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 DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 16th July, 2014.

 

Present:  Councillor C.P. Franks (Chairman); Councillor J.W. Thomas (Vice-Chairman); Councillors R.J. Bertin, Ms. B.E. Brooks, J. Drysdale, Mrs. A.J. Moore, G. Roberts and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

224     APOLOGY FOR ABSENCE -

 

This was received from Councillor J.C. Bird.

 

 

225     MINUTES -

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 15th January, 2014 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

226     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST -

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

227      'USING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AT THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL': DRAFT MEMBERS’ GUIDE (HSICT) -

 

Members considered a draft document 'Using Information Technology at the Council: A Guide for Councillors’.

 

The Head of Strategic ICT indicated he had circulated the document to the Committee in order to obtain Members’ initial views on the content.  Any such views would be welcomed and taken into account and a further report submitted to the Committee prior to the wider circulation of the document to all Members.  Referring to Section 12 of the draft Guide, which related to Members using Council IT equipment for non-Council use, he stressed the importance of Members understanding the potential security risks involved in doing so.  He also referred to Member personal email accounts (gmail and alike) currently in existence where Council e-mails would be automatically forwarded on and indicated that these would not be permitted in future due to the obvious security issues/ risks  In addition, it might be necessary to provide further ICT security awareness training for Members. 

 

In terms of the amount of e-mail storage space available to Members, this would be increased once a new version of the facility had been installed.  . A password reset facility had also been introduced, which could be utilised without recourse to the ICT Support Desk.

 

Reference was also made to the fact that officers had begun to look at the possible introduction of a Case Management System for Members.  There was a general acknowledgement amongst Members that this would be a very useful facility.

 

During the discussion, it was suggested that the draft Guide was heavily focused on issues of compliance and security.  It was suggested that more information could be incorporated advising Members on the best use of the Council’s ICT systems, which could be available via the existing MemberNet facility. 

 

Responding to a number of examples quoted by Members of the Committee of areas where advice and/or training for Members would be advantageous, the Head of Strategic ICT reminded Members that standard, or individually tailored, course were already available.  Nevertheless, he would take on board the specific examples raised. 

 

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T the various comments/issues raised by Members of the Committee be taken into account and an updated draft Guide submitted to the next meeting for consideration.

 

(2)       T H A T a progress report on the possible introduction of a Case Management System for Members be submitted to the next meeting.

 

 

228     DRAFT MEMBERS’ ICT QUESTIONNAIRE (HSICT) -

 

The Committee’s views were invited on a draft Members’ ICT Questionnaire, prior to the circulation of the questionnaire to all Members of the Council.  The draft questionnaire had been considered in conjunction with discussion under the previous agenda item.  As such, Members’ comments would also inform the final content of the questionnaire.

 

The Committee considered that it would be useful if the draft questionnaire could be reformatted to separate questions about the service and individual needs.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the Head of Strategic ICT reformat the draft questionnaire to separate questions about the service and individual needs. 

 

(2)       T H A T the Head of Strategic ICT circulate the revised questionnaire to all Members of the Council and submit a summary of the responses to the next meeting

 

 

229     'GOOD SCRUTINY? GOOD QUESTIONS!': AUDITOR GENERAL FOR WALES IMPROVEMENT STUDY: SCRUTINY IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT (HDS) -

 

In 2012, the Auditor General committed to the Wales Audit Office (WAO) undertaking an All-Wales Scrutiny Improvement Study.  As part of the Council’s participation in that Study, a group of Officers and Members undertook a self-evaluation of the Council’s existing scrutiny arrangements, took part in peer review exercises and attended workshops.  As part of the peer review exercise, two meetings of the Council’s Scrutiny Committees were observed by a group from Neath and Port Talbot Council and the Council’s own Peer Review Group observed Scrutiny Committee proceedings at Swansea Council.

 

The WAO Outcome Report from the above study was only issued on 29th May of this year and was being reported to the Democratic Services Committee and the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group. 

