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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 17th April, 2013.

 

Present:  Councillor C.P. Franks (Chairman); Councillors R.J. Bertin, Ms. B.E. Brooks, Dr. I.J. Johnson, G.H. Roberts, J.W. Thomas and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

1069   APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –  

 

These were received from Councillors J. Drysdale and R.L. Traherne.

 

 

1070   MINUTES –   

 

The minutes of the meeting held on 21st November, 2012 were approved as a correct record.

 

 

1071   DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

1072   LOCAL GOVERNMENT (WALES) MEASURE 2011: UPDATE / ACTION PLAN (HDS) –

 

As previously reported, the Measure was extremely wide-ranging and 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 Action Plan]

 

 

During the discussion the Head of Democratic Services highlighted the following specific issues:

  • webcasting / remote attendance / Town and Community Council websites 

Funding from Welsh Government offered to all Welsh Local Authorities to progress these matters had been accepted by the Council.  The conditions of the funding required the Council to illustrate by the end of the current financial year evidence of progressing, in particular, webcasting.  Works already programmed for the redevelopment of the Council Chamber later in the year would take this factor into account. The Committee indicated its desire to progress webcasting and asked that they be kept informed of developments.  Further clarification was awaited from Welsh Government regarding the utilisation of the funding of £500 for each of the 26 Town and Community Councils for website development. 

  • Members’ Annual Reports – this was the subject of a separate report later in the agenda.

 

  • Personal Development Interviews for Members

The Head of Democratic Services acknowledged that a delay had occurred in facilitating the process and stated his intention to undertake interviews with Group Leaders during the second half of May 2013.  Group Leaders would then undertake interviews with their respective Group Members.

  • Family Absence

The Welsh Government had issued a consultation document, with responses required by 14th June 2013.  The Council would be required to make provision in respect of Members for various types of family absence. 

 

Remuneration for Chairmen of Joint Scrutiny Committees – a separate report was included later in the agenda.

  • “Designated Persons”

Clarification was still awaited from Welsh Government as to who would be “Designated Persons” (i.e. subject to scrutiny by local authorities).

 

RESOLVED – T H A T progress made to date in implementing the requirements of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 be endorsed.

 

 

1073   WALES AUDIT OFFICE SCRUTINY IMPROVEMENT STUDY (HDS) –

 

As indicated in the previous report, the Council had been requested to nominate Members / officers to form a Scrutiny Learning Exchange Team who, in turn, had attended two regional workshops (where information was presented / shared) and worked with a partner Council during the Study.  This included observing the scrutiny process in the partner authority. 

 

The observation / evaluation exercises had now been undertaken.  The Council's Team paid two visits to Swansea Council, observing its Scrutiny Programme Committee and its Looked After Children Enquiry Panel.  Similarly, a team from Neath and Port Talbot Council observed the Vale of Glamorgan Council's Scrutiny Committees (Corporate Resources) and (Economy and Environment).  As part of this process, "focus groups" were also held with officers / Members of the respective authorities involved. 

 

Each Council had completed an evaluation of the scrutiny arrangements in the authority observed (taking into account the authority's own initial self-evaluation of such). 

 

The formal outcome of the Study would be encapsulated in the WAO final report which, in turn, would be reported to the Committee.  However, the Head of Democratic Services indicated that the initial feedback provided to the two Scrutiny Committees observed was very positive.  In both instances, the feedback had included complimentary comments regarding the chairing of both the Corporate Resources and Economy and Environment Committees.  Mention was also made of the "inclusive" nature of the meetings observed (i.e. in terms of the contribution / involvement of Elected Members and external participants). 

 

The second, and final, regional workshop took place on 12th April 2013.  The workshop had provided an opportunity for the Learning Exchange Teams from each of the five authorities concerned to discuss their own, and the partner authority’s, self-evaluations.  In addition, discussion and identification of good practice had taken place. 

 

Certain Members alluded to their understanding of there being a wide variation in the type, and level, of officer support for the scrutiny function within Welsh Local Authorities.  The Head of Democratic Services confirmed that this was the case but stated that, in his view, it was very difficult to draw meaningful comparisons between structures, given the widely differing roles undertaken by officers in the field.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the final Wales Audit Office Study report be submitted to the Committee when it becomes available.

 

 

1074   MEMBERS’ ANNUAL REPORTS (HDS) –

 

Consideration was given to a revised format for use by those Members wishing to produce Annual Reports (as provided for under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011).  Given the comments made at the last meeting, the template, whilst providing for the inclusion of membership of committees and outside bodies, did not require Members to list the actual number of meetings attended. 

 

The Committee was reminded that, whilst the Measure required the Council to make this facility available to Members, there was no obligation on individual Members to produce an Annual Report.  However, the Head of Democratic Services hoped that Members would, indeed, avail themselves of the opportunity to do so.  It was agreed that Annual Reports be limited to no longer than four sides of A4 in length.

