Protocol For Handling Petitions To The Council
Chief Executive: A Skelton
Protocol for handling petitions by the council
1 The Head of Legal and Governance will receive all petitions from members of the public either directly or via the Ward Member(s), formally acknowledge receipt to the lead petitioner(s) and inform him/her of this process. A copy of the acknowledgement will be sent to all Member(s). Acknowledgement should take place within 10 working days of receipt of the petition.
2. Where the Councils Petition Scheme specifies that a petition must contain a minimum number of signatures, then that number of signatures must be from people who live, work or study in the Borough. All other petitions must be signed by people who live work or study in the Borough.
3. The Head of Legal and Governance will take a copy of the petition and pass the original, together with a copy of the acknowledgement letter, to the appropriate Chief Officer.
4. The Head of Legal and Governance will advise the Chief Officer, the Cabinet Member(s), the Chair(s) of the appropriate Overview & Scrutiny Committee(s) and other relevant officers if there are any specific concerns relating to a petition (see emboldened paragraph below).
5. If the matter can be resolved quickly and informally by notifying the lead petitioner(s) of some scheduled action on the matter, or if some other basic action(s) on the part of the Department concerned would allow the matter to reach an acceptable conclusion to both parties, the Chief Officer, following discussion with and agreement from the appropriate Cabinet Member(s), should seek to carry out these actions. A confirmation of what has been agreed should be sent in writing to the lead petitioner(s) and copied to the Head of Legal and Governance and the Ward Members. This communication should also seek to confirm that the lead petitioner(s) are satisfied that the matter has been concluded and should provide contact details if they wish to take the matter further.
6. If the Cabinet Member, in discussion with the Chief Officer, feels the petition cannot be speedily resolved to the lead petitioners satisfaction, they will instruct the Chief Officer to call an informal meeting which they will both attend, along with any other relevant officers, the lead petitioner(s) and the Ward Member(s). The meeting will be chaired by the Cabinet Member and will not be the decision-making forum but will enable the chairperson to hear any differing opinions and clarify any matters of fact. Once s/he has had the opportunity to consider the content of the meeting and any other relevant information, the Cabinet Member will give guidance to the Chief Officer about the viability of any solution(s) necessary.
7. The Chief Officer concerned should contact the lead petitioner(s) within 10 working days of the acknowledgement letter, to attempt resolution of the matter or in order to arrange an informal meeting.
8. Following the informal meeting, a record of the deliberations and any proposed solution(s) will be prepared and disseminated by the Chief Officer to the Head of Legal and Governance and all attendees of the meeting.
9. However, if in consultation with the Chief Officer, the Cabinet Member feels that the issue is sufficiently complex or important enough to warrant examination by an overview & scrutiny committee, the Cabinet Member will consult with the Chairperson of the relevant overview and scrutiny committee to ascertain whether it is possible for the petition to be heard by the committee and on what date. If there is agreement that the relevant overview and scrutiny committee should consider the matter, the lead petitioner(s) will be contacted accordingly.
10. The Cabinet member will also notify the Head of Legal and Governance and the Chief Officer, that the petition will be considered by an overview and scrutiny committee. The Chief Officer will ensure that the Head of Legal and Governance is provided with a covering report within the requisite time period and is advised of any Members/groups/individuals who should be notified about the date, time and venue of the overview & scrutiny meeting.
11. The petition will be heard at a specially convened meeting of the appropriate overview & scrutiny committee(s) and not as part of a regular business meeting. If the petition is to be heard by more than one overview & scrutiny committee a special joint meeting will take place. One of the Chairs of the overview & scrutiny committees that have been brought together to hear the petition will be responsible for chairing the joint meeting. The Head of Legal and Governance will inform the lead petitioner(s) and Ward Member of the meeting (offering them the opportunity to attend the relevant committee(s) and for the Ward Member to present the petition on behalf of the petitioners).
12. The Head of Legal and Governance will write to the lead petitioner(s) and Ward Member inviting them to meet the Chair of the overview & scrutiny committee and the Head of Democracy thirty minutes before the start of the meeting in order to agree the ground rules for the hearing. A copy of the outline ground rules will be enclosed with the correspondence. These ground rules will include:
Who will be allowed to address the meeting (this will usually be the lead petitioner(s), the Ward Member and the leader of any counter petition).