 

The Welsh Government considered the importance of effective scrutiny to be magnified as public services responded to the challenge of the global financial situation, whilst continuously seeking to improve services.  Effective scrutiny could improve the evidence base for decisions on the allocation of resources as well as ensuring that decisions were transparent and in accordance with the needs of the local community. Scrutiny also had an important role to play in contributing to developing policy, undertaking specific reviews and in monitoring performance.

 

The development of effective joint scrutiny arrangements for new and emerging collaborations was also likely to be a key focus for public services over the next few years.  Scrutiny functions would also need to continue to respond to the changes introduced through the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.  These changes included the requirement to take into account the views of the public, and the ability to form joint overview and scrutiny committees with one or more local authorities.

 

Weaknesses in council scrutiny arrangements had been identified in numerous reviews and audit and inspection reports since scrutiny arrangements were introduced into local government following the Local Government Act 2000. For example: the Welsh Government’s Review of Local Service Delivery in 2006; the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2010-11; Estyn’s Annual Report 2009-10; and the Welsh Government’s explanatory memorandum to the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.

 

The approach to this Study was described as "innovative" and differed from the traditional audit approach by involving facilitation of 'real-time’ peer review, learning and improvement in scrutiny over a period of just over a year.  The aim of the Study was to help councils achieve lasting improvements in scrutiny.  WAO staff worked with councils to provide an opportunity for those involved in scrutiny to identify where improvements to their own arrangements might be required, and to share knowledge and experience with others to find solutions.

 

The Study had helped to shape the proposed Key Characteristics of Effective Overview and Scrutiny that the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and partners had initially crafted from existing good practice guidance.  Since the completion of the Study an agreed set of 'outcomes and characteristics for effective local government overview and scrutiny’ had been developed by the Wales Scrutiny Officers Network, supported by the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS). 

 

On 28 November 2013 a national conference, "Scrutiny in the Spotlight: Investing to Maximise its Impact", was organised and hosted jointly by Cardiff Business School, the CfPS, the WAO, Welsh Government, and the WLGA.  Part of the conference programme was developed to explore some common themes that emerged from the WAO Study and to seek ways of addressing the challenges ahead.

 

Overall, the WAO had concluded that local government scrutiny in Wales was improving, but that councils needed to do more to develop consistently rigorous scrutiny to increase public accountability in decision-making.   The WAO referred to councils demonstrating a genuine commitment to learning and improvement throughout the course of the study, and to scrutiny practice at committees in many councils having improved.  However, many challenges remained and the report stated that the WAO, in summary, found that:  

  • scrutiny practice was improving, but the impact that scrutiny was having was not always clearly evident;
  • whilst a majority of councils considered that there was a supportive environment for scrutiny, some lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities could limit the effectiveness with which scrutiny held the executive to account;
  • better planning, more effective chairing, and improvements to the range, quality and use of information were required to improve scrutiny across councils in Wales;
  • in general, council scrutiny was not always fully aligned with other council improvement processes, nor built on external audit, inspection and review; and
  • more effective engagement with the public and partners would improve scrutiny and increase public accountability.

 

Subsequent to the Study and national scrutiny conference, the 'Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery, established by the First Minister of Wales, published its findings in January 2014.  The Commission’s report identified scrutiny as an important lever to secure improvement, but highlighted that it needed development as, amongst other factors, the fundamental importance of scrutiny in driving improvement was not recognised.  Amongst the Commission’s recommendations were that: 

  • the importance, status and value of scrutiny must be recognised, prioritised, continually sustained and reinforced.
  • organisations must regard scrutiny as an investment to deliver improvements and future savings.  They must resource and support scrutiny accordingly.

 

The 9 specific recommendations of the Auditor General were set out on page 7 of the report and, as indicated, each would need to be considered by a combination (as appropriate) of Councils, Welsh Government, the WLGA, the WAO and other regulators such as CSSIW and Estyn.

 

The report, by its very nature, was generic and reflected practices and procedures observed by the various Peer Review Groups throughout Wales (each of which was accompanied by a representative from the WAO) and the WAO itself.  Many of the areas touched upon in the report did not form part of the 9 specific recommendations but, nevertheless, needed to be considered in the light of the Council's existing scrutiny processes and the overall background to the report. 

