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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 21st November, 2012.

 

Present:  Councillor C.P. Franks (Chairman); Councillor R.L. Traherne (Vice-Chairman); Councillors R.J. Bertin, J. Drysdale, Dr. I.J. Johnson, G.H. Roberts, J.W. Thomas, E. Williams and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

557     APOLOGY FOR ABSENCE -

 

This was received from Councillor Ms. B.E. Brooks.

 

 

558     MINUTES -

 

The minutes of the meeting held on 24th July, 2012 were approved as a correct record.

 

 

559     DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE: TERMS OF REFERENCE/ROLE OF FORMER MEMBER DEVELOPMENT AND ICT WORKING GROUPS (HDS) -

 

In initially establishing the Democratic Services Committee, the terms of reference approved by Council in May 2012 were tied into the basic wording of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.  However, given that a key role of the Committee as envisaged by the Measure was overseeing Member Development, it was considered that the terms of reference of the Committee should be amended to reflect this.  A number of other local authorities had already taken this approach.

 

Directly linked to the above was the question of whether the former Member Development Working Group and the Member ICT Working Group actually needed to be re-established and, if so, what their relationship would be with the new (statutory) Democratic Services Committee.

 

Given the formal status of the Committee, it was considered much more appropriate for all matters linked to Member Development (including ICT related matters) to be reported to this Committee.  This would avoid duplication and reduce impact on officers' and Members' time.  In any event, the status of the previous Working Groups would be subordinate to the Committee in terms of any ability to make decisions. 

 

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T, subject to the approval of Council, the terms of reference of the Committee be widened to include responsibility for overseeing the Council's approach to Member Development.

 

(2)       T H A T, in view of recommendation (1) above, the former Member Development Working Group and Member ICT Working Group be not reappointed.

 

(3)       T H A T a further report be submitted to the Committee reporting future proposals in respect of ICT for Members and the Members' ICT Strategy.

 

 

560      LOCAL GOVERNMENT (WALES) MEASURE 2011: UPDATE/ACTION PLAN (HDS) -

 

The purpose of the Measure was to make provision to strengthen the structures and working of local government in Wales at all levels and to ensure that local councils reached out to, and engaged with, all sectors of the community they served.  The Measure was extremely wide-ranging, consisting of 179 sections.  In order to assist the Committee's awareness/monitoring of progress in respect of the Measure's provisions, the following Update/Action Plan was submitted:

 

[View Update/Action Plan]

 

Discussion ensued with a number of specific points being raised in regard to the Action Plan.  Clarification was provided by the Head of Democratic Services in relation to procedures relating to 'Members' Rights' re agenda items and the future role of Town and Community Councils in terms of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 requirements.  This aspect would be overseen by the Welsh Government, albeit it was acknowledged that the Council's Charter would be used to communicate developments in this area.

 

Separate points were also made by Members in relation to raising the profile of the Council's scrutiny function and the need for greater public engagement.  Reference to the use by the Council of the Welsh Government's guidance / best practice principles for public engagement was considered important particularly given that the Welsh Government was seeking all Councils to 'sign up' to the same.  The Head of Democratic Services referred to the requirement to develop public engagement protocols and these would need to be considered by the Committee in the future.  Members also made reference to the use of press releases to raise the profile of the scrutiny role and the need for a corporate approach to this.  Comments were also made in relation to the public's lack of understanding of scrutiny and its remit, Members considered the Council's website to not be user friendly, too jargonistic and difficult to locate the Council's scrutiny related information e.g. Scrutiny Work Programmes.  Accordingly, the Committee felt that there was a need for a review of how the Council communicated with the public in promoting / engaging in relation to democracy, decision making, and scrutiny.

 

In light of the above comments it was

 

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T progress made to date in implementing the requirements of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 as set out in the Update/Action Plan above be endorsed.

 

(2)       T H A T the Council's Communication Manager be invited to the next meeting of the Committee to advise on options for improving public engagement / participation in the Council's scrutiny function, including the use of the media.

 

 

561     LOCAL GOVERNMENT (WALES) MEASURE 2011: DRAFT GUIDANCE AND REGULATIONS RE JOINT OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY ARRANGEMENTS (HDS) -

 

Previous reports regarding various components of the Measure had been submitted to Cabinet and the Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources). 

 

Given its remit as provided for under the Measure and given the nature of the above Guidance / Regulations, it was considered that the most appropriate fora for Members' views to be ascertained were the Democratic Services Committee and, firstly, the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group (with any views of the latter being reported to the Democratic Services Committee). 

