It could be early autumn before new all party committees get the chance to debate the York Council’s upcoming policy plans.
A report being considered on 13th July proposes a return to a form of Executive Member advisory panel (EMAP) which was in use in York during the early part of the last decade. These meetings involve Councillors from all parties and are held in public. To aid planning, meetings occupied a scheduled day each month and were cancelled if there was no business to consider.
Introduced by the Liberal Democrats when they took power, EMAPs sought to widen discussion on policies which affected the City. The sessions were abandoned in 2008 when Labour – who were the main opposition in a balanced Council at the time – refused to participate saying that they preferred the (confrontational) option of “calling in” some proposals for review.
Under the new arrangements, so called “Officer in Consultation” decision meetings are also to be scrapped. These were the meetings which prompted the “behind closed doors” criticisms of the old Council.
Instead these decisions will be taken at an open Executive member meeting.
Of course, how the system works in practice remains to be seen. It’s success rests heavily on future decisions being correctly identified on the Councils “Forward Plan” although this will – rightly – become a “rolling“ programme in future
The new system doesn’t address the issue of Council officials taking decisions exploiting their delegated powers. This has been a particular problem in the Housing department where some wide reaching decisions – including one which saw visits by skips abandoned on some estates – have been taken without even, apparently, the knowledge of Councillors.
Similar issues arise with the growth of third party agencies such as the trusts and companies which now run our museums, libraries and economic development activities.
Thought also now needs to be given as to how residents can feel more involved in the decision process. Extended use of social media channels seems to be an obvious further refinement
Still the report is a step in the right direction.
Hopefully the new arrangements will start in September after the Council’s August recess.