 

Consideration of the report as a whole would need to give particular regard to areas such as:

 

  • obviously, the 9 specific recommendations of the Auditor General
  • an analysis of the Council's existing Scrutiny arrangements in relation to the above recommendations
  • the requirement under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 that Councils must introduce processes to enable the views of the public to be brought to the attention of Scrutiny Committees in respect of business under consideration
  • a general need to seek to develop/improve public awareness of, and participation in, the Scrutiny process.

 

During the discussion, it was acknowledged that any Action Plan should incorporate an analysis of where the Council currently stood in terms of its scrutiny processes and practices.  There was also reference to the need to look at innovative ways of increasing public engagement in the scrutiny process (as alluded to in the WAO report).

 

Other points raised during the discussion included:

 

·         the desire of Members to introduce a facility for public speaking at both Scrutiny and Planning Committees (the Head of Democratic Services confirmed that work was progressing and that the facility would, indeed, be in place by the end of the calendar year)

·         the possibility of more 'themed’ Scrutiny Committees occasionally

·         pre-Cabinet decision scrutiny

·         the significant amount of performance monitoring/management information which was submitted to Scrutiny Committees and whether there was scope to rationalise this.

 

With regard to the point raised regarding performance monitoring/management, the Head of Democratic Services indicated that the basis on which this was addressed within the Council was governed, to a large degree, by the requirements of regulators such as the Wales Audit Office.

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T a further report be submitted to the next meeting, together with an accompanying Action Plan.

 

(2)       T H A T the Wales Audit Office be invited to attend a future meeting of the Committee to discuss their requirements and expectations with regard to performance monitoring.

 

 

230     LOCAL GOVERNMENT (DEMOCRACY) (WALES) ACT SUMMARY (HDS) -

 

In summary, the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act contained provisions relating to the following: 

  • the reform of the organisation and functions of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales
  • amendments to the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 in relation to the responsibilities of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and the structure of local authority Audit Committees
  • Democratic Services Committees
  • access by the public to information concerning Town and Community Councils
  • amendments to Part III of the Local Government Act 2000 to facilitate the creation by local authorities of Joint Standards Committees
  • a provision concerning the role of the Chairman or Mayor of principal councils
  • the ability of local authorities to promote or oppose Private Bills
  • enabling a Standards Committee of one Authority to consider cases referred to it by another Standards Committee
  • the removal of the restriction preventing co-optees of Committees or Sub-Committees being able to attend meetings remotely
  • the recasting and consolidation of existing local government provisions in relation to the Boundary Commission and progressing the development of a Welsh Statute Book.

 

As far as the Boundary Commission was concerned, it had been renamed as the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales.  The quorum of the new Commission was increased from two to three Members, with the maximum permitted size of the Commission remaining at five in order that additional members could be appointed if deemed appropriate by Welsh Ministers.  The Act also gave Welsh Ministers the power to name other public bodies in Wales, whose structure included elected councillors or council appointees, as being subject to review by the Commission.  In broad terms, the Commission continued to be responsible for boundary reviews, electoral arrangement reviews and reviews of communities.

 

The Act also made various amendments to the Local Government (Wales) (Measure) 2011 in respect of the way in which the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales was able to undertake its role. 

 

The Act formalised the requirement for local authority Audit Committees to reflect the political balance within the authority.  It was noted that this Council had met this requirement for a number of years prior to it coming into force.

 

There was also a provision in the Act which would enable Democratic Services Committees to have flexibility to consider 'other matters' which might be considered supportive of Members and their development, such as training and development, annual reporting, remuneration and family absence of Members.  This widened the remit of Committees from that originally envisaged in the Measure which stated that specific functions only could be dealt with by the Committee.  Much of the additional remit had already been subject to reports to the Committee.

