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 DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 15th January, 2014.

 

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

 

 

746     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Councillors R.J. Bertin and Ms. B.E. Brooks.

 

 

747     MINUTES –

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 9th October, 2013 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

748     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

749     MEMBERS’ ICT: DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING (HSICT) –

 

The Members of the Committee considered a report regarding ICT for Members and current and planned ICT projects.

 

A survey of Members’ requirements and satisfaction with ICT services was carried out in May 2012 by the Corporate Improvement Manager, however it was nearly 2 years since that review and it was recommended that another review be carried out over the next two months to further ascertain Members’ requirements.

 

A customer satisfaction review had just been completed for internal staff and a summary of the results of that survey was presented for Members’ information, but to also assist in designing an appropriate questionnaire for elected members.

 

ICT Training continued to be available to Members at no cost and at times that were convenient for Members. However, the number of Members attending these courses remained very low and since September 2013 only 3 Members had attended any ICT training course.

 

Members had a wide variety of ICT skills, but it had proved difficult in attracting Members to improve their skill levels. As a result a number of calls to the ICT Service Desk were a direct result of a lack of training. Suggestions from the committee as to how the take up of training could be improved were invited.

 

A number of major ICT projects were underway across the Council.  These included the construction of a new computer suite in the basement of the Civic Offices to provide for the first time, purpose built facilities to house the servers and data storage that drove all of the Council’s ICT systems. This new facility would reduce power consumption and space, provide greater resilience to the power supply and air conditioning systems to ensure systems were available with the target set of 99.95%.

 

All desktop pcs and laptops were being upgraded to Windows 7 and Office 2010. To ensure they could run the new software, older pcs were being replaced or upgraded as part of a technology refresh programme. This would be completed by April 2014 when support for the current versions (Windows XP and Office 2003) would expire.

 

A discussion ensued on the report and several areas of concern were raised by Members which included:

  • Security of non-Council issued devices e.g. laptops, tablets etc
  • Access to, and security of, data (including reference to the fact that the limitations could be considered disproportionate
  • Identification of possible savings if Members used own IT equipment
  • Whether there were any potential flood risks in the new computer suite
  • Functionality of websites accessed via private devices and data limits
  • Capacity of the new computer suite.

The Head of Strategic ICT addressed these issues and advised the following:

  • The Council had obtained Public Service Network Accreditation and therefore could not have 'unmanaged end points’ such as non-Council issued IT equipment, and, if this accreditation were not maintained, connection to other government services such as the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Works and Pensions may not be able to be maintained going forward.
  • ICT were carrying out an exercise to strengthen passwords across the Council.
  • In order to ensure the security of data ICT could look into the possibility of introducing tiered levels of access whereby higher level data could only be accessed by authorised individuals.
  • He would look into the possibility of facilitating the means of Members being able to use some form of link to be able to access attachments greater than the current limit of 10MB.
  • Water cooling was one option being considered for the new computer suite; however, flood risks had been taken into account, but had not been an issue to date.
  • Issues of functionality of websites accessed via non-Council issued devices and data limits would be looked into by ICT.
  • Due to collaborative partnerships, increased capacity would be required and this had been built into the plans for the new computer room.

A further discussion ensued on Members’ ICT requirements, such as what information was required, what times they were most likely to require ICT Services and training needs, all of which would be used to inform the Members’ ICT Survey.  The Committee suggested that it would be useful to identify other UK Councils that had good casework systems, case number reports identified via constituents, data analysis of queries by Ward and specific, functionalised questions relating to Members’ ICT requirements.  The Head of Strategic ICT indicated he would look into this matter and report back to the Committee.

 

Following on from this discussion, the Committee were advised that a minimum ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) may be appropriate for Members, which would facilitate Members access to ICT and ICT support for Members.  In addition, it was advised that standard letter templates could be made available for Members, as well as a list of ICT focussed frequently asked questions.

 

At the conclusion of the discussion, the Head of Strategic ICT confirmed that he would formulate a draft Members’ ICT survey and circulate it to the Committee for review.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the report be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the Head of Strategic ICT explore the ICT concerns and queries raised by Members and take into account in drafting a survey on Member ICT requirements and training. 

