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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 10th February, 2016.

 

Present:  Councillor N.P. Hodges (Chairman); Councillor J.W. Thomas (Vice-Chairman); Councillors A.G. Bennett, J. Drysdale, G. Roberts, R.L. Traherne and E. Williams.

 

 

836     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE -

 

These were received from Councillors R.J. Bertin and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

837     MINUTES -

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 21st October, 2015 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

838     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST -

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

839     ICT UPDATE FOR MEMBERS (MD) -

 

Issues with staff recruitment and retention continued to affect the service.  Already in 2016, two staff had left to join the Welsh Assembly, one to the private sector and one more would be retiring at the end of March. This represented a 10% turnover in the first quarter of this year.

 

A number of meetings had taken place with the other Councils in the South Central Consortium, (RCT, Merthyr, Bridgend, Cardiff and the Vale) to investigate the opportunities to create a shared ICT service across some or all of the five Councils. If this went ahead, it would help to alleviate some of the staffing problems being experienced across the public sector and should generate considerable savings for the Reshaping Services programme. However, it had become apparent that ICT support for Members was handled differently across the Councils.

 

A Member commented that one of the issues faced by the Joint Regulatory Service was around IT support and he stated that a joint ICT service would have helped alleviate these.  He therefore expressed the view that plans for a joint IT service should be progressed.  The Member went on to query whether the Council had a trainee programme in place, to which the Head of Strategic ICT responded that yes, a programme was in place and that at present IT had four trainees.  The Council also used Foundation Modern Apprentices.  An advantage of using trainees and Foundation Modern Apprentices was that the Council could train and up-skill these individuals to suit the needs of the Council, but it was highlighted that retention was an issue.

 

The report advised that it was hoped to release a tender to replace the hardware that supported the Oracle E-Business suite which provided most of the core systems used by the Council, such as finance, HR, Payroll and the contact centre. The hardware was eight years old and had been excellent over that period but did now need replacing. Consideration was also being given to having the system hosted in the Cloud by Oracle, but full costs would need to be confirmed before taking a decision.

 

The Council was investigating the use of Cloud technology for office productivity tools such as word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.  Microsoft Office was the current supplier provided onsite by the Council’s own servers, but increasingly the Council was looking to host these systems on other hardware in the Cloud.   The Council was currently investigating both Microsoft Office 365 and Google for Work, both of which could be accessed from anywhere as long as internet access was available. This would make it easier for staff and Councillors to access e-mails and documents whilst out of the office or at home.

 

Reference was made at the last meeting regarding the use of tablets for Members and the cost of doing so and the potential for adverse publicity for spending money on these devices at a time of financial austerity. However it had been confirmed that if the tablets were used by all Members and paper copies were no longer produced, the cost of the tablets would be covered by the savings in printing costs. As a result, a number of devices were being investigated as to their suitability for use by Members, including tablets, chrome books and touchscreen laptops that could be used as a tablet.

 

Work was ongoing to look at improving the availability of some of the core Council services, such as e-mail and access to the internet and a report was taken to Corporate Management Team earlier this month to outline some proposals. However, all of the proposals had considerable cost implications.

 

Members were aware that meetings of the Planning Committee had been webcast for approximately twelve months.  Prior to the end of the current Municipal Year, a report on the existing arrangements (including details of the number of “viewings”) and whether any expansion of the service was considered appropriate / feasible would be submitted to Members.

 

In discussing webcasting of meetings, the Committee was in agreement that more Council meetings should be broadcast live, but Members were mindful of the level of staff resources required to support this.  The Committee agreed that it would consider this issue further, once the update report was provided by the Head of Strategic ICT.   The Head of Democratic Services further advised that there would also be a need for an evaluation of the implications of the draft Local Government Bill should certain parts of the draft promises be enacted (e.g. potentially a requirement for all Council meetings to be broadcast).  This could represent a 12 fold increase and would require significant additional staff support.  He also mentioned the possibility of webcasting “high profile” Scrutiny Committee meetings which had a large public interest. 

 

With regard to Reshaping Services, a Member asked, what consideration had been given to ICT working on a collaborative basis or as a social enterprise.  In answer to this, the Head of Strategic ICT stated that the Council had looked at possible closer partnership working with the private sector, but he was mindful that in some instances where other Local Authorities had done this, the decision to outsource services had been reversed and IT functions had been brought back in-house.  An important issue around this related to writing the right legal contract.  In terms of social enterprises, the Head of Strategic ICT mentioned the IT arrangements with Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School, and that the aim for the Council was more to do with running a group of service areas together, such as catering and grass cutting, into a possible arms’ length Council organisation. 

 

Further to the points regarding the issues of contractual arrangements around outsourcing services, a Member commented that this was not just about tendering for a contract, but also about implementing the contract in full and he alluded to the issues around a shortfall in service which could be difficult to resolve and the high costs associated with ending contracts.  He also stated that there needed to be a very clear business case for entering into such arrangements.

