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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 21st October, 2015.

 

Present:  Councillor N.P. Hodges (Chairman); Councillor J.W. Thomas (Vice-Chairman); Councillors J. Drysdale and G. Roberts.

 

 

526            APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE – 

 

These were received from Councillors A.G. Bennett, R.J. Bertin and R.L. Traherne.

 

 

527            MINUTES –

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 28th July, 2015 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

528            DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

529            ICT UPDATE FOR MEMBERS (MD) –

 

A server replacement programme had been completed to upgrade servers to the latest Microsoft operating system, Windows Server 2012 R2. The current version, Windows Server 2003, became unsupported in July this year.  As the Windows 7 desktop upgrade had now been completed, investigations were underway to establish the suitability of the latest version, Windows 10, for use across the corporate estate.

 

The number of tablet computers and smart phones had increased substantially over the last year or so, with over 250 tablets and 300 smartphones in use across the Council.  They were mostly Samsung Android tablets, used for remote and mobile working projects that enabled staff to receive their e-mails and calendar appointments whilst out of the office.  These had all been secured using a solution by Airwatch, which ensured that the risk of data loss was minimised.

 

The usability of tablets for corporate use was improving and the Head of Strategic ICT felt Members might wish to consider the use of tablets as an alternative to laptops.  Windows 10 should make it easier to use Windows devices in this area, which would improve the security of these devices.  With this in mind, and at his request, the Members present indicated they would be happy to test the equipment in due course.  In doing so, there was a general acceptance that a suitable business case would need to be established if such devices were to be provided / offered to Members.  In response, the Head of Strategic ICT referred to the fact that the organisation was still producing approximately one million photocopies per month. 

 

He argued that, given the approximate cost of £300 - £400 for such devices, if they were used comprehensively (with a resultant significant decrease in copying for example), they should, indeed, prove to be a cost-effective option.  Members were informed that the use of Airwatch software would allow Members to split Council and their own material, whilst holding both on the same device. 

 

Bryn Hafren School was now being supported by ICT services, following a number of problems with ICT support at the school.  This had resulted in savings for the school and some income for the Council’s ICT service.  It was hoped that this model could be repeated at other comprehensive schools and that prospect was under investigation.  However, most schools had their own internal ICT support arrangements.  Members recognised the need for the Council to look to generate income wherever possible and they felt the example quoted of support for the school was an excellent one.  Both the Head of Strategic ICT and the Head of Democratic Services alluded to the fact that a significant amount of work was being undertaken in terms of looking at charging policies and alternative service delivery models generally within the Council’s Reshaping Services programme

 

Members were informed at the last meeting of the implications of the financial situation for the ICT Service.  The savings targets for the current, and next, financial years had been identified and, in effect, over-achieved.  However the scale of savings in 2017/2018 still represented a considerable challenge, with over £400k to be found.

 

The impact of the savings already found would be an overall reduction in staff numbers of two FTEs and the remainder largely as a result of renegotiating contracts.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the ICT support arrangements put in place for Bryn Hafren School be welcomed.

 

(2)       T H A T the Head of Strategic ICT report to a future meeting of the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) on the potential to offer / provide similar arrangements to schools generally.

 

(3)       T H A T the Head of Strategic ICT submit a report to Cabinet in due course on the feasibility / business case for offering tablet devices to Members to support them in their work.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1&2)  To inform the Council’s Reshaping Services programme.

 

(3)       To ensure Members are made aware of any developments to their ICT service.

 

 

530            DRAFT GUIDE TO PUBLIC SPEAKING AT SCRUTINY COMMITTEES (HDS) –

 

The Council recognised that members of the public could make an important contribution and be a valuable source of information in terms of the scrutiny process.  Scrutiny Committees were under a duty to make arrangements to listen to the views of the public and the community and one of the roles of Scrutiny Committees was to take account of such views when considering issues and, if considered appropriate, to pass those views on to the Cabinet for their consideration. 

 

Given the above, and taking into account the requirements of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 in terms of considering the views of the public, a draft Guide to Public Speaking at Scrutiny Committees had been prepared.  The Guide had been considered by the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group and a number of suggested amendments of the Group had been incorporated.

