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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 24th July, 2013.

 

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

 

 

295     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –  

 

These were received from Councillors J.C. Bird, R.L. Traherne and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

296     MINUTES –  

 

The minutes of the meeting held on 17th April, 2013 were approved as a correct record subject to it being noted that Councillor E. Williams had, in fact, been present.

 

 

297     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

Members queried whether any Member of the Committee who was also a member of a Town and Community Council needed to declare an interest in the items on the agenda which related to Town and Community Councils.  The Head of Democratic Services indicated that, given the agenda items related to legislative provisions, and were generic in nature, he did not believe it necessary for any Member to have to declare an interest.  He undertook to confirm the position in due course.

 

 

298     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 Update / Action Plan]

 

During the discussion, the Head of Democratic Services indicated that it was intended to arrange initial meetings of the Constitution Working Party, which had been established by Council on 26th June 2013, during August. 

 

RESOLVED –

 

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

 

(2)       T H A T future versions of the Update / Action Plan include the specific changes to the previous version in emboldened form.

 

 

299     LOCAL GOVERNMENT (WALES) MEASURE 2011: PROVISION RE COUNCILLORS’ ANNUAL REPORTS (HDS) –

 

All Members had been provided with an Annual Report template, which had been endorsed by the Democratic Services Committee, together with associated guidance notes.  Whilst the Measure required the Council to make this facility available to Councillors, there was no obligation on individuals to produce an Annual Report.

 

The template issued reflected the draft guidance issued some time ago by the Welsh Government.  The final guidance was still awaited.  At the time of writing the report, a total of 26 Annual Reports had been submitted to the Head of Democratic Services and would be published on the Council's website. 

 

Members requested that the Annual Reports be made as accessible as possible on the Council’s website and the Head of Democratic Services undertook to arrange accordingly. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the publication of Annual Reports on the Council’s website be noted.

 

 

300     LOCAL AUTHORITIES (JOINT OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEES) (WALES) REGULATIONS 2013 (HDS) –

 

On 1st October, 2012 the Welsh Government issued a Consultation Document which included draft Regulations and Statutory Guidance on Joint Scrutiny Committees.  The document was considered by the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group on 7th November, 2012 and by the Democratic Services Committee on 21st November, 2012.  As a result, the Council submitted comments to the Welsh Government asking that:-

 

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

 

Payments to members of a local authority were determined by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales. The Panel issued a Draft Supplementary Report – 'Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees Remuneration' dated 19th March 2013, which set out their considerations of the implications of establishing a joint overview and scrutiny committee for their Remuneration framework. Their preliminary determination was that a Chair would be entitled to a payment of £8,375 (£4,368 if the member was already in receipt of a payment) and a Vice-Chair would be entitled to a payment of £4,368 (£2,184 if the member was already in receipt of a payment).

 

The issuing by the Welsh Government of the final Statutory Guidance was still awaited.  However, the relevant Regulations had now been issued and came into force on 24th May, 2013.  In summary, the Regulations included provisions relating to the following:

 

·               Regulation 3 - Appointment and functions of Joint Scrutiny Committees

·               Regulation 4 - Requirement for participating authorities to enter an agreement

·               Regulation 5 - Membership

·               Regulation 6 - Sub-Committees

·               Regulation 7 - Chairing of Joint Committees and Sub-Committees

·               Regulation 8 - Access to meetings and documentation

·               Regulation 9 - Termination of membership

·               Regulation 10 - Suspension from membership

·               Regulation 11 - Co-option

·               Regulation 12 - Reference of matters to Joint Scrutiny Committees

·               Regulation 13 - Duty to respond to Joint Committees

·               Regulation 14 - Provisions re "Designated Persons"

·               Regulation 15 - Publication of reports / recommendations / responses.

 

Officers of the Constituent Authorities of the Central South Consortium Joint Education Service were in the process of finalising draft Terms of Reference and membership provisions for a Joint Scrutiny Committee.  The proposed arrangements would need to be considered and ratified by the five Constituent Authorities.  The Regulations would need to be complied with in terms of the setting up and ongoing operation of, the Joint Scrutiny Committee (JSC).

 

Certain Members expressed concern in regard to the establishment of a regional JSC, particularly in relation to responsibility/accountability implications being to the potential detriment of local scrutiny arrangements of the service concerned.  Discussion ensued in relation to the role of the JSC in terms of reporting arrangements.  It was acknowledged that, whilst the exact reporting framework had yet to be finalised, there was no statutory requirement of the JSC to refer its deliberations/recommendations to the five individual Scrutiny Committees within the region for their agreement.  It was, however, likely that local informal arrangements were likely to evolve over time to provide an interface between the JSC and individual local Scrutiny Committees (e.g. the submission of JSC minutes for information).  Dependent on local circumstances , it might also be advantageous for a Council’s relevant Scrutiny Committee to request briefings from the relevant Cabinet Member on the Consortium's Executive Board and/or to request the Council's representatives appointed to the JSC to provide feedback following meetings.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the Regulations be noted and taken into account in terms of any joint scrutiny arrangements entered into by the Council.