The duration of any single address to the Committee.
The sequence of these addresses to Committee.
The general code of conduct of the meeting (e.g. only one person to speak at any one time, all comments to be addressed through the Chair, the Chairs decision is final).
13. The Chair will also explain the nature of overview & scrutiny and its powers to the petitioners. This will include:
The fact that overview & scrutiny is not a decision-making body
That overview & scrutiny will attempt to gather all the relevant information and advise those making the decision (i.e. the Cabinet regarding in year policy or budget implementation or the Council regarding new policy or budget issues)
That, at the conclusion of the meeting, overview & scrutiny may either make a positive recommendation or suggest further consultation or information gathering.
14. At the meeting, the overview and scrutiny committee will hear the lead petitioners views on the matter and the professional advice of officers. It will scrutinise the perceived need for action, whilst being mindful of professional advice, budgetary and other implications of any recommended action
15. At the end of the meeting, the Democratic Services Officer attending will record the conclusions reached and any recommendation for further action. This information will be sent in a letter to the lead petitioner(s) with a copy to the Ward Member, the Cabinet Member and the Chief Officer. If the subject matter of the petition is also to be resolved by the Cabinet, the date of that Cabinet meeting and the corresponding meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee will be provided.
16. Petitions for Debate ( By the Full Council)
If you want your petition to be reported to and debated at a meeting of the Council, it must contain at least 1,500 signatories or petitioners (this is reduced to 500 signatories or petitioners where the petition relates to a local issue, affecting no more than 2 electoral wards within the authority's area). Should you wish to do so you will be allowed up to 5 minutes to make an oral presentation about your petition. The petition will then be discussed by councillors for a period at the discretion of the Mayor.
17. Petitions to Hold an Officer to Account
If you want your petition to be considered at a meeting of an overview and scrutiny committee, where an officer, identified either by name or by post title, will be required to answer questions on the conduct of a particular matter, your petition should contain at least 750 signatories or petitioners (this is reduced to 100 signatories or petitioners where the petition relates to a local issue, affecting no more than 2 electoral wards within the authority's area). Should you wish to do so you will be allowed up to 5 minutes to make an oral presentation about your petition. The petition will then be discussed by councillors for a period at the discretion of the Chair.
The authority has determined that such petitions must relate to the Chief Executive, a Director or a Head of Service of the authority. Please note that where the petition raises issues of competence or misconduct, the petition will be referred to the Chief Executive (or to the Head of Human Resources in respect of the Chief Executive) and will be considered under the authoritys Disciplinary Procedures, and not under this Petitions Procedure.
If the petition organiser is not satisfied with the outcome of the authoritys consideration of his/her petition, he/she may appeal to the Overview and Scrutiny Board by notifying the Petitions Officer of his/her intention to appeal within 20 working days of being notified of the authoritys decision on the petition.
Within 10 working days of receipt of intention to appeal, the Petitions Officer will determine which is the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee and will notify the petition organiser of the time, date and place of the next convenient meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Board and will invite the petition organiser to attend the meeting and to address the Committee for up to 5 minutes on why he considers that the authoritys decision on the petition is inadequate.
At that meeting, the Overview and Scrutiny Board will invite the petition organiser and Ward Councillors to make their representations and to explain why s/he considers that the Cabinet Members response was insufficient. The Overview and Scrutiny Board may not over-ride the Cabinet Member, but the Cabinet Member must consider any recommendations made by the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
This protocol will need to be actively overseen by the Head of Legal and Governance with reference to petitions concerning the behaviour of individuals, families and other groupings and all other situations where the motivation behind one or more of the petitions may reasonably be suspected of being racist, sexist, in any other way in contravention of the Councils commitment to equality and equity, or in possible contravention of the Human Rights Act or the principles of natural justice. In each case, it is the responsibility of the Head of Legal and Governance to investigate and make recommendations, either in public or in private, to Members of the relevant Committees and Departments in accordance with the Information Procedure Rules set out in the Constitution.
The petitions protocol document is available to view from the 'Related Documents' menu.