 

With regards to Standards Committees, the Welsh Government believed that there would be benefit from relevant authorities in Wales collaborating to establish Joint Standards Committees based upon the 'Welsh Government's Collaboration Footprint for Public Services'.  The Act facilitated the establishment of Joint Standards Committees. 

 

As previously reported to the Committee, funding was made available (£500 per Council) via the Council to each Town and Community Council for the development of websites.  This funding pre-empted the legislative provisions which would come into force in May 2015 and which provided that every Town and Community Council would be required to provide their contact and membership details and records of their proceedings via the internet.  In addition, the Clerk, as a minimum, should be contactable by e-mail.  All local authorities, including Town and Community Councils would be required to publish their Register of Members' Interests electronically.

 

Finally, the Act provided for a Principal Council to decide to appoint different Members to the roles of Presiding Member or Deputy Presiding Member of the Council and Mayor/Chairman and (Deputy Mayor/Deputy Chairman).  In such circumstances, the former Member would preside over meetings of the Council and the latter would conduct purely civic functions. 

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the report be noted.

 

 

231     ANNUAL REPORT OF HEAD OF DEMOCRATIC SERVICES (HDS) -

 

The Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 ("the Measure") required the Council to appoint a Democratic Services Committee.  The Measure also required the Council to designate one of its officers to the statutory post of "Head of Democratic Services" and provide that officer with sufficient resources to discharge these statutory functions. 

 

The purpose of the report was to provide the Committee with an outline of the staff resources existing within Democratic Services and a summary of the wide range of duties undertaken, ongoing developments and plans for the future. 

 

The Democratic Services division as a whole comprised three distinct sections:

 

  • Scrutiny and Committee Services
  • Freedom of Information / Records Management / Land Charges
  • Registration Service.

 

The report, by its very nature and its linkage with the requirements of the Measure, covered the work undertaken by the Scrutiny and Committee Services section. 

 

The functions of the Head of Democratic Services were set out in the Measure and related particularly (but not exclusively) to the provision of advice and support to non-executive Members.  The Committee, at its first meeting in July 2012, agreed the designation of the Operational Manager (Democratic Services) as the Council's Head of Democratic Services.  The Welsh Government Guidance associated with the Measure specifically provided for the Head of Democratic Services to perform other roles apart from the new statutory functions.  This recognised the fact that the creation of a new post would have been an unacceptable burden on the budget of most, if not all, Councils at a time of economic pressures. 

 

Staff structure

 

For the reasons set out below, and taking into account the extremely difficult economic pressures facing the Council generally, the current structure was considered to be appropriate. 

 

In addition to the Head of Democratic Services, the section comprised a Principal Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer, two Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officers, one Scrutiny Support Officer, one Assistant Democratic Services Officer, two WP/Admin. Support officers and 3 Administrative Assistants.

 

The above team dealt with a wide range of activities, which included, but were not limited to:  Maintaining and developing the Council’s decision-making processes to include the preparation of agendas, reports and minutes, facilitating accountability and transparency; Managing and providing Scrutiny and Committee Services support to the Council and its various committees; Support to Elected Members, including Constitutional advice; Member Development, ; Maintaining the Register of Members' Interests; Overseeing appeals relating to school admissions and school permanent exclusions, Developing and updating the content of MemberNet; Managing the Council's committee room bookings; Corporate responsibility for  all Council inbound and outward bound mail (Royal Mail & TNT contract) and providing administrative support for processing activities relating to TransAct, Council Tax, Housing Benefits and C1V.

 

The current structure was relatively new and followed a review of the (limited) resources available within the section and, indeed, the Council as a whole.  That review took into account the departure in May 2013 of a former long-serving member of the team.  At the time, funding was also still in place for a separate, administrative, post (a post which had been held vacant for some time).  Following discussion with the Director of Resources, it was agreed that the funding attached to both of those posts could be utilised to create two new posts.  Whilst these were on a lower grade than the previous postholder, it was felt that the revised structure would provide the section with increased flexibility to deal with the demands placed upon the team. 