 

(2)       T H A T a progress report be submitted on the work of the Joint Scrutiny Committee which was being established to scrutinise the Central South Consortium Joint Education Service six months after it first meets.

 

 

301     DEMOCRATIC AND SCRUTINY SERVICES STRUCTURE (HDS) –

 

The Democratic and Scrutiny Services team within the Democratic Services Division comprised four officers.  Each of those officers, including the Team Leader, undertook a wide range of duties, covering both the Scrutiny and Committee Services functions.

 

In the light of a long-standing member of the above team recently retiring, the opportunity had been taken to identify, within existing budgetary provision, whether any additional officer support for Democratic Services could be built into the structure.  Following discussion with the Managing Director, the budget for the post alluded to above was combined with the funding which had remained in place for a lower graded post elsewhere in the Division.  Proposals were drawn up for the creation of two posts, one entitled a Scrutiny Support Officer and the other an Assistant Democratic Services Officer.  Both posts had been evaluated at Grade F and were currently being advertised internally.  The intention was that one of the additional posts, once the postholder had undergone the necessary development, would provide additional support within Democratic Services and, particularly, for the Council's scrutiny function.

 

Whilst generally welcoming the report, a number of Members expressed reservations that, whilst providing some additional support for scrutiny, it might, in fact, be of a limited nature. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the report be noted.

 

 

302     LOCAL GOVERNMENT (DEMOCRACY) (WALES) BILL (HDS) –

 

The Bill was introduced in November 2012 by the Minister for Local Government and Communities.  The Welsh Government's stated purpose of the Bill was to make improvements to the democratic process in local government.  It sought to ensure that local authorities were democratically representative of their communities through reforming the functions of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales.

 

The Bill would also:

 

·               amend the responsibilities of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and the structure of local authority committees within the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011

·               improve the public's access to information about Town and Community Councils

·               facilitate the creation of joint Standards Committees by local authorities

·               enable Councils to separate the ceremonial and civic functions from the role of presiding over meetings of the Council if they so wished.

 

The Bill had, in fact, recently been passed, and was awaiting Royal Assent.  It was agreed that a copy be forwarded to all Members of the Council.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the report be noted and further reports submitted to future meetings of the Committee, Cabinet and / or Council as appropriate once Royal Assent for the Bill has been given.

 

 

303     FUNDING FOR TOWN AND COMMUNITY COUNCIL WEBSITES (HDS) –

 

In March of this year, the Welsh Government paid grants to Principal Councils in Wales, partly to provide assistance of £500 per council to Town and Community Councils for website development.

 

On 17th June 2013, a letter was sent to all 26 Town and Community Councils in the Vale of Glamorgan regarding this matter.  The letter constituted the Council's formal offer to each council of a £500 grant.  Under the conditions of the grant specified by the Welsh Government, the funding could only be spent on development of a website.  Councils who already had a website were not excluded from taking advantage of the grant provision.  The funding was tied into the fact that the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Bill, currently under consideration in the National Assembly, contained provisions which would require each Town and Community Council to publish certain information on a website.  The Welsh Government considered the grant to be a means of helping councils to prepare for this provision.

 

The letter referred to above required each Town and Community Council, in formally accepting the offer of funding, to indicate how the funding would be used prior to the end of the financial year.  In turn, the Vale of Glamorgan Council was required to provide the Welsh Government with an account of how the overall grant was utilised. 

 

Town and Community Councils were asked to respond by 5th July 2013.  This, in turn, was designed to allow the Council to make the funding available to Town and Community Councils during July as requested by the Welsh Government.

 

A total of 16 Town and Community Councils had formally accepted the offer of funding and would be forwarded the £500 in due course.  Members felt that those Town and Community Councils who had not taken up the offer of the grant should be encouraged to do so. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the report be noted and the Head of Democratic Services write to those Town and Community Councils who had not taken up the grant, encouraging them to do so; the letter to also be forwarded to the Chairmen of those Councils.

 

 

304     WELSH GOVERNMENT DRAFT GUIDANCE: LOCAL GOVERNMENT (WALES) MEASURE 2011: PART 7: COMMUNITIES AND COMMUNITY COUNCILS (HDS) –

 

Part 7 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 contained provisions which gave effect to the Welsh Government's commitment to "develop and strengthen the role of Community Councils in Wales, enabling them to deliver a wider range of services and actions locally as well as increasing the effectiveness of their representational role and their ability to work in partnership with other bodies.

