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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 9th October, 2013.

 

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

 

 

469     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE – 

 

These were received from Councillors Ms. B.E. Brooks and G.H. Roberts.

 

 

470     MINUTES –  

 

The minutes of the meeting held on 24th July, 2013 were approved as a correct record.

 

 

471     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

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

 

In order to maintain the Committee’s awareness / monitoring of progress in respect of the Measure’s provisions, the following Update / Action Plan was submitted (the emboldened text indicating updates since the last meeting):

 

 

[View Update/Action Plan]

 

 

A discussion ensued regarding production of Members’ Annual Reports and the conducting of Member Personal Development Interviews.  As far as the former was concerned, as indicated above, a total of 28 Members had produced Annual Reports covering the period 2012/13.  As previously reported to the Committee, the legal requirement was on the Council to facilitate the production of Annual Reports.  It was a matter for individual Members as to whether they took up the opportunity to do so.  Members of the Committee referred to the 'value' of such reports, given their fairly limited content.  It was suggested that, for example, details of attendance at training / development events was, arguably, of little interest to members of the public.  As a result (but acknowledging the legal requirement alluded to above), it was agreed that the format of such reports would be reviewed prior to the conducting of the exercise for 2013/14. 

 

Again, as indicated above, the Head of Democratic Services confirmed that the undertaking of Member Personal Development Interviews by Group Leaders was underway.  However, he was unaware of how many interviews had been completed to date.  

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the Committee consider / review the format used for Members’ Annual Reports prior to the conducting of the exercise for 2013/14.

 

(2)       T H A T the Head of Democratic Services remind Group Leaders of the agreement to undertake Personal Development Interviews for Members of their respective Groups. 

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  In order to comply with the relevant provisions of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.

 

 

473     WELSH GOVERNMENT CONSULTATION DOCUMENT RE SCRUTINY OF 'DESIGNATED PERSONS' (HDS) –

 

In April 2013, the First Minister established the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery to examine the current arrangements relating to the provision of public services in Wales.  The Welsh Government saw this as a step towards achieving its vision of a public service landscape which delivered efficient public services based on collaborative arrangements to meet the various and changing needs of Welsh citizens.

 

The Committee received the Welsh Government Consultation Paper on the proposed first Designated Persons Order, which reflected Welsh Government's approach to ensuring all public organisations with responsibility for service delivery were subject to a scrutiny process which examined the services provided in one geographical area, from the "holistic perspective" of the quality of life for its inhabitants. 

 

The Welsh Government considered local authorities to be well-placed to lead on this scrutiny process and the Consultation Paper proposed the list of organisations (i.e. "Designated Persons") which, in the first instance, would be subject to scrutiny by Principal Councils.  Various requirements would be placed on the "Designated Persons" in terms of attendance at meetings of Scrutiny Committees and the provision of evidence to such.

 

Given the requirement for all Local Service Boards in Wales to produce a Single Integrated Plan (SIP), the organisations proposed to be designated were those currently engaged in the production of the SIP. 

 

The relevant bodies under consideration in the first designation phase were:

 

·               Local Health Boards

·               NHS Trusts

·               Fire and Rescue Authorities

·               National Park Authorities.

 

The Consultation Paper also referred to the role of Town and Community Councils as named community planning partners.  Given those Councils' existing "democratic mandate", the Consultation Paper invited views on whether, and how, they could contribute to local scrutiny and if it was necessary to designate them under the first phase.

 

In addition, acknowledging their importance in delivering better outcomes for communities across Wales through single integrated planning, the Consultation Paper proposed two significant additions to the above list:

 

·               Registered Social Landlords

·               Third Sector Organisations delivering services to the public and who meet the criteria set out in the Consultation Paper, "What do we mean by a Designated Person?".

 

Annex A to the Consultation Paper contained specific questions which the Committee was asked to consider.  Responses were required to be submitted by 21st November 2013.

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Local Service Board (LSB), whose members included several of the organisations listed as "Designated Persons", would consider the matter in its next meeting on 17th October. 

 

Differing views were expressed during the discussion on this matter.  Reference was made to the fact that existing arrangements already provided for the attendance of representatives from numerous organisations and that the Council had not experienced any difficulty in terms of organisations’ participation in the scrutiny process.  However, there was also reference to accepting the need for services to be scrutinised holistically on a geographical / user basis, particularly given the increasing collaboration agenda.  In terms of the specific questions contained in the Consultation Paper, the following comments were agreed:

 

(i)            That the Committee recommends that the following (as contained in the Consultation Paper) should be designated in the First Order:

·               Local Health Boards

·               NHS Trusts

·               Fire and Rescue Authorities

·               National Park Authorities

·               Registered Social Landlords.

 

(ii)        Clarification be sought regarding the definition of the phrase 'third sector organisations that are delivering services to the public'.

 

(iii)       That the Committee considers that the following additional organisations should also be included in the First Order:

·               transport providers

·               SEWTA

·               Natural Resources Wales

·               Welsh Water (if covered by the relevant legislative provisions regarding 'Designated Persons').

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the above comments be conveyed to the Welsh Government as constituting the Committee’s response to the Consultation Paper.

