Flashback: Why do councils need Special Committees and are they well-managed?

In an November 2011 article, we discussed the varied approaches by councils in establishing special committees and ensuring they were accountable to the community. In the two years (as of 2011) since the Inspectorate’s inception, compliance audits had been conducted at more than 40 councils and a common theme was identified was the need for improvement in the management of special committees, ‘with some councils unsure of just how many they actually have.’

At the time, an Inspectorate team member said, “We have seen examples of councils with over 40 special committees and others with none, which has highlighted the vast differences in the way councils use special committees.”

Councils create special committees under section 86 of the Act to assist in the management of specific projects, initiatives and the municipality’s assets. When a council delegates powers, functions or duties to a special committee, it hands over the power to make decisions on behalf of the council. But with that autonomy comes legislated responsibilities.

During three recent governance examinations, many concerning findings were made which included:

  • delegations for special committees had not been reviewed or updates for many years
  • the majority of special committees had not provided financial statements on an annual basis to council
  • the majority of primary and ordinary returns were not submitted by special committee members in accordance with legislative requirements
  • most of the councils’ special committees did not hold the minimum number of meetings required or submitted minutes or held annual general meetings.

After the Inspectorate’s examinations, each council has reviewed the need for each of the special committees exist and then established improved governance structures for those remaining.

Noting the ‘set and forget’ nature of many special committees and the governance risks posed, it is encouraging to see councils reviewing and consolidating their special committees based on necessity and need.

A revised bulletin on Special Committees is also available.