 

The above provisions flowed from the recommendations of a study, commissioned by the Welsh Government and undertaken in 2003, by the University of Wales, Aberystwyth: Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences into community councils in Wales, titled "Research Study into the Role, functions and future Potential of Community and Town Councils in Wales" ('the Aberystwyth Study').

 

The Aberystwyth Study presented a comprehensive review of the activities undertaken by Community Councils across Wales.  The report outlined the opportunities available to Community Councils, the constraints within which they operated and proposals for enhancing their roles.

 

The Welsh Government’s response to the report and subsequent 2007 local government policy statement 'A Shared Responsibility' set out a range of commitments which had guided policy and action in this area since.  The Measure provided the vehicle for those aspects which required primary legislation to implement them.

 

The Committee received a Welsh Government guidance document which included statutory guidance in relation to the co-option of members of Community Councils (chapter 3) and the appointment of community youth representatives (chapter 4).  When exercising functions under the provision to which these chapters related, regard must be given to this guidance.

 

For each of the other chapters the guidance provided a summary of the provisions contained within the Measure and, where appropriate, an update on the latest position regarding the adoption of those provisions.  It was noted that separate guidance, both statutory and non-statutory, might be developed in support of the various chapters of this part of the Measure. 

 

Obviously, given the nature of the subject matters covered, the implications generally were for Town and Community Councils themselves.  However, the Council would need to take account over time of the provisions and, if necessary, reflect such in the Charter that existed between the Council and Town and Community Councils.

 

Points raised during the discussion included the following:

 

·               concern that, despite providing the opportunity for Town and Community Councils to appoint Youth Representatives, those representatives would not be able to be granted any voting rights

·               a general consensus that Town and Community Councils represented an opportunity of engaging people at a local level and that the Welsh Government’s approach to their role should be supported.

·               consistency/standardisation in approach by the police and other agencies to be encouraged when presenting information to Town and Community Councils.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the points referred to above be forwarded to the Welsh Government as representing the comments of the Committee.

 

 

305     REMOTE ATTENDANCE AT COUNCIL MEETINGS (HDS) –

 

One of the provisions of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 related to the introduction of the possibility of remote attendance at Council meetings. 

 

Draft statutory guidance issued by the Welsh Government regarding this matter was circulated to all Members of the Council on 14th June 2013.  Members were informed of the intention to submit a report to the Committee on 24th July and invited to forward any comments for incorporation in such a report. 

 

A small number of responses were received from Members.  In summary, the comments related to:

 

·               the cost of facilitating the possibility of remote attendance and officer time involved

·               a suggestion that the provision would more likely be relevant in a large rural local authority

·               an expression of support for the principle of remote attendance, subject to it being applicable within limited / specified conditions only.

 

The purpose of the report was to afford the Committee a final opportunity to comment on the draft statutory guidance.

 

Whilst difficult to quantify in advance of any such facility being made available, there would, obviously, be implications in terms of additional officer resources necessary.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the report be noted and a progress report on both Remote Attendance and Webcasting be submitted to the next meeting.

 

  

306     WEBCASTING OF COUNCIL MEETINGS (HDS) –

 

Towards the end of the last financial year, the Minister for Local Government and Communities announced the making available of funding to local authorities to support the broadcast of Council meetings, preparations for remote attendance and the development of Town and Community Council websites.  Each principal council was allocated £40,000 to assist with broadcasting and working towards remote attendance, plus an extra £500 for each Town and Community Council in its area.  Separate reports in respect of remote attendance and Town and Community Council websites were included on the agenda.

 

In accepting the offer of funding, the Council would need to evidence that piloting of webcasting of some meetings had occurred by the end of the financial year.  Adaptations to the Council Chamber, which would be carried out over the next couple of months, had been expanded upon in order to accommodate the equipment necessary to provide for the piloting of webcasting.  Discussions would continue over the next few months regarding the most feasible way of piloting webcasting of certain meetings.  The Welsh Government had been informed accordingly. 

 

Consideration would need to be given to ongoing revenue costs in terms of infrastructure and staff time, given that the funding provided by Welsh Government was on a "one off" basis. 

 

During the discussion, reference was made to the fact that webcasting could provide an opportunity for clarifying / confirming areas of discussion and / or requests by Members for information at meetings. 

 

The Head of Democratic Services indicated that it was envisaged that, under the conditions of the grant, a small number of meetings would be piloted for webcasting prior to the end of the financial year. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the report be noted and a progress report submitted on both Remote Attendance and Webcasting to the next meeting.