Leeds council needs to be 'better at changing its mind', says audit committee member

Leeds City Council needs to become better at changing its mind and reversing decisions, councillors have suggested.

By Richard Beecham
Saturday, 31st July 2021, 4:45 am

Members of a council committee complained that procedures were such that problems with decisions, such as new policies or planning applications, could not be raised with the authority at certain times of the year.

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The comments were made during a meeting of the Corporate Governance and Audit Committee, which was discussing a report into decision-making procedures at the council.

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An audit committee member suggested Leeds City Council needs to become better at changing its mind and reversing decisions. Picture: Tony Johnson

Coun John Illingworth (Lab) said: “It’s often struck me that Leeds isn’t particularly good at going back and revisiting a decision after the event. I can think of policy changes that didn’t have the desired effect, and the decision-maker didn’t really know at the time that it hadn’t worked.

“Going back to look at planning consent and the policy on cleansing – there are loads of examples around the authority, full of good intentions and we did our best, but they didn’t work.

“It seems to me we would benefit from identifying cases and having a second look.”

When councillors are concerned about a decision, such as a new policy or for a planning application, they can request for it to be 'called in' by council scrutiny boards.

These boards are made up of councillors and decide whether to investigate issues further. They can then make recommendations to the council’s decision-making executive board.

A senior council officer told Coun Illingworth that revisiting decisions that have already been made was the role of scrutiny boards, but Coun Illingworth claimed it was difficult to get items looked at unless they arose at certain times of the year.

“That is what happens in theory,” he said. “But in practice there is a very narrow window of opportunity that scrutiny board fills up their agenda in the spring or the summer and rushes to finish it.

“If you haven’t got a pot on the boil in May or June, you’re not going to get on the agenda and that is a silly restriction.”

Coun Jonathan Bentley (Lib Dem) added: “When do you inspect what you expected? I think it needs to be done as a routine and should be part of our processes.”

Responding to the two comments, Coun Pauleen Grahame (Lab) said: “At scrutiny you can put something on the agenda.

“If something was put to the chair and it was important, there should be no issue in having that one agenda item.”

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