Moves to improve public confidence in Council decisions

Some debates have descended into farce - now a change of rules hopes to stop that.
Some debates have descended into farce – now a change of rules hopes to stop that.

PUBLIC CONFIDENCE BEING undermined in decisions is one of the reasons being put forward for a change in procedural rules that have stood at Moray Council for many years.

Recent political tensions have been noted over decisions that were taken either in full council or committee meetings – and then reversed just months later.

These have related mainly to controversial financial decisions such as plans to create a new West Approach Road in Elgin and decisions over the future school estate.

On several occasions the ‘six-month rule’ has been invoked under protest in council meetings – a rule that exists, according to a report being put to the Full Council next week, to provide “stability and certainty” in the decision making process.

In a paper prepared by the Head of Legal and Democratic Services, Alasdair McEachan, recent tensions are highlight when he reports: “Councillors have had some difficult, and politically controversial, budgetary decisions to make over the past several months.

“These decisions are taken by a majority vote. Where a budgetary decision is being made on a project, which happens to have been considered by a committee within 6 months, then a Standing Order 82 suspension procedure (with a two thirds majority) is required.

“This leads to inconsistency/uncertainty in voting requirements and can lead to political tension. Intense focus can be put on technical procedural issues at meetings. This diverts precious committee time away from wider issues requiring debate. This can undermine public confidence in the decision making process.”

The paper notes that Moray is unique in that it is the only Council in Scotland that requires a two-thirds majority to change any previously reached decision, with most councils having a standing order that does allow a decision to be changed within six months.

With the agreement of councillors, Mr McEachan suggests: “A new standing order is proposed which preserves the six month rule, but which allows the Council to change a decision taken within the six months without suspending standing orders. The is in line with the approach taken by the majority of other Councils checked.”

If agreed this would be in Council rules that make it clear a material change in circumstances would be required or incorrect, or incomplete information had been provided at the original decision, or the need to change was part of a wider budgetary consideration.

Councillors will be asked to “consider alternative wording which doesn’t require a suspension of Standing Orders to change a decision within 6 months.”