 

Draft guidance from the Welsh Government anticipated that the first Annual Reports would be published by no later than the end of June 2013. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the Annual Report template be circulated to all Members, together with guidance on completion.

 

 

1075   REVISED DRAFT MEMBER DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY (HDS) –

 

The opportunity had been taken to update the Member Development Strategy, the previous version of which dated from 2011.  The revised draft submitted to the Committee took account of the relevant provisions of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 and would underpin the Council’s ongoing Member Development Programme.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the revised Member Development Strategy be approved for circulation to all Members of the Council.

 

 

1076   DRAFT SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT REMUNERATION PANEL FOR WALES (IRPW) RE REMUNERATION FOR CHAIRS OF JOINT OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEES (HDS) –

 

On 1st October 2012 the Welsh Government issued a Consultation Document comprising draft Regulations and Statutory Guidance on Joint Scrutiny Committees.  A detailed report on this matter was submitted to the last meeting of the Committee.  The draft guidance included reference to 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.  The Committee had resolved that this required 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 resolved that 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 the 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.

It was further resolved that the Welsh Government be urged to ensure that the final guidance was distributed as soon as practicable after the end of the consultation period.

 

Attached as Appendix A to the report was a draft Supplementary Report of the IRPW relating to matters of remuneration for Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees.  As indicated above, the Welsh Government had previously issued a consultation document, to which the Council had responded as shown.  The Welsh Government had indicated that the actual Regulations would be issued in the Spring. 

 

The IRPW, in issuing the draft report for consultation, had considered the following issues (each of which were expanded upon in the draft Supplementary Report:

 

(a)       the appropriate level of remuneration for the Chair of a Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee

(b)       which local authority should be responsible for the payment

(c)        whether the remuneration of Joint Overview and Scrutiny office holders should count against the

            maximum proportion of Members a Council is allowed to pay a senior salary

(d)       whether a Member who is already in receipt of a senior salary should receive payment if appointed as

           Chair of a Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee

(e)       whether Chairs of sub committees of Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees should be remunerated

(f)         the position regarding Deputy Chairs of Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees and sub committees

(g)       co-optees.

 

The Panel’s draft determinations included clarification that payment to a Chairman of a Joint Committee or sub-committee would be regarded as additional to the maximum proportion of the Authority’s membership eligible for a senior salary.  As far as the funding of such a senior salary was concerned, the Panel had indicated this would need to fall to the Council of which the Chairman was a Member.  However, they had indicated that the manner in which costs might be apportioned would be a matter for the authorities involved in the joint arrangements.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the draft Supplementary Report of the Remuneration Panel be noted.

 

 

1077   CITIZENS’ PANEL CONSULTATION RE SCRUTINY COMMITTEES: JANUARY 2011 (HDS) –

 

Members received a copy of the outcome report in respect of the above survey.  Although carried out in 2011, the findings were considered by the Council’s Consultation Officer to still be relevant and were intended to serve as background / baseline information for the Committee in terms of future initiatives to increase public engagement in / awareness of the scrutiny process.

 

The survey had been designed to assess public perception and understanding of the scrutiny process within the Vale of Glamorgan.  A total of 419 responses had been received.  Main points of interest in terms of responses included:

  • approximately 50% awareness level
  • a large proportion (82%) considered the scrutiny process to be an effective way to scrutinise Council policy.  However, of those who had been involved in the process, this figure fell to 69%
  • only 9% of respondents were aged under 45
  • appeared to be significant interest from respondents in becoming involved in the scrutiny process
  • concerns expressed included –
  • -                      perception of political bias / lack of independence
-                      lack of effective debate.

 

The Head of Democratic Services alluded to the current Administration’s decision to increase the amount of pre-Cabinet decision scrutiny.  He suggested that this had, indeed, increased the effectiveness of the scrutiny process.  In terms of public engagement, a protocol was to be drawn up which would formalise arrangements for public participation at meetings.  Similarly, ways of raising public awareness by utilising the Council’s website would be explored. 

 

There was an acknowledgement that the fact that the survey had been undertaken of members of the Council’s Citizens Panel possibly meant that this would not be representative of the population of the Vale of Glamorgan as a whole.  In terms of increasing public awareness and / or engagement, there was general agreement amongst the Committee that:

  • the subject matter (as opposed to the concept of scrutiny itself) was the determining factor in public involvement
  • “single item” scrutiny meetings had generally generated the most interest
  • a feeling that the current format of reports could possibly be refined to be more “user friendly”
  • the need, when preparing publicity material regarding the scrutiny process, to reflect the different roles and responsibilities of Scrutiny and Cabinet (i.e. in terms of decision-making / scrutiny).

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the outcome of the survey be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T this matter be given further consideration by the Committee in the context of the Wales Audit Office Scrutiny Improvement Study report when issued.

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