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Public could join council committee

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
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Public could join council committee

MEMBERS of the public could become part of a watchdog scrutinising the work of Dumfries and Galloway Council.

In an unusual move put forward on Tuesday, councillors were asked to consider the appointment of lay members to the audit, risk and scrutiny committee.

That committee serves to keep check on the performance and proper running of the local authority, and is typically made up solely of councillors and chaired by the leader of the opposition political group.

However, new UK-wide guidance has come out from CIPFA, the standard-setting body for UK public finance, which recommended that “co-opted independent” members be considered for a place alongside councillors.

A report stated: “To date a limited number of Scottish local authorities have appointed lay members to their audit committees.

“Privately it is reported that success depends on finding persons of calibre and experience and that difficulties also arise when it comes to their replacement.

“However, overall it is regarded as a positive experience in bringing a different perspective and expertise to audit committee discussions.

“Members may therefore wish to consider the circumstances in which lay audit committee members could be appointed to Dumfries and Galloway Council.”

This possibility appeared to take some councillors aback and Mid Galloway and Wigtown West Councillor Katie Hagmann said: “How would a lay person be appointed?

“How would we go about appointing lay members? What would the impact assessment be? What are the risks to maybe not having full member oversight?”

She added: “At this point I wouldn’t be comfortable making any recommendations going forward because there’s just not enough information before us.”

Annandale East and Eskdale Councillor Archie Dryburgh, leader of the Labour group, said: “It would be very difficult to go through a lay members recruitment process.

“It’s elected members from Dumfries and Galloway Council that should be on the audit, risk and scrutiny committee.”

Nith Councillor Malcolm Johnstone, vice chairman of audit, risk and scrutiny committee, said: “I don’t think it’s for us to sit here and make up the composition of our own committee.

“That should be handled through due process, and the only basis I can see for bringing in lay members would purely be on a skills basis to bolster the skillset of the committee.”

Lochar Councillor Linda Dorward agreed, and added: “It might be useful to see what other councils are doing.”

Council governance officer Vlad Valiente advised that the committee review the situation towards the end of the year to see how this new guidance is being implemented across Scotland.

Councillors agreed for a further report on the matter to be brought back to the committee after the summer recess.

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