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To ensure that Members are apprised of any developments to their ICT Service and of any training and development opportunities for Members’ use of ICT.

 

(2)       To seek to address Members’ IT concerns and queries and to progress the identification of Members’ ICT requirements.

 

 

750     FAMILY ABSENCE FOR ELECTED MEMBERS: SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT REMUNERATION PANEL FOR WALES (REF) –

 

Part 2 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 ('the Measure') introduced an entitlement to a period of family absence for Members of local authorities, during which a Member was entitled to be absent from authority meetings.  The entitlement created by the Measure was subject to Members satisfying conditions prescribed by the Welsh Ministers in Regulations

 

There were five types of family absence to which a Member might be entitled under the Measure, subject to compliance with the Regulations:

 

(i)         Maternity Absence – for the mother of a child, granted up to a maximum of twenty six weeks;

 

(ii)        Newborn Absence – for a Member who was either the father of the child or who was married to, the civil partner or the partner of, the child's mother but was not the child's father, for a period of up to two consecutive weeks (N.B. in each case, the Member must have or expect to have, responsibility for the upbringing of the child);

 

(iii)       Adopter’s Absence – for the adopter of a child, for a period of up to two consecutive weeks;

 

(iv)       New Adoption Absence - for the husband or wife, civil partner or partner of an adopter (and who had, or expected to have, the main responsibility [apart from the responsibility of the adopter] for the upbringing of the child), for a period of up to two consecutive weeks; and

 

(v)        Parental Absence – for a Member who became responsible for a child (and did not meet the conditions for Newborn Absence, Adopter’s Absence or New Adoption Absence), for a period of up to three months.

 

The Regulations prescribed the conditions that Members must satisfy to be entitled to a period of family absence, made provisions regarding the duration, start, cancellation and end of a period of family absence, and set out an administrative process for dealing with family absence.  Ministers had also published Statutory Guidance on Family Absence ('the Guidance' issued under section 30 of the Measure), to which the Council was required to have regard.

 

The administrative process set by the Regulations provided:

 

(i)         that the Member must give written notice to the Head of Democratic Services of his/her intention to take family absence and the intended start date (and any change or cancellation of the period of absence);

 

(ii)        that the Head of Democratic Services must maintain a record (for at least 10 years) of all notifications and periods of family absence taken and must inform the Chairman of the Council, the Chairman of the Democratic Services Committee, and the Leaders of each political group of the Authority (the Guidance indicated that the Head of Democratic Services was also free to inform any other persons felt necessary, e.g. fellow Ward Members);

 

(iii)       if the Head of Democratic Services informed the Authority that he/she had reasonable grounds to suspect that a Member may not be entitled to the family absence notified, the local authority may cancel or end the family absence (and if the Member then failed to resume duties, the local authority may withhold the Member's remuneration);

 

(iv)       for the option for a Member to continue to attend particular meetings or perform particular duties during a period of maternity or parental absence, subject to permission from the Chairman of the Council (who must inform the political Group Leaders before granting permission);

 

(v)        a requirement for the Council to make provisions regarding the extent of any duties which Members may still be required to perform during a period of family absence;

 

(vi)       a Member may complain in writing to the Head of Democratic Services regarding a refusal to grant family absence.  Any complaints received must be forwarded by the Head of Democratic Services to the Chairman of the Council.

 

(vii)      for a requirement for the Council to appoint a Panel comprising three Members (which could not include the Chairman of the Council) to hear and determine complaints from Members, the Panel’s determination being final; and

 

(viii)     for the right for a Member to complain to the Panel against a decision of the Authority that the Member was not entitled to a family absence; and / or against a refusal by the Chairman of the Council to grant permission for the Member to continue to attend particular meetings or perform particular duties whilst on family absence.

 

The Council was required to make Standing Orders, as soon as reasonably practicable after the Regulations come into force, in respect of the following matters set out in sub-paragraphs (iv) and (v):

 

(i)         To describe the circumstances in which a Member on maternity or parental leave may continue to perform some duties if so desired.

 

The Guidance stated that this may be "where the Member has a well-known particular interest in a matter of business or if urgent business affecting their local area is being considered"; and

 

(ii)        To provide whether any duty conferred on Members should be performed during a period of family absence.

