Who asked Surjit Tour to gag a debate on Girtrell Court by councillors?
This morning I submitted an internal review request to Wirral Council as a Freedom of Information request I’d made over twenty days ago hadn’t yet been responded to.
Remarkably quickly I received an answer both to the internal review request and the original FOI request.
It shows that an unnamed councillor made a query of Surjit Tour before the Council meeting held on the 14th March 2016 as to whether the Girtrell Court motion should be debated at all.
Surjit Tour’s opinion (a copy of which is below) was that Standing Order 17 prevented it, but that councillors could choose to suspend Standing Order 17 and debate it anyway. A copy of his advice to councillors over the attempt at preventing a debate on Girtrell Court is below.
A query was received over whether the Notice of Motion (NOM) relating to Girtrell Court submitted by Cllr Blakeley (appearing in the Council Agenda published on 4 March) should be debated by Council at its meeting on Monday, 14 March given that it formed part of the Budget debate and final Council Budget Resolution on 3 March. The proposal/issues relating to Girtrell Court were debated at length by Council at Budget Council. Council has therefore had the opportunity to fully consider this matter. A point of order has been raised as to whether the NOM can therefore be debated within such a short period of time after Council having settled its view on the subject matter. The point of order is a legitimate one.
The relevant Standing Order to consider is:
Council Procedure Rules: Standing Order 17 – Rescission of preceding resolution (page 156 of the Constitution)
(2) No resolution or recommendation (other than a procedural resolution) made by a committee or panel during the course of a meeting shall be rescinded or amended by the committee or panel during the same meeting or any adjournment of it unless there are reasonable grounds for believing that all of the material information was not available at the time that the resolution or recommendation was passed.
Unfortunately given the timetabling of Budget Council and Ordinary Council this month, it has meant that Notices of Motion for the 14 March Council meeting needed to be submitted by 5pm on Monday, 29 February. This was ahead of Budget Council and any final Budget decision being made by Council on Thursday (3 March).
It is important to establish the status of the NOM in this case. I am of the view that NOM received was valid. At the material time, namely the deadline for when NOMs needed to be submitted (Monday, 29 Feb), there was NO decision made by Council in respect of the subject matter detailed within the NOM in question. The outcome of Budget Council meeting could not be assumed – that included any approval of the position as outlined in the Cabinet Budget Proposal in respect of Girtrell Court.
All valid NOMs are considered by the Mayor who determines, with advice from me, which NOM should be debated or referred to Cabinet or a Policy and Performance Committee (or other committee). The Mayor prior to Budget Council agreed for this NOM be debated.
At Budget Council the issues and matters relating to Girtrell Court were debated fully and that included the subject matter appearing in the NOM presented by Cllr Blakeley.
Standing Order 17 seeks to limit Council having to debate(by way of a notice of motion) the same decision within six months of it being made (unless a NOM is signed by 17 members of the Council). Whilst it is accepted that the Notice of Motion in question is not seeking to reopen the entire Budget Resolution approved by Council, it does seek to revisit a key aspect of the Budget Resolution that has been settled within it. The Notice of Motion was correctly submitted and was valid at the time of submission but has in effect been superseded by the Budget Council debate and Budget Resolution that was subsequently passed.
At the time Standing Order 17 was drafted the prevailing circumstances before us were not envisaged; and in fairness would have been extremely difficult (if not impossible) to predict with any degree of reasonable certainty.
Upon considering the application of Standing Order 17 and the NOM proposed by Cllr Blakeley, I am of the opinion that Standing Order 17 in its current form does prevent the NOM being debated at Council on 14 March – despite the Council Summons stating otherwise. However, as the NOM was valid at the time of submission it was also correct for it to have been included in the Council Agenda, published on 4 March. The Agenda should however have stated that the NOM was not to be debated by virtue of Standing Order 17. It is appropriate that this clarification/correction is made at Council on 14 March – and I will duly do so.
It would be remiss of me not to also advise that because the NOM appears correctly on the Council Agenda, any Member can move a motion (properly seconded) and seek the suspension of Standing Order 17 and seek permission from Council for the NOM to be debated. The Council has discretion to overcome the constitutional restriction imposed by Standing Order 17. Council would therefore be the final arbiter of this issue.
I apologise for any confusion caused by the NOM being confirmed as one to be debated on the Council Agenda.
Should you have any queries regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Head of Legal & Member Services
and Monitoring Officer
Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
Department of Transformation and Resources
Tel: 0151 691 8569
Fax: 0151 691 8482
Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk
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