 

On 1st October 2012 the Welsh Government issued a Consultation Document comprising draft Regulations and Statutory Guidance on Joint Scrutiny Committees and draft Statutory Guidance on Members' Annual Reports (the latter was the subject of a separate report on the agenda for the Democratic Services Committee).

 

In terms of the legislative context, Section 58 of the Measure empowered Ministers to make Regulations to permit two or more local authorities to appoint a joint overview and scrutiny committee and to issue statutory guidance to which such committees must have regard when exercising their functions. 

 

As far as the draft Regulations were concerned the main components related to the following:

 

·         Appointment of Joint Scrutiny Committees (Regulations 3 and 5)

·         Membership (Regulation 5)

·         Appointment of Sub-Committees (Regulation 6)

·         Chairing (Regulation 7)

·         Access to Meetings and Documentation and Termination of Membership (Regulations 8 and 9)

·         Co-option (Regulation 10)

·         Reference of Matters to a Joint Committee (Regulation 11)

·         Responses to Reports or Recommendations of a Joint Scrutiny Committee (Regulation 12)

·         Notification to 'Designated Persons' of Reports and Recommendations (Regulation 13)

·         Exclusion of the Press and Public (Regulation 14).

 

The Head of Democratic Services, in pointing out some of the implications of the draft guidance, referred to proposals contained within the above which would see the eligibility of a Chairman of a joint Scrutiny Committee to receive remuneration which would be comparable to the payment to a Chairman in receipt of a 'senior salary' of a Scrutiny Committee of the local authority of which that person was a Member.  This would require clarification given existing capping arrangements already in existence within each constituent Council on the basis of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales' recommendations.  The Committee also felt that there should not be a presumption in favour of any remuneration unless there was a clear case to do so on the basis of responsibilities attached to the role and the frequency of meetings held.

 

The Committee received the draft Statutory Guidance issued by the Welsh Government in respect of the establishment/working of joint Scrutiny Committees.  In terms of joint scrutiny itself, the Welsh Government acknowledged that there had been some innovative examples of joint Scrutiny having taken place (e.g. Prosiect Gwyrdd, with which the Council was obviously closely involved).  However, such arrangements had not previously had 'formal' status under existing legislation.  The draft Regulations provided for such status to apply. 

 

The Welsh Government's stated aim in relation to Section 58 of the Measure was to strengthen scrutiny arrangements through the promotion of collaboration and sharing of scrutiny expertise.  The provision for the establishment of joint committees was intended to make it easier to scrutinise the delivery of providers whose services covered more than one county, or to examine issues which cut across geographical boundaries. 

 

The draft Statutory Guidance set out, from the perspective of the Welsh Government, the following:

 

·         the benefits, for 'scrutineers' and partners of a joint approach

·         the importance of selecting the right issue for joint scrutiny

·         the criteria which should be taken into account when establishing a joint committee

·         the importance of scoping and project management

·         different types of approaches to joint scrutiny (e.g. ad hoc or longer term)

·         powers available to joint committees

·         what, and whom, can be scrutinised

·         the introduction of the scrutiny of 'Designated Persons'

·         call-in arrangements

·         appointment/membership/chairing of joint committees

·         officer support

·         forward planning.

 

It was considered that the ability to establish formal joint Scrutiny Committees should be welcomed.  The Welsh Government's Collaboration Agenda meant that local authorities would, inevitably, and increasingly, be working within a collaborative framework.  As such, the ability to effectively scrutinise evolving initiatives such as the Joint Education Service was important.  However, the Committee expressed the view that such arrangements should not impair the ability of individual Councils undertaking its own work programmes at the expense of joint scrutiny exercises given pressure on existing resources.  Indeed, the Committee considered that there should not be a wholesale shift in favour of such and that any joint scrutiny exercises undertaken in the future should only be done to where there were common joint objectives for the Council's participating.

 

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T the Welsh Government be requested to clarify, and include in the final guidance on joint overview and scrutiny, the mechanism for payment of a senior salary to the Chairman of a Joint Scrutiny Committee including:

 

·         the means by which such a salary would be expected to be funded

·         the implications, in terms of its overall limit on senior salaries set by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales, for the local authority from whom a Chairman was appointed.

 

(2)       T H A T the Welsh Government be urged to ensure that the final guidance is distributed as soon as practicable after the end of the consultation period.

