine (subject to a maximum increase of 2.5%), "the actual [increase in council tax] figure for consultation purposes". The final determination of the council tax and budget was, however, left to the discretion of the full Authority.

   

5.3

CMT has continued to work on behalf of the Authority on such matters as: the initial development and review of the Authority's Strategic Risk Management Policy and Strategic Risk Register; the review and monitoring of IRMP(2) and the initial consideration of IRMP(3); and the development of the Authority's Race Equality Scheme.

   

5.4

While CMT meetings continue to provide a means to increase cross-party member representation and engagement at very early stages in policy formulation, it would also be reasonable to regard CMT as providing a valuable sounding board and consultation forum in which officers and members can share initial views or reactions with each other on new strategic proposals and initiatives.

   

5.5

It is worth recording that during our Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) (carried out on site in February 2005) the assessment team seemed impressed by the role CMT was providing. During the on-site oral feedback the team implied that, in its view, CMT was a unique and positive way of increasing member engagement. This was confirmed in the team's final report: "The fire authority has an effective process for governance and scrutiny - five standing committees are in place: Finance and General Purposes, Human Resources, Performance Review, Governance, and Standards. Member involvement has also been achieved through the formation of a joint (cross-party) member and officer Corporate Management Team."

   

6

Other options

   

6.1

Concerns expressed at the last meeting of this Committee about the openness and accountability of CMT - as it currently operates - could be said to apply equally to other informal working groups set up by the Authority (e.g. Asset Management Working Group, and task and finish Best Value Review Teams). Therefore, in considering the reasons and scope for other options, due regard must be given to the implications for other informal joint member / officer working arrangements that the Authority has been keen to operate.

   

6.2

As mentioned in the previous report, the principal aim for establishing informal working groups has been to provide an environment in which members and officers are comfortable in raising and debating significant issues affecting the Authority and the Service. There is a real risk that the positive benefits provided by informal

   

6.3

working groups would be lost if the groups were expected to operate in exactly the way as the standing committees. Discussion might become inhibited by the protocols of a formal committee structure.

   

6.4

One option, of course, would be to disband CMT. There is no constitutional requirement for it - or something like it - to exist. However, this might be seen as a retrograde step in that there is no doubt that CMT currently provides an additional and/or alternative forum for consideration of issues that might otherwise be dealt with at, say, informal meetings between the Chairman and Chief Officer. Indeed, from this standpoint, CMT could be viewed as increasing democratic accountability simply because it comprises a wider, cross-party, group of members from the Authority.

   

6.5

The previous option presented to the Committee would be to make CMT a standing committee of the Authority with all its proceedings (except confidential items) held in public. Standing committees are expected to reflect political proportionality and to achieve this might, by default, adversely impact on both the size and dynamics of CMT meetings as they currently operate. The reasons for not pursuing this option were set out in the previous report.

   

6.6

While it would be possible to set down a number of other options for an alternative forum to replace CMT, these are still likely to give rise to the issue of achieving a workable compromise between the clear benefits of having a relatively small, informal, cross-party working group, and the need to demonstrate complete openness and accountability. To achieve the latter would inevitably require the adoption of a formalised, sub-committee structure that is politically proportional in its composition.

   

6.7

While it would be possible to consider increasing the size of CMT - to make it more inclusive of the wider Authority membership - this would run the risk of making CMT unwieldy and again change the dynamics of meetings to such an extent that the current balance and positive interaction between members and offices would be likely to suffer.

   

6.8

If, it is accepted that CMT does provide a useful additional forum to enhance member engagement and representation at the early stages of policy formulation, it seems sensible to put in place arrangements that would better address the acknowledged concerns about openness and accountability. Apart from providing a periodic synopsis to all members - via the Chief Officer's Members' Update (bulletin) - of any significant issues considered by CMT, there is, of course, the additional opportunity for members of CMT to report back to colleague members at their informal political group meetings.

   

6.9

To help guard against the possible perception that CMT is an exclusive group, it is suggested that CMT be asked to consider inviting other members of the Authority to its meetings if there are items on the agenda where the attendance of those members would be of particular mutual value. This would be of particular value if there were items relating to a member's electoral division, or if a member had specialist knowledge or experience that would help inform any of CMT's deliberations.

   

6.10

In terms of accountability, it has been absolutely clear from its inception that CMT is not a formal decision-making body of the Authority (unless, of course, it has been given express and prior delegated responsibility to determine on a particular issue by the Authority). As stated earlier, CMT can best be regarded as a useful additional consultative body or sounding board on strategic and emerging issues that will, by and large, be brought to the Authority (or one of its standing committees) in the usual way. To satisfy members on this point, formal terms of reference for CMT could make this explicit.

     

7

Risk Analysis

   

7.1

It is important to ensure that CMT does not compromise, nor is perceived as compromising, openness and accountability in the Authority's corporate governance and decision-making processes. Failure to satisfy any concerns on this front could leave the Authority vulnerable to challenge with potential consequential damage to its reputation. CMT's role should therefore be recognised as enhancing democratic representation and accountability at an earlier stage in policy development than might be the case if it did not exist.

   

7.2

It is pleasing to note that during CPA the review team was clearly impressed with CMT as a joint member / officer forum and raised no concerns about its constitutional status.

   

8

Resource Implications

   

8.1

There are no new or significant resource implications associated with the recommendations contained in this report. They involve only minor additional administrative tasks to enhance - through the existing Members' Update bulletins - the information sent to members about the issues currently being dealt with by CMT.

 
     

9

Equality Impact Assessment

   

9.1

The recommendations of this report are assessed as not giving rise to any equality issues for the Authority.

   

9.2

The proposals within this report are considered compatible with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

   

10

Consultation

   

10.1

No consultation with staff, their representatives, or other stakeholders was felt to be appropriate in the preparation of this report. As the recommendations will be referred to the Authority for approval, all members of the Authority will have the opportunity to comment on this Committee's conclusions and resolution.

   

11

Conclusion

   

11.1

While other options are possible - ranging from disbanding CMT altogether to making it a standing committee of the Authority - they are all likely to compromise the significant advantages of the current arrangements which have been recognised as adding real value to Authority's corporate governance arrangements during the recent Comprehensive Performance Review. Instead, it is recommended that information about the work of CMT should be better communicated to all members of the Authority and that members of the Authority should be given the opportunity to attend meetings of CMT when it recognised that their personal input on a particular item would be valuable.

 

Background Information (Section 100D of Local Government Act 1972)

 

The following documents disclose the facts or matters on which this report, or an important part of it, is based and has been relied upon to a material extent in the preparation of the report:

    · `Constitutional Status of Corporate Management Team', report to the Governance Committee presented at the meeting held 8 March 2005.

http://www.hants.gov.uk/decisions/decisions-docs/050308-fgctte-R0301142943.html

Note: The list excludes: (1) published works; and (2) documents that disclose exempt or confidential information defined in the Act.

 

Secretarial/WP/Corporate/HFRA/ HFRA Governance 26 7 05 Constitutional status CMTError! Bookmark not defined./DH/JMW/15/7/2005