Report of the Town Clerk.
The Committee considered a report of the Town Clerk concerning the Anonymisation of Members in minutes.
A Member reminded the Committee that, two months ago, he had put forward a simple proposal that the minutes of these meetings be made more transparent by identifying Members’ contributions by name. He had also proposed that the way that all Members vote be recorded. He noted that these proposals had not generated much resistance from the Committee but seemed, from the report, to have generated a lot of resistance from Officers. It was noted that the report set out two main reasons for maintaining the status quo – the first was around the existing house style of the City Corporation and the second was that this should be considered as part of the ongoing Governance Review. The Member suggested that he was unconvinced by either of these arguments stating that the most quoted criticism within the Lisvane report had been around the ‘complexity and slowness of decision-making within the Corporation was extraordinary and sclerotic’, often taking months of consideration by multiple committees. He highlighted that the matter was already being considered by this Committee for a third time today with the report elevating this simple matter to being a governance issue needing to be considered by the Policy and Resources Committee which might, in turn, refer it on to the Resource Allocation Committee (RASC). The report went on to recommend that the matter actually be considered over an even longer time scale and be discussed in future Member consultation meetings at some point before March 2022 before recommendations were taken to RASC, Policy and Resources and ultimately the Court. The Member felt that the report failed to address many of the points made by Members previously around the merits of making minutes more transparent and that he had therefore reiterated these to all Members of the Committee via email a few days ago. In this same email, he mentioned that he had also rebutted a number of the unconvincing arguments put forward by Officers for maintaining more opaque minutes. He stated that he would not repeat these points here and trusted that his email had been read by Members. The Member concluded by suggesting that, as a pragmatic solution, this Committee vote for Option 1 within the report and recommend to the Policy and Resources Committee that the minutes of this Committee no longer anonymise all verbal contributions and votes of Members.
Another Member spoke to disagree with this suggestion stating that he believed that this Committee should vote to maintain the status quo. He went on to state that he believed that the Corporation was already very transparent in its deliberations and that this Planning Committee was regarded and rated very highly as a Planning Authority across London and beyond. From a practical point of view, the Member stated that he believed that, to try and capture every word spoken by every Member of this Committee in debate would require additional time and resources. The Member added that, at a time when we were emerging from the pandemic, the Committee’s focus should be on matters that would be of real benefit to its stakeholders, residents and businesses. This therefore felt like an inappropriate and self-indulgent discussion to be having at this time. He added that there was already a mechanism by which those voting against a majority decision had the right to request that their names be recorded in the minutes as having done so.
Another Member spoke to say that he disagreed with some of the arguments within the report arguing that the publication of Members names against comments would not endanger consensus. He added that he did not feel that this addition would make meetings or minutes any longer and neither did he accept that this would lead to the risk of grandstanding. He stated that he was in favour of naming Members in minutes as these could be looked backed on in order to ascertain who had said what and that this encouraged accountability. He went on to state that he felt that minutes needed to be looked at more holistically as he did not believe that, whether contributions were to be annonymised or not, they needed to be so detailed going forward and that instead they should simply contain a summary of the points made. The Member summarised by stating that he did not think that this matter should go any further at this stage as he agreed that it was largely a non-issue.
Another Member disagreed with the point on less detailed minutes. She highlighted that the public sessions of meetings were now livestreamed/recorded and that everything that was said was therefore captured verbatim. She questioned whether this could therefore all be captured to provide a full record of the meeting and separately appended to future minutes which could be presented as a summary for the Committee to approve. The Member commented that she felt that this proposal had been unnecessarily complicated. She noted that minutes of this Committee referred to objectors, applicants and those who spoke in support of applications by name but that Members were not. The Member added that this was not about making minutes any longer than they already were and that the phrase ‘A Member’ would simply be replaced by ‘Councillor X’. She added that details of who had said what at a meeting could become very important if matters were referred to an Inquiry for example. In terms of the status quo, the Member argued that this had been changed previously and suggested that she could recall a time when Members had been named in minutes. She concluded that she was in favour of a return to this and making minutes more transparent and understandable for the general public. She suggested that this Committee make representations on the matter directly to the Policy and Resources Committee today.
A Member spoke to state that he was relaxed as to whether or not Members were named within the minutes of this Committee but agreed that this was a trivial matter. He underlined that recordings of meetings were to be available online for a year and that it was very easy therefore for the public to ascertain who had said what during them. He noted that this issue was ultimately outside the remit of this Committee and stressed that he felt that the existing house style was relevant given that it was presumably designed to ensure the production of efficient minutes. He stated that he would be voting to escalate this matter to the Policy and Resource Committee where it could be properly considered and would hopefully result in increased transparency in minutes for those Committees that were of a high profile such as this without making them too voluminous.