 

 

562     LOCAL GOVERNMENT (WALES) MEASURE 2011: DRAFT GUIDANCE RE MEMBERS' ANNUAL REPORTS (HDS) -

 

Section 5 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 contained a requirement for Local Authorities to make provision, from April 2012, for each Member to make an Annual Report on their activities and for the publication by Members of such Reports. 

 

In the absence, until recently, of any specific Welsh Government guidance, it was considered prudent to progress the matter within the Council and, in September 2011, a draft format for introduction following the 2012 election was considered and approved by the former Member Development Working Group.  A copy was subsequently included in the Candidates' Pack issued to all those standing in the 2012 election.  The format was straightforward, provided for a consistent approach from Members and resulted in a concise document. 

 

On 1st October, 2012 the Welsh Government issued draft Statutory Guidance (summarised below) in respect of Members' Annual Reports. 

 

Section 5 of the Measure required local authorities to ensure that elected Members were able to make an Annual Report on their council activities during the previous year.  This included enabling any member of the council’s Executive to be able to report on their Executive activities also.  Any reports produced by Members must be published by the Council.  A local authority could set conditions / limits on what was included in a report

 

A local authority must publicise what arrangements it had for publishing Annual Reports and in drawing up such arrangements must have regard to the above guidance.  Arrangements would need to include informing Members how, and by when, to produce reports.  The Measure provided for a Head of Democratic Services (HDS) to facilitate the provision of support and advice to Members to assist them in the carrying out of their functions and organisation of the Annual Report process would fall within this.  It was anticipated that the first Annual Reports would be published no later than the end of June 2013.

 

How a local authority decided to publish Annual reports was a matter for that Authority to decide upon. The minimum requirement would be for the Authority to include a link to a Member’s Annual Report on that part of the Authority’s website which carried details of individual Members.  There was no requirement for any publicity beyond this, and authorities would need to be careful that, if they decided to provide any further publicity for the Reports, the same provision was provided for all Members.  As such, should a Member request that his / her report be given any greater publicity, that request should be declined unless carried out in respect of all Members.

 

Local authorities would also be required to ensure that their website included information about the introduction of Annual Reports and how members of the public could access them.

 

In terms of content, the central purpose of the Annual Reports was to enable members of the public to find information about their local councillor’s activity.  Annual Reports should include only factual information.  In the main that would suggest information on meetings, events and conferences attended, and training and development received. 

 

The following areas were submitted to the Committee as potential standard items to be included:

 

·         Role and responsibilities – to include details of membership of committees and outside bodies, attendance records for these and full council.

·         Local activity – details of surgeries held, representations made on behalf of electors and the results of these.

·         Major projects – involvement in local, county or regional initiatives or projects.

·         Learning and development – details of training and development events attended or undertaken, conferences and seminars attended.

 

Reference had been made during the Member Induction Programme to the above provision now existing.  Officers from Democratic Services would be able to assist in terms of providing to Members statistical information in terms of attendances.

 

Discussion ensued with differing views aired regarding the value of completing an Annual Report and information contained therein.  A number of points were raised in relation to the style/format and subject headings as contained within the existing document.

 

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T the draft guidance be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the existing Annual Report document template be circulated to Group Leaders with a view to further consideration being given to the content of the same with any proposed amendments being subject of a further report to the Committee by the Head of Democratic Services.

 

 

563     WALES AUDIT OFFICE SCRUTINY IMPROVEMENT STUDY (HDS) -

 

The Auditor General in his letter to Chief Executives on 13th March, 2012 stated his intent to conduct a number of all-Wales Improvement Studies each year.  The WAO programme for 2012/13 included a Scrutiny Improvement Study.  The WAO was looking to work with the local government sector in a way that provided an opportunity for all involved to further improve scrutiny in a sustainable manner.  The Study aimed to help achieve this through 'facilitating the gaining of insight, sharing knowledge, developing skills, building and strengthening relationships, and identifying new opportunities for working together with other councils and partners.' 

 

In addition to the above, it was also intended that the Study would support councils in responding to the Welsh Government's programme for scrutiny over the next three years and to shape proposed Key Characteristics of Effective Overview and Scrutiny.

 

The Study differed from a traditional audit approach in that it involved real-time shared activity and working together, self evaluation and peer learning exchange opportunities. 

 

The Study was split into a number of phases, which could be summarised as follows:

 

·         Collaborating Scoping - this had already taken place and comprised discussions between the WAO and local government and key partners.  As a result, a Project Brief was prepared.

