City of York Council is to adopt a new constitution in May – despite the opposition of the Labour group.
A review of the document, which governs how councillors and officers operate, began early in 2020 but took on added significance after City of York Council was taken to task about its governance by independent inspectors last year.
Cllr Michael Pavlovic said it was a “once in a decade major revision” of the “vital” document.
The chair of the audit and governance committee said: “Although a relevant and up to date constitution is important for every local authority, for York it is vital.
“The recent public interest report identified significant failings in the governance of this council, particularly in respect of conflicts of interest.”
But despite countless hours of cross-party work on the new 167-page document, there were still disagreements between Labour and the Liberal Democrat / Green administration over some clauses.
The Labour group argued, under the new constitution, that members of the council’s executive should not be allowed to sit on the main planning committees and said that when councillors want to substitute themselves on a committee, the replacement councillor should have to be from the same party.
Cllr Kate Lomas said they were issues “of significant concern” and said a constitution that did not address these issues would “not support fair, open and transparent democracy.”
Cllr Jonny Crawshaw said: “It’s quite clear that the spirit and purpose of the legislation around proportionality on scrutiny committees has been abused over the past two years.”
Cllr Bob Webb added: “Anything that we can do to remove the stench of not knowing what a conflict of interest is, is a really good thing.”
But all of Labour’s suggested changes were outvoted.
Cllr Nigel Ayre said the planning issue was “nonsensical”.
“Executive or any members are perfectly capable of deciding whether they should be deciding on an application or whether they consider themselves to be prejudged,” he said.
“It is common practice across the country as well as by the Labour group when they were in administration.
“There clearly are changes that could be made to ensure planning committees run more smoothly, but the exclusion of experienced planning members is certainly not one of them.
“The important thing for York is that we get the best decision making on all applications.”
Citing legal advice and the practice of other councils, Cllr Keith Orrell said it was “clear that the current membership of committees is perfectly legal and proper.”
The new constitution will come into effect at the next full council meeting in May.