 

The Guidance stated that this may "enable a Member on family absence to be asked to attend a meeting if it might otherwise be inquorate.  The Standing Orders could enable different arrangements to be made for different Members.  There might be a particular area of expertise possessed by a Member which would be difficult to replace on a temporary basis, which might suggest a limited commitment could still be expected of a Member in such defined circumstances.  However, the effect of any such provision under the Standing Orders should not be contrary to the purpose of the Measure and the Regulations".

 

The issue of making relevant provision in Standing Orders was the subject of discussion at a meeting of the all-Wales Monitoring Officers and Governance Group on 6th December 2013.  It was agreed that further thought would be given to the drawing up of potential wording for consideration / adoption by Local Authorities in the New Year. 

 

Council on 18th December resolved that a sub-committee of the Democratic Services Committee (with any necessary amendments to its terms of reference) be established to hear and determine any complaints from Members regarding a refusal by the Head of Democratic Services to grant family absence.   The Regulations required a membership of 3, which in terms of political balance, would mean a Sub Committee comprising 1 Labour; 1 Conservative; 1 Plaid Cymru Member

 

In addition to the report Council on 18th December had also been circulated prior to the meeting with supplementary information in the form of a draft Supplementary Report of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales. 

 

Council had resolved that the Panel’s draft Determination be submitted to the Democratic Services Committee in January for consideration.  It was further resolved that the Committee be asked to appoint the three members to the above sub-committee and that the Head of Democratic Services be authorised to submit a response to the Remuneration Panel following consideration by the Committee. 

 

Nominations for the Sub-Committee were taken from the political groups and the three Members of the Sub-Committee were determined to be Councillors C.P. Franks, R.L. Traherne and M.R. Wilson.

 

The Committee considered the draft determinations of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales.  Members queried who would be responsible for making the decisions with regard to the determinations and were advised by the Head of Democratic Services that it would most likely be Full Council but that he would confirm this. 

 

The Head of Democratic Services asked for views and comments from the Committee on the draft determination of the Remuneration Panel and the Committee confirmed that they supported the determinations of the Panel. 

 

Following consideration of the report the Committee

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T Councillors C.P. Franks, R.L. Traherne and M.R. Wilson be the three Members of the Sub-Committee of the Democratic Services Committee which would hear and determine any complaints from Members regarding a refusal by the Head of Democratic Services to grant family absence.

 

(2)       T H A T the report be noted, that the Committee’s support for the draft determinations of the Remuneration Panel be recorded, and that the Head of Democratic Services respond to the Independent Remuneration Panel accordingly.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To comply with the requirements of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.

 

(2)       To apprise the Committee of the supplementary report of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales on Family Absence for Elected Members and to enable the Head of Democratic Services to formulate a response to the Independent Remuneration Panel incorporating the comments of the Committee by 7th February, 2014 deadline.

 

 

751     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]

 

The Head of Democratic Services advised that on 26th June, 2013 Council appointed two Members to the Joint Scrutiny Committee for the South Central Wales Education Consortium.  However, since that time the Welsh Government had released revised governance arrangements stating that there would be no joint scrutiny arrangements and that the responsibility for scrutiny would lie with the individual Councils. 

 

A discussion ensued on webcasting for Council meetings.  Members were advised that a couple of meetings needed to be webcast by the end of March 2014 and that currently these were likely to be one or two of the upcoming Planning Committees and one or two Scrutiny Committee meetings.  Members felt that it would be beneficial to have a 'dry run' with the Scrutiny Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group in the Council Chamber.  Concerns were raised with regards to what individuals could say at Council meetings and Members were advised by the Head of Democratic Services that the existing Code of Conduct should be adhered to.  Members also raised technical issues such as the use of microphones being linked with cameras.

 

It was confirmed that the house-style minutes would remain the same and that transcripts of webcast meetings would not be produced. 

 

After consideration of the Update/Action Plan the Committee

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the change in governance relating to Joint Scrutiny be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the piloting of webcasting of Committee meetings take place prior to the end of March.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  In order to comply with the relevant provisions of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 and have regard to the Welsh Government revised governance on joint scrutiny arrangements.

 

 

752     DRAFT WORK PROGRAMME 2014/15 (HDS) –

 

The Committee received a report detailing the following draft Work Programme for 2014/15. 