·         Initial Self-Evaluation - each council had been asked to complete, and submit to the WAO by 31st October, 2012, a self-evaluation questionnaire.  It had been made clear that initial self-evaluation questionnaires were capable of being refined during the course of the Study.  Information would also be shared with other councils during later phases of the Study in order to enable learning, development and continuous improvement.

·         Learning Exchange Team - the Council had also been requested to nominate Members/Officers to form a Scrutiny Learning Exchange Team who, in turn, would attend two regional workshops (where information will be presented/shared) and work with a partner council during the Study.  This would include observing the scrutiny process in the partner authority.

 

The following Members were approached and had agreed to participate (in the context of their respective positions as shown below):

 

·         Councillor R.L. Traherne - Chairman, Scrutiny Committee (Economy and Environment) (Conservative)

·         Councillor G. John - Cabinet Member (Llantwit First Independents)

·         Councillor K. Hatton - Chairman, Audit Committee (Plaid Cymru)

·         Councillor Mrs. P. Drake - Vice-Chairman, Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources) (Labour).

 

The Officers involved would be the Head of Democratic Services and the Principal Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer. 

 

Regional Workshops/Learning - the above participants would attend two regional workshops, with the South Wales event comprising the Vale of Glamorgan Council together with Cardiff, Bridgend, Neath/Port Talbot and Swansea Councils.  Each council would present their initial self-evaluations to the Peer Learning Exchange Team from one other council and then undertake a Learning Exchange Evaluation / Observation of one other council.  As far as the Vale of Glamorgan was concerned, the council to be evaluated / observed would be Swansea, with Neath and Port Talbot undertaking the exercise in respect of this Council's scrutiny arrangements. 

 

Later phases of the Study would include the holding of a Focus Group and observation of two Scrutiny Committees of the partner council. 

 

Eventually, the Peer Learning Exchange Teams from each council would attend a second workshop, following which each council's self-evaluation tool would be refined, finalised and submitted to the Wales Audit Office by 30th April, 2013. 

 

Finally, the WAO would prepare a national summary report, provide local feedback to individual councils and regional groups and provide Good Practice Exchange Case Studies. 

  

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T the undertaking of the Study be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the outcome of the Study be reported to the Committee in due course.

 

 

564     MEMBER PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT INTERVIEWS (HDS) -

 

The Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 contained a requirement that local authorities have in place a facility whereby Members were offered the opportunity to have their training and development needs reviewed on an annual basis.  This requirement was accompanied by a provision that an opportunity existed for Members to have a pre-planned interview with a "suitable qualified person". 

 

A report was submitted to the former Member Development Working Group and subsequently to Cabinet in February 2012 setting out a proposed process to be used in respect of the above.  Cabinet approved the process, which would involve Members being supplied with an interview form based on a template issued by the WLGA.  A questionnaire designed by the WLGA to assist Members in the exercise would also be provided. 

 

In addition to the requirements of the Measure, the framework for WLGA Member Development Charter status provided for interviews taking place which were:

 

·         based on Role Descriptions, to be contained in the Member Development Strategy

·         contributed to Personal Development Plans (which, in turn, were to be used to inform the Council's overall Member Development Programme).

 

In essence, there were two ways of carrying out the process.  The interviews could either be offered / conducted via Group Leaders within their respective Groups (as was envisaged originally) or, alternatively, by a "suitably qualified person".  It was for the Council to determine such an officer (s) (e.g. an officer such as the Head of Democratic Services and / or one of his staff).  Whichever option was preferred, the interviewer would be afforded the opportunity of a brief training session beforehand in order to ensure consistency of approach.

 

It was important that this matter was progressed, not only in terms of the Measure, but in order to identify / deliver the next components of the Council's ongoing Member Development programme.

 

Both Councillors C.P. Franks and J.W. Thomas as Leaders of their respective Groups, confirmed their willingness to undertake such interviews in respect of their Group Members.

 

The Head of Democratic Services would liaise with the WLGA in respect of a mechanism for interviews for Group Leaders themselves.

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the remaining Group Leaders be requested to indicate whether they wish to conduct the Personal Development Interviews for members of their respective Groups or, alternatively, they wish officers to do so.

 

 

565     MEMBER DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY (HDS) -

 

A copy of the Council's existing Member Development Strategy was submitted for Members' information.  The Strategy had last been reviewed around a year ago and it was proposed that a further review be undertaken to take account of factors including the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 and some additional Member Role Descriptions.

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the Head of Democratic Services review/update the existing Member Development Strategy and submit a revised draft to the next meeting for Members' consideration.

 

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