 

Reason for decision

 

To inform Welsh Government of the Committee’s views.

 

 

474     LOCAL GOVERNMENT CANDIDATES’ SURVEY 2012 (HDS) –

 

The Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 included a requirement that local authorities conduct a standardised survey of Councillors and unsuccessful candidates for election in their area. 

 

The survey undertaken had to include both county, and community, Councillors and asked a prescribed set of questions that included (but was not limited to) regarding gender, sexual orientation, language, ethnicity, age, disability, religion or belief, health, education and qualifications, employment and work as a Councillor.  The Vale of Glamorgan Council was one of a number of local authorities who commissioned the Data Unit Wales to undertake the work (the cost of which was funded by the Welsh Government) on the Council's behalf.

 

The survey was designed mainly to provide information on the demographic profile of local authority Councillors and candidates, together with an analysis of trends over time, comparing against Electoral Reform Society and Welsh Local Government Association data from previous years.  The intention was that the survey be repeated at each ordinary election, thereby allowing for comparisons to be made over time. 

 

The outcome report of the overall survey, which was attached as Appendix A to the report, summarised demographic characteristics of elected Councillors and unelected candidates, focusing particularly on diversity.  The Welsh Government envisaged that the information provided would support both it, and political parties, in the development of policies to increase diversity of those who stand as county and community Councillors. 

 

A summary of key findings was set out in page 3 of the report. 

 

As alluded to above, information had also been provided by Data Unit Wales relating to the Vale of Glamorgan Council specifically.  It was suggested that the information be analysed within the Council and issued in an alternative format to all Members.

 

The nature of the Survey as eventually conducted meant its parameters were narrower than those originally envisaged.  When the survey was originally envisaged / discussed) the intention was that it would be wider in scale.  The original concept was that the survey would seek to explore the factors which were deterring people from actually standing for election.  The eventual survey, given that it was limited to individuals who had actually decided to stand for election, by its very nature became narrower.  Whilst it was appreciated that it would have been a slightly more involved exercise, the original concept was still considered to have provided more value if the aim was indeed to identify 'inhibiting' factors in terms of prospective future councillors.   This point had been made in a response prepared / submitted by officers to a series of questions asked by the Expert Group on Local Government Diversity in a Call for Evidence.  The full response was reproduced in Appendix B to the report.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the outcome of the Local Government Candidates’ Survey 2012 be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the information provided by the Local Government Data Unit in respect of the Vale of Glamorgan Council be analysed and details submitted to a future meeting.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To inform the electoral process.

 

 

475      WEBCASTING OF COUNCIL MEETINGS AND REMOTE ATTENDANCE (DR) –

 

The recently completed refurbishment of the Council Chamber had included the provision of microphones, cameras, TV screens and associated software.

 

The Welsh Government had made available a grant of £40,000 to local authorities this financial year to assist in the development of webcasting and remote attendance at Council meetings.  As part of the terms of accepting the grant, the Council would be piloting, prior to the end of the financial year, webcasting of a small number of meetings.

 

A new microphone system had already been procured as part of the improvements to the Council Chamber and Committee meetings in general.  The suppliers were asked to provide the video cameras and associated software to ensure that they were compatible with the microphone system.

 

A separate audio / visual room had been created as part of the Chamber refurbishment, which would host the equipment and allow for a technician to monitor the equipment and its correct functioning.  Resources would need to be identified to attend Council meetings to provide technical assistance should there be problems with the hardware.  Consideration would need to be given to identifying the most cost effective method of streaming the video footage through the Council’s website.

 

It was envisaged that members of the public would access the webcasts through the Council’s website and work was progressing with the suppliers of the system to ensure that the links to the website were properly configured and that appropriate staff were properly trained in its use.

 

The grant from Welsh Government would cover the cost of procurement of the system.   However, it might not cover all of the costs for the associated web streaming and bandwidth requirements if the system was to be used effectively. The bandwidth required to deliver the webcast depended on the number of individuals who wanted to view the meeting online at the same time and this was an unknown quantity at present and might well grow over time if the webcasting became more popular with the general public.

 

Ongoing annual costs to fund the support and maintenance of the webcasting system were not provided as part of the grant so additional funding would need to be found in future years if the Council continued to use webcasting.

 

Remote attendance was less advanced as concerns about remote voting, accommodating a number of remote attendees at the same time and making sure they had the same opportunity to contribute to the discussions needed to be resolved.  Procedures about what to do in the event of a breakdown in the technology also needed to be considered and agreed so that the work of the meeting could continue and votes could be counted.  There were also matters related to Access to Information legislation / provisions which would require clarification.  The Measure simply required that local authorities’ Standing Orders included provision for the possibility of remote attendance.

 

A number of Members considered the concept of remote attendance to be premature given the numerous issues which would require clarification.  There was an acknowledgement that it was potentially likely to be of more value in large rural areas (particularly as collaboration between local authorities increased). 

 

During the general discussion, reference was made to potential future uses of the Council Chamber and the various technologies alluded to above.  Responding to a particular question, the Head of ICT confirmed that the Council did possess an existing video conferencing system, which was rarely used and was almost certain to be outdated in terms of its abilities. 

