Council took decision under urgency powers as Executive Board meeting was cancelled due to holidays
A councillor has expressed concern that a decision has been taken by Wrexham Council under the snappily named emergency ‘urgency’ powers after a meeting where it could have been discussed via normal process was cancelled.
The executive board of Wrexham Council usually meets monthly, however at the regular meeting yesterday, the chief executive told councillors that the meeting last month was cancelled “because we wanted to make sure that Officers who worked all through the pandemic had opportunity to have their holidays”.
Such meetings are often pencilled in for August however rarely take place due to the summer holidays.
The decision in question saw Wrexham Council award Freedom Leisure ‘up to £500k’ in a pandemic bailout facility to help with phased reopening of services – our full report on that from Monday is here.
The report updating councillors that the decision had been made was set to be nodded through at the executive board meeting, however Cllr Dana Davies asked about the process and timings of the decision, as it was dated a day after a meeting was due to be held, and was apparently known as possible for weeks beforehand.
Cllr Davies said: “It is a query for the Chief Executive really, if he could just explain the thought process of why this was a delegated decision because it is dated the 5th of August, and we did have a scheduled Executive Board meeting in for the day before.
“So it’s a question on how that became a delegated decision?”
Deputy Leader David A Bithell, who was temporary Chair of the meeting at that point, invited the Finance Officer to ‘update on the decision making process’.
The Council’s Finance Officer Mark Owen explained the background to the finances of the decision, and on process said: “…the need for the decision and the link with the Executive Board on the 5th is that for probably about three weeks we were anticipating a Welsh Government decision around unlocking of indoor leisure.
“It’s happened earlier in England, the sports associations and whatever were anticipating that we didn’t get it early enough for the executive board because obviously the papers are made, put together, a week or so before and then the decision was made that leisure facilities could open from that 10th of August.”
“At that time there were there were instances of COVID and we had the testing set up within within Wrexham, so we have to consider that in terms of opening dates. So, we were anticipating that we’d open on the 17th. So all that fed into it couldn’t get to the Board.”
The Legal Officer also explained that the Executive Board were receiving the report now (however noting was not a review of the decision) as this was the next available meeting: “The reason for bringing the report is in strict compliance with the requirements of our Constitution, which says that in the event of an emergency or urgent decision being taken, it must be reported to the next meeting of the body which would otherwise have made that decision, and it is not a matter for review today.”
Cllr Dana Davies was unhappy at the explanation to the process behind the timeline of the decision, she followed up querying why the Executive Board meeting was cancelled in the first place if there was business to transact and such a decision was known as possible for weeks beforehand.
She said: “My fundamental question is if we had an Executive Board scheduled for the 5th of August, why did this then come as a delegated decision?
“Why didn’t we go with that Executive Board on the 5 August, and this report presented at that time when we knew three weeks before that there was going to be changes to the reopening of leisure?
“So my question is, how did this become a delegated decision, why didn’t we just run with the Executive Board in August? That’s a question to the Chief Executive”.
Deputy Leader David A Bithell, took the opportunity to address the point, stating: “I think I’ll determine who answers the question, Councillor Davies.
“So the decision to cancel the Executive Board in August was made early on because we wanted to make sure that Officers who worked all through the pandemic had opportunity to have their holidays.
“Since the early part of the pandemic was the 20th, started in March. I think it’s true to say that we canceled the Executive Board in August.
“I think over the years, it’s very rare that we’ve had an Executive Board in August.”
Looking back at the usual holiday period for councillors, August’s Executive Board in 2019 was cancelled, however there was an Executive Board meeting held in August 2018. 2017-2015 had no August Executive Board meeting, but 2014 did.
The 2014 meeting ironically had the first item of business, “Notice of Motion – Funding for Splash Community Trust” – the motion was not carried.
Cllr Bithell brought the target of the question in to speak, adding: “I will bring in the Chief Executive to clarify that what I’ve said is is correct”.
Chief Executive Ian Bancroft said: “Just to clarify clearly we have been really focusing on Covid-19 and responding and recovering.
“So I think in line with normal years we’ve not had an Executive Board during August.
“I think it’s important to say we’re not back in a normal situation, what I just outlined at the moment, and held during August, that we’re both dealing with an emergency we’re responding too and we’ve got normal business as well.”
“We absolutely tried to keep emergency decisions to a minimum. In this instance, there’s a real concern that there could have been job losses and also it could have undermined the sustainability of our leisure provider if that decision wasn’t taken at that point.”
Cllr Bithell then invited the Executive Board via a show of hands to formally “note the decision for transparency”, which they did.
Last week we asked the Council Leader and Chief Executive about decisions made during the pandemic, and pointed to documents before councillors now including lines that seek “retrospective support for decisions”. We asked the Chief Executive and the Leader of Wrexham Council about that process, what the point of it was if decisions have been made, and what would happen if councillors did not support the decisions – read more here.
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