 

ITEM

PURPOSE

REPORTING ARRANGEMENTS

Report of the Head of Democratic Services Committee re resources available for Democratic Services function

To apprise Members of the position and enable them to comment as provided for under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.

April 2014

Wales Audit Office Scrutiny Improvement Study

To apprise Members of the final report of the Wales Audit Office in respect of the above study, which covered scrutiny arrangements across Wales?

To consider, the key recommendations arising from the report, which will also be reported to the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group and / or Council as appropriate.

April 2014

Members’ Development Needs / Programme

To enable Members to consider the outcome of Personal Development Review Interviews conducted for Members and a draft Member Development Programme resulting from the development needs identified in those interviews.

April 2014

Webcasting: Evaluation of pilot exercise

To enable the Committee to evaluate the outcome of the webcasting a number of meetings prior to the end of the 2013/14 financial year.

April 2014

Welsh Government Guidance re Remote Attendance

To consider the final guidance covering remote attendance at meetings (as provided under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011).

July 2014

Member Development Programme: Mid-Year Evaluation

To inform the Committee of progress on the delivery of a Member Development Programme.

October 2014

Review of Member Development Strategy

To ensure the Strategy remains up to date and reflective of any new legislative provisions introduced.

January 2015

Members’ ICT Requirements

To apprise the Committee of developments re Members’ ICT provision and enable related issues to be discussed and any suggestions from Members themselves to be reported upon

All meetings

Draft Reports of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales

To enable the Committee to submit comments on any such reports to the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales

As / when reports are received

Welsh Government Consultation Documents / Guidance re. the provisions of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011)

To enable the Committee to submit comments on any such consultation documents / guidance to the Welsh Government.

As / when received

 

The Head of Democratic Services advised Members that the draft Work Programme for 2014/15 was indicative, not exhaustive and that it would need to be updated as appropriate in more detail in the April 2014 meeting of the Committee.

 

A Member queried the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013 as a point of interest, and the Head of Democratic Services advised that he would bring a summary of this to the next meeting.

 

Members felt that it would be useful to see how other authorities were operating with regard to scrutiny and were advised that the forthcoming national report of the Wales Audit Office on its all-Wales Scrutiny Improvement Study would be produced, which would detail the characteristics of good scrutiny.  It was confirmed that local feedback had been received from Neath/Port Talbot Council, who had undertaken a peer review visit to this Council as part of the Study.  Members also felt that public engagement with scrutiny should be added to the Draft Work Programme as a higher profile for scrutiny was needed with a requirement for it to be monitored more closely.

 

Members were concerned that it was difficult to engage the public and would be interested in examples from around Wales on this subject.  The Committee requested that an officer from the WLGA be invited to a future meeting to speak on public engagement.   

 

Members also raised the issue of third parties being able to speak at Scrutiny and Planning Committees and site visits.  The Head of Democratic Services advised the Committee that a report on scrutiny would be going to the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group and then onto the Constitution Working Party Group, that public speaking would be included within this report and that similar arrangements for speaking at Planning Committee would come into place in the near future.

 

After consideration of the draft Work Programme 2014/15 the Committee

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the Head of Democratic Services would bring a summary of the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013 to the next Committee meeting.

 

(2)       T H A T public engagement in scrutiny be added to the draft Work Programme and that an officer from the WLGA be invited to a future meeting of the Committee to discuss public engagement.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To apprise the Committee of the new Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013.

 

(2)       To maintain a focus on public engagement in scrutiny and to receive the WLGA’s view on public engagement across Wales to inform the draft Work Programme 2014/15.

 

 

753     DATES OF FUTURE MEETINGS –

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the following dates of meetings be agreed (it being noted that some dates might change in order to continue the arrangement whereby meetings were generally arranged on the same day as/prior to the Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection).

  • Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014 (amended by the Committee from the original proposed date of 9th April)
  • Wednesday, 16th July, 2014
  • Wednesday, 22nd July, 2014
  • Wednesday, 14th January, 2015
  • Wednesday, 15th April, 2015.

Reason for decision

 

To tie in with the meetings for Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection) scheduled for 2nd April, 2014 and to progress the proposed timetable of Council meetings.

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