 

It was agreed that officers prepare a report for consideration initially by the Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources) covering issues such as potential uses of the Council Chamber and the potential for charging for such use, together with an indication of potential future maintenance costs in respect of webcasting and remote attendance. 

 

Reference was also made to the fact that an archived webcast of a meeting would provide a much more comprehensive account (i.e. verbatim) of proceedings compared to the manner in which the Council’s minutes were currently produced.  Acknowledging that this would, indeed, be the case, the Head of Democratic Services reiterated comments contained in previous correspondence to Members regarding the rationale behind the existing style of minutes.  He stated that there would be no change to the Council’s 'house style', albeit a webcast version of certain meetings would also be accessible.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T officers report to Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources) on potential uses of the Council Chamber and the potential for charging for such use, together with an indication of potential future maintenance costs in respect of webcasting and remote attendance.

 

Reason for decision

 

To facilitate consideration of options for use of the Council Chamber, including scope for related income generation.

 

 

476     MEMBERS’ ICT – DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING (DR) -

 

A Members’ ICT Group had existed under the previous two Administrations and was chaired by the Leader under the last Administration. The Group met on a quarterly basis and each party had a nominated representative, but there was an open invitation to all Members to attend meetings of the Group.

 

The Group discussed issues relating to the service and equipment provided to Members, had presentations from ICT staff on topics they were interested in and discussed ICT training needs and requirements for Members.

 

Since the establishment of this Committee, it had been agreed that its terms of reference include responsibility for overseeing the Council's approach to Member Development, that the former Member ICT Working Group be not reappointed and that a further report be presented to this Committee on future proposals in respect of ICT for Members and a Members’ ICT Strategy.

 

The provision of ICT facilities for Members had traditionally been based on the provision of a standard laptop with facilities to connect to Council systems from their home or in the Council Offices.  Technology had changed very quickly over the last three or four years and it was now felt that this standard approach did not meet the requirements of Members who might have different levels of ICT skills and access to different ICT equipment which they used in their private and business lives.

 

The advent of the use of personal devices for business purposes, under the banner of Bring Your Own Device to work (BYOD) had raised a number of security issues with regard to the data that Members had access to and also a frustration that Members often had better technology available to them at home than had been provided by the Council.

 

A guest wireless network, the Cloud, had been installed to allow Members, staff and the public to access the internet from their own personal devices. This would help Members, for example, access Committee reports from the Council website on their own devices.

 

Elected Members were data processors under the Data Protection Act and, as such, were responsible for the safekeeping of any data they might have access to as part of their role.  The use of BYOD had been investigated by officers and a solution was currently being procured that would allow access to Corporate data from Council-owned devices. The security implications for the use of personal devices were becoming ever more stringent and it might not be possible to maintain the Council’s accreditation for connection to government services such as the Ministry of Justice and Department of Work and Pensions and introduce BYOD for Elected Members and staff.  Indeed, the Head of ICT indicated that the BYOD project had been put back significantly as a result of the additional requirements of the Government’s PSN system.  For example, RSA tokens (which had been provided to / used by Members to date) were now classed, under PSN as an 'unmanaged end point'.  There would be cost implications in that the Council would now have to identify / provide an alternative means of access. 

 

ICT officers were also considering the use of Windows tablet devices for staff and Members and one of these devices was available at the meeting for Members to view.

 

ICT Training continued to be available to Members at no cost and at times that were convenient for Members. The latest example was a range of Windows 7 conversion courses that had been recently advertised to Members. However, the number of Members attending these courses remained very low.

 

During the discussion on this item, a number of Members alluded to difficulties relating to compatibility between their own personal equipment and that provided by the Council.  One Member suggested that Members should be willing to part fund the provision of equipment if it was considered that would assist in the process.  Under such an arrangement, it was suggested that, perhaps, Members could retain the equipment (subject to it being wiped clean) should they cease to be a member of the Council.  However, the Head of ICT indicated that, traditionally, the Council’s policy was not to recycle such equipment.

 

Given the various comments raised by Members during the discussion, the Head of ICT stressed that he was looking to work with the Committee with a view to identifying / implementing opportunities for improvements.  He would also look into the issue of Members contributing to the purchase of equipment and to the possible recycling / return of such equipment to Members as alluded to above.

 

Reference was made to a recent survey of Members’ requirements / perceptions and to the fact that certain of the resultant recommendations had already been implemented.  He indicated he would circulate to Members the outcome of the survey.  He also undertook to amend a staff ICT survey undertaken to enable an equivalent survey to be undertaken in respect of Members. 

 

Referring to his earlier comment regarding the level of takeup of Member training as being poor, the Head of ICT indicated he was happy to facilitate any / all of the following:

 

·               ECDL training

·               bespoke, or one to one, training for individual Members

·               'signposting' Members towards the various e-learning modules available

·               access (via the relevant officers) to training on the Trim system.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the report be noted and Member ICT requirements and training become a standard agenda item at future meetings.

 

Reason for decision

 

To ensure Members are made aware of any developments to their ICT service and of any training and development opportunities for Members’ use of ICT.

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