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Concerns raised over proposal to limit councillors access to staff

Powys County Council

COUNCILLORS have voiced their concerns over changes to Powys County Council’s constitution that could see them have less access to staff.

At a meeting of the council’s Democratic Services committee on Monday, January 8, Head of Legal and Monitoring Officer Clive Pinney outlined amendments that need to be made to the council’s constitution.

Mr Pinney said: “We try and review the constitution on a regular basis but unfortunately things do slip through.”

The amendment under consideration was to replace a section which appears in the councillors Code of Conduct which said: “Members are free to approach employees of the council to provide them with such information and advice as they may reasonably need in order to assist them in discharging their role as a member of the council.”

The proposed change said:  “Members should approach the head of service of the council to provide them with such information and advice as they may reasonably need in order to assist them in discharging their role as a member of the council.”

Mr Pinney explained that the council’s senior and corporate management teams “feel” that to ensure a timely response to councillors that it should go through heads of service.

Head of Legal and Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer to Powys Council, Clive Pinney

Liberal Democrat, Cllr Claire Hall said : “I object to that change.

“It’s a very onerous burden to  put on the constitution to limit member approaches to heads of service.

“There are various examples across councils where the heads of service are not the most appropriate person to speak to and won’t necessarily have the answer that we need.”

“I think it’s a backward step, is fundamentally undemocratic and is restricting our ability to serve our constituents.”

Cllr Claire Hall (Pic: Powys County Council)

Cllr Gareth E Jones of the Independents for Powys groups said: “Sometimes heads of service take an awful lot longer to respond than an individual officer.”

Cllr Jones added that “escalating” an issue up the chain of command to a head of service should be a secondary measure, and also asked whether this rule would be applied in schools.

Mr Pinney said: “I hadn’t thought about that.

“I suppose in those circumstances you would be asking the headteacher at a school for information and is a sort of head of service for that part of the organisation.”

Cllr Jones said that the amendment needed changing to reflect the situation in schools and but still opposed the changes.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Danny Bebb:  “Cllr Gareth has flagged up one instance and with all due respect Clive you couldn’t answer.

“It’s one you haven’t thought about and there must be many that you haven’t thought about – I think this is a very bad idea.”

Committee chairman, Plaid Cymru’s Cllr Elwyn Vaughan said: “There is some unease about this.

“Can I suggest it would be wise to take stock and re-visit that.”

Mr Pinney agreed and thanked the councillors for their input.

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