 

The Head of Democratic Services emphasised that the Guide would apply to “routine” agenda items.  He acknowledged and confirmed to Members that there would continue to be occasions when the issue under consideration was of a higher profile and / or “one off” meetings would take place to consider particular items.  In such circumstances, a more flexible arrangement would apply (taking into account the level of anticipated public interest and involvement). 

 

The following minor amendments to the draft Guide were suggested and agreed by the Committee:

  • para. 2.1 – the wording to reflect that Committees meet on approximately 10-12 occasions a year (rather than “usually meet every four weeks”)
  • para. 12.3 – the wording to be amended to reflect the fact that a Scrutiny Committee has a duty to form its own conclusion as it deems appropriate (rather than “reserves the right to form….”).

In response to a query as to whether the order for speaking set out in paraa.10.1 was appropriate, the Head of Democratic Services indicated that it was designed to provide for all other participants to speak before the Committee itself discussed / considered the issue.  This reflected the fact that Committees were then in possession of all the “evidence” / contributions from other parties before coming to its own conclusions.  Members accepted that this was appropriate. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the draft Guide to Public Speaking at Scrutiny Committees be endorsed for submission to the Cabinet and Council, following which (if approved) it be incorporated in the Council’s Constitution. 

 

Reason for decision

 

To facilitate formal arrangements for public speaking at Scrutiny Committees.

 

 

531            “GOOD SCRUTINY?  GOOD QUESTION!”: AUDITOR GENERAL FOR WALES IMPROVEMENT STUDY: SCRUTINY IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT (HDS) –

 

As previously reported to the Committee, 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 had been the subject of previous reports to the Committee and it had been resolved that officers prepare an Action Plan.  The draft Action Plan had since been considered by the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group and this Committee.  The headings "Outcomes" and "Related Characteristics" related to the Key Characteristics of Effective Overview and Scrutiny, which, in turn, led to the development of an agreed set of outcomes and characteristics, developed by the Wales Scrutiny Officers' Network, supported by the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS).

 

Given the various elements of the draft Plan that related to the interaction between Scrutiny and Cabinet, a joint "workshop" for Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet Members was also held in July 2015 to inform the progress of the Action Plan.

 

The nine specific recommendations of the Auditor General had been reported previously and were covered in the Action Plan.  Again, as previously reported, each would need to be considered by a combination (as appropriate) of Councils, Welsh Government, the Welsh Local Government Association, the WAO and other regulators such as CSSIW and Estyn.

 

Consideration of the issues covered would assist the Council in preparing for a future Corporate Assessment by the WAO.

 

The Head of Democratic Services drew Members’ attention to the following specific elements of the Action Plan: 

  • the drawing up of Guidelines for the relationship between Scrutiny Committees / Cabinet Members and Officers
  • on an annual basis, the undertaking of a Member Development and Training Needs Analysis (separately to the Personal Development and Review (PDR) exercise for Senior Responsibility Allowance (SRA) holders).

RESOLVED – T H A T the Action Plan be noted and be included as a standing item on future meetings of the Committee.

 

Reason for decision

 

To further apprise Members of actions being taken in respect of the specific recommendations contained in the Wales Audit Office report as appropriate.

 

 

532            DRAFT MEMBER SCRUTINY SATISFACTION SURVEY (HDS) –

 

Members' views regarding the Council's Scrutiny arrangements were last sought in March 2014.  In summary, the outcome of the survey was that, in terms of officer support (i.e. that provided by both the Democratic and Scrutiny Services Section and other officers) responses received indicated that satisfaction levels were good.  Similarly, there was general satisfaction regarding the Overview and Scrutiny process itself.  However, and as anticipated, Members clearly felt there was room for improvement in terms of the level of coverage / interest in the work of Scrutiny Committees.  However, it was noted at the time that the response rate to the survey was somewhat disappointing. 

 

It was important that Members' own views on existing support / mechanisms were obtained on an ongoing basis and, where practicable, taken into account.