Another Member spoke to state that it was right not to conflate the issue of the length of minutes with this point. He added that he felt that it was right that this should be presented as a simple administrative matter highlighting that there were many Members who sat on this and other Corporation Committees who operated in one way and on other, external Committees that operated in another. He reported that, in his experience, the Members of Committees that chose to name contributions in minutes did behave differently and that it tended to encourage personal statements. He concluded by stating that he would be voting to retain the status quo.
A Member spoke to state that this seemed to be a very simple proposal. He too noted that meetings were now recorded and added that, if Members therefore wanted to grandstand, they would already be doing so. He had not, however, noticed a change in Member behaviour with the introduction of virtual meetings. He stated that he did not understand why Members would not want to have their contributions named in public minutes and, on a wider point, he stated that he was of the strong belief that minutes should be a record of decisions taken/formal resolutions only with the recording providing the full detail of a meeting.
Another Member stated that he was very much in favour of the status quo and felt that the detailed minutes currently provided for this Committee were ideal. He added that it was what was said that was the important feature of a debate and that who had said it was almost irrelevant. He was of the view that the current minute style provided a full and easily accessible record of meetings and that he therefore wanted to see this retained.
The Member who had originally put this proposal to the Committee and who had spoken at the beginning of this item spoke again to suggest that the Committee should vote to put this matter to the Policy and Resources Committee and suggest that this Committee be permitted to trial the naming of Members in minutes for a period of six months with a review thereafter.
Another Member commented that he did not feel that introducing a degree of inconsistency in terms of how different meetings were minuted across the organisation should be encouraged. He stated that he felt that consistency of style was important and that this Committee should not act independently on this but should feed into the wider governance review that was progressing. Another Member responded to this point by reminding the Committee that, several years ago, the Policy and Resources Committee dictated that the Chairmen of grand Committees should appoint the Chairmen of Sub-Committees. However, this had led to many problems and had led to the Policy and Resources Committee revisiting this matter and deciding that each Committee should be able to decide the best appointment method for itself. She surmised that a similar approach would probably be taken on this issue and commented that she was supportive of the suggestion that the naming of Members in minutes be trialled with this Committee for a period of six months to ascertain if this did impact adversely upon resources/Officer time.
A Member spoke again to refer to the results of the research that Officers had been asked to carry out and highlighted that this revealed that the vast majority of other London Planning Committees also anonymised their minutes.
At this point, the Chairman sought approval from the Committee to continue the meeting
beyond two hours from the appointed time for the start of the meeting, in accordance with Standing Order 40, and this was agreed.
The Chair spoke to express his view on this as a governance issue. He questioned why there was a need to name Members in minutes and underlined that he had a strong view that it was his role to marshal debate and to reach conclusions. He stated that the outputs of the Committee in its statutory function as Highways Authority and Planning Authority were the most important. Whilst all Members were independent and accountable, they did act, on those matters put before a Committee, as a body corporate. This was not to say that there were not varied views that Members were free to express in meetings but he stated that he felt that who had made these points was less relevant and that these should not therefore be individualised.
The Chair stated that it was hard for him to gage from the debate whether or not there was a consensus on this issue. The Town Clerk noted that mixed views had been expressed by Members and therefore suggested that a vote should be conducted by rollcall to ascertain the way in which the majority of the Committee now wished to progress this matter. The Town Clerk drew Members’ attention to the report recommendations which suggested that the status quo be maintained until such time as this matter was dealt with more holistically under the Governance Review and proposed that a vote now be taken on this.
MOTION - A Member proposed that, as an alternative, the Committee vote on Option (i) as set out within the report (that this committee make representations at this stage to the Policy and Resources Committee that the minutes no longer anonymise all verbal contributions and votes of Members) with those voting against effectively in favour of maintain the status quo. The Motion was seconded and therefore put to the vote.
Votes on Option (i) were cast as follows: IN FAVOUR – 6 Votes*
OPPOSED – 16 Votes.
There were no abstentions.
The motion was therefore lost and, by implication, the recommendations as set out within the report were approved.
RESOLVED – That, taking into account the existing house style in respect of the production of minutes and the ongoing work around the Governance Review and the
recommendation therein with regard to the minutes of Court of Common Council and
Committee meetings of the City Corporation, Member contributions and votes in the minutes of this Committee continue to be anonymised.
*In accordance with Standing Order No. 38, some of those Members who had voted in favour of the motion asked that their names be recorded in the minutes – they were Mark Bostock, Helen Fentimen, Marianne Fredericks, Graeme Harrower and Susan Pearson.