 

As reported to the Committee in July 2013, proposals were drawn up for the creation of two posts, one entitled a Scrutiny Support Officer and the other an Assistant Democratic Services Officer.  Those posts had been filled since December 2013 and November 2013 respectively.  It could be seen, therefore, that both postholders were still relatively new to the Section.  However, they were already contributing to supporting the Democratic Services function (particularly in relation to the support for School Performance Panels, further details of which were set out below). 

 

The following was a summary of ongoing work / initiatives in which the section was actively engaged.  The Democratic Services Committee would continue to be kept fully informed of progress of these, and other, initiatives. 

 

Webcasting

 

The Committee had been kept informed as part of the standing item on agendas - Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011: Update/Action Plan - of progress on a wide range of issues emanating from the Measure.  As far as webcasting was concerned, the Planning Committee was to be used for testing purposes, with live webcasting commencing in October 2014 (preceded by an internal "dry run" at the September meeting. 

 

In addition to the above, a report was submitted to Cabinet on 10th February, 2014 in respect of webcasting and a protocol was approved by Cabinet for use during the piloting exercise and for any future webcast meetings, should the Council decide to progress more regular webcasting of meetings.  It was further resolved by Cabinet that any decision to webcast future meetings would be made following the conclusion of, and an assessment of, the pilot exercise.

 

Public Speaking at Scrutiny Committees and Planning Committee

 

The Committee was aware from previous reports to the Committee of the move towards facilitating public speaking at meetings of the Council's five Scrutiny Committees and the Planning Committee.  This facility would be introduced within the next six months and, in terms of the Scrutiny Committees, reflected the requirements and spirit of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 regarding increasing public engagement and participation in the democratic process.  A draft protocol governing public speaking at Scrutiny Committees had been considered, and was to be submitted for final approval by the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group.

 

Member Development

 

It was important that a robust system was in place for affording Members the opportunity of a Personal Development Interview (as provided for under the Measure).  The Training Needs Analysis which would flow from the interviews themselves was seen as fundamental to the subsequent planning, and delivery, of an appropriate Member Development Programme.  In order to avoid the risk of any further undue delay in this process, the Committee was asked to consider its preferred approach.  The intention had been that Group Leaders undertake the exercise, but progress to date had been somewhat limited and a different approach might be required (perhaps, for instance, the Head of Democratic Services actually undertaking / facilitating interviews).

 

Members' Services

 

The Managing Director had agreed with relevant officers that responsibility for Members' Services be transferred to Democratic Services and this would take effect from the Autumn.

 

School Performance Panels

 

In addition to the existing support for the Council's Scrutiny function, the Committee was asked to note, and acknowledge, the work which had been commenced in terms of School Performance Panels.  Staff within the Section were devoting considerable time to arranging/facilitating, undertaking research and supporting Panel Members in these exercises. 

 

The broad purpose of the Panels was to enable the school identified to demonstrate through the democratic process its ambition, capacity and commitment to rapid and sustained progress and to identify any barriers being faced which could be resolved by the actions of the Council.

 

The Panels' objectives were to establish that up-to-date and authoritative plans were in place to address any concerns identified, that the school had arrangements in place to monitor the impact of the plans and to amend them as appropriate and to establish what progress has been made and what further progress was required.

 

The four secondary schools for which Performance Panels had been initiated were :

 

  • St Cyres Comprehensive School
  • Llantwit Major Comprehensive School
  • Barry Comprehensive School
  • Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School

 

The process was also being expanded to embrace relevant primary schools.

Collaborative Working

 

Joint Scrutiny

 

During 2013/14, both the Head of Democratic Services and the Principal Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer were heavily involved in attending officer meetings with partner authorities to discuss and agree joint scrutiny arrangements in relation to the Central South Education Consortium.  However, as recently reported to Council, the Consortium arrangements were subsequently aborted by Welsh Government and new governance arrangements introduced.  Officers were also involved in preparing for potential joint scrutiny in respect of the Regulatory Services Collaborative Project which the Council was involved in discussing/progressing with Bridgend and Cardiff Councils.

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the report, together with the various initiatives underway as outlined therein, be noted.

 

 

232     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]