 

The survey would be circulated to all Members of the Council and to co-opted Members of the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning).  The board areas to be covered in the survey were as follows: 

  • support provided by the Democratic and Scrutiny Services Team (before, during and after meetings)
  • support provided by other officers (before, during and after meetings)
  • Quality of reports produced
  • profile of Scrutiny
  • process for selecting subjects for Task and Finish Reviews
  • responses of the Cabinet to Scrutiny Committees' recommendations
  • value added by Scrutiny to the decision-making process within the Council
  • value added by Scrutiny Committees to performance management / service improvement
  • level of public involvement in the Scrutiny process
  • level of media coverage / interest in the work of Scrutiny Committees
  • evaluation of Council projects with a view to ensuring maximum effectiveness and impact
  • monitoring and follow-up work relating to Scrutiny Committees' recommendations (i.e. decision-tracking)
  • level of training received by / offered to Members in both their Scrutiny and Councillor roles.

It was agreed that the Head of Democratic Services, when circulating the survey to Members, would ask that they pay particular attention to the opportunity to provide comments under each section.  It was considered that, potentially, these would be particularly valuable in terms of progressing the Council’s Scrutiny function. 

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the survey form be issued to all Members of the Council and Co-Opted Members of the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning).

 

(2)       T H A T the outcome of the survey be reported to the next meeting of the Committee.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To inform the Council’s scrutiny arrangements.

 

 

533            DRAFT ANNUAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT REMUNERATION PANEL FOR WALES (IRPW) (HDS) –

 

A copy of the draft IRPW Annual Report was submitted for the Committee’s consideration.  The Panel’s draft determinations were contained under each section of the report and also set out on pages 45-49.  The Head of Democratic Services referred Members in particular to proposals contained at Section 3 in respect of Senior Salaries for Cabinet Members and Committee Chairmen. 

 

As far as Cabinet positions were concerned, if an Authority had a Cabinet of more than six Members (including the Leader), additional Members would only be entitled to a salary of 10% less than the other six Cabinet Members.  As far as Chairmen of Committees were concerned, the Panel considered that the specific responsibility of some Chairmen was greater than others.  As such, the Panel’s draft determinations included provision for the introduction of two levels of remuneration for Chairmen of Committees: 

  • Level 1 – a salary of £22,000
  • Level 2 – a salary of £20,000.

The Panel was suggesting that it be a matter for individual Authorities to decide which of its Chairmen (if remunerated) should receive a Level 1 or Level 2 payment.  The Panel “expects that the payment of a Level 1 salary would be to recognise exceptional responsibility”. 

 

The Head of Democratic Services reminded Members that the Council’s current Members’ Allowances Scheme incorporated a total of 16 Senior Salaries, compared to the maximum of 18 which it was entitled to allocate.  He also referred to the fact that the IRPW report referred in a number of instances to the importance / value of the Scrutiny function.  As such, he considered that it would be inappropriate to pay a lower salary to Chairmen of the five Scrutiny Committees.  That left the Planning and Licensing Committees as currently allocated a Senior Salary for the Chairmen and, again, his view was that the quasi-judicial nature of both Committees justified the payment of the existing / higher salary. 

 

Members expressed concern that an independent Panel’s draft Annual Report was accompanied by (and potentially influenced by) a letter from the relevant Minister.  This was considered by the Committee to be somewhat “political” and to potentially risk compromising the independence of the Panel.  Members also expressed concern that, in proposing two differing levels of payment for Committee Chairmen, the Panel was reintroducing the concept of options for Local Authorities, as opposed to providing firm determinations. 

 

In concluding, the Head of Democratic Services reminded Members that the Council had resolved some years ago to abide by the final determinations of the Panel each year. 

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the Committee’s concern regarding the involvement of the Minister in the process and the potential for possible compromising of the independence of the Panel be conveyed to the Welsh Government.

 

(2)       T H A T the Welsh Government also be informed of the Committee’s view that it would be desirable to remove the option of two different levels of payment for Committee Chairmen and to replace it with a firm determination. 

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To inform Welsh Government of the views of the Committee.

 

 

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