 

In discussing the use of tablets and the reduction in printing costs, the Committee heard that the Council did have a printing strategy in place.  This had led to the removal of costly inkjet printers, which had been replaced with new copiers.  The new system therefore allowed the Council to have more control, by which regular printing reports were now sent to managers to inform them of printing within their departments.  The Committee also noted that that Head of Strategic ICT had been asked by the Corporate Management Team to develop a digital strategy for the Council.  This had been requested because, although the Council did a lot of things electronically, a lot more could be done, such looking at the Council printing out cheques for payments.  Furthermore, he also stated that the Council could be more active in seeking people’s preferences around correspondence, with many people happy to receive information via e-mail instead of receiving information through the post.  Greater use of digital technology also had another advantage of speeding up processes through messages being sent / received more quickly. 

 

With regard to the use of tablet computers, a Committee Member stated that the use of these needed to be fully justifiable on the basis of cost, but he felt that their use should be pushed ahead.  He also queried whether there was any statutory obligation to provide Members with hard copies of agendas.  In reply, the Head of Democratic Services stated that the wording of the relevant legislation had not really kept pace with changes in technology, and still referred to “being sent by post”.  Legislation stipulated that the agenda had to be made available to Members.  However, for many years, most Members had been happy to receive electronic links to papers of, for instance, Committees of which they were not actually a Member and, indeed, in some cases where they were a Member of the Committee. Further to this query, the Head of Strategic ICT alluded to the example within the Shared Adoption Service in which lay members of the Adoption Panels had been provided with tablets during the course of meetings.  This meant that agenda papers, which could be rather lengthy, did not need to be posted. 

 

Overall, in considering the use of tablets, the Committee was keen for the Council to explore the use of these and possibly for a trial with Members to be undertaken. 

 

With reference to the Cloud, a Member enquired about the number of data breaches and attempts to hack into the Council’s IT system.   In response, the Head of Strategic ICT advised that in terms of data breaches, the Council had not incurred any fines, although the loss of data was always a potential risk.  He also stated that the Council would regularly ask specialists to try and breach the Council’s IT security systems, this would show which areas need to be improved.  He also advised that following a Public Services Network inspection back in August 2015, the Council’s system had passed with flying colours. 

 

The Head of Strategic ICT further added that for the Cloud, a key security element was the location of the data portal.  It was a legal requirement for the data portal to be in the UK or European Union, but he stated that some could be anywhere in the world and so it would be difficult to know who had access.  To meet the Public Services Networks Requirements, Microsoft had been cleared by the GCHQ up to Level 3 for personal and sensitive data, so this provided an element of reassurance.  Finally, he also alluded to the thousands of spam e-mails sent to the Council each year which contained the potential risk of malware and viruses and he stated that hackers only needed to be successful once and that this was a day to day battle.

 

With regard to a previous point raised around the IT contract with Bryn Hafren School, the Chairman commented that this was good and he asked if other schools were being considered.  In reply, the Committee heard that a new role had been developed within the ICT service to look at IT support to primary schools.  If Bryn Hafren School Governors endorsed the approach and support provided by the ICT service, then this would be used as a case study that could be showcased to other schools in the Vale.

 

The Chairman also made mention of the need for the Council to better advertise its meetings and he also commented about the use of social media such as Twitter.  In reply to this, the Head of Democratic Services agreed that there was merit in engaging with a wider.

 

Further to this, the Head of Strategic ICT added that the Council had a number of Facebook pages and would regularly use Twitter feeds.  He advised that following a visit to Monmouthshire Council it had been identified that this organisation would actively encourage all staff to use Twitter and this was something the Vale Council could do more of as a way of updating members of the public on a regular basis.  Furthermore, he mentioned the ‘Get the Vale Online’ initiative and he indicated that the use of Twitter was climbing, with thousands of followers and this was an important  means of communication, for example during occasions when schools were closed.

 

A Committee Member enquired about progress in relation to the Welsh Community Care Information system.  In response, the Head of Strategic ICT explained that this new integrated system was a national programme that would allow Health Boards and Local Authorities to share health and social care information across one single IT system.  The new system had been developed by an Irish company called Care Works and this was being trialled in Bridgend, which would be up and running by the end of March 2016.  All other Local Authorities in Wales would switch to the new system over the next two years with the Vale going live at the same time as Cardiff.  In describing some of the current technical issues, he highlighted that Care Works had found it difficult to recruit extra staff in order to increase the company’s capacity.  Also, there were issues around the transferring of data into the new system, but he reiterated his previous point which was that Bridgend was on track to go live by the end of March and that progress was being made. 

 

RESOLVED –

 

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

 

(2)       T H A T the Council should explore the possibility of more meetings being webcast and this should be referred to Cabinet for the purpose of consideration.

 

(3)       T H A T the Council should purse the wider use by Elected Members of tablet computers, specifically in terms of Committee papers and for this to be referred to Cabinet for consideration.

 

Reason for decision

 

(1)       To ensure Members are made aware of any developments to their ICT service and the wider Council.

 

(2)       To allow Cabinet to consider the number of meetings that could be webcast live over the internet.

 

(3)       In order to consider Members using Tablet computers as a way of reducing printing costs for the Council.

 

 

840     MEMBER PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT AND REVIEW INTERVIEWS (HDS) -

 

As provided for within the Local Government (Wales) Measure, all Members had been afforded the opportunity of a Personal Development Interview (to be conducted by the Head of Democratic Services).  Initially, interviews were arranged for all Members in respect of a Senior Salary (16 Members).  The programme was then 'rolled out', offering all Members the opportunity of an interview. 

 

30 of the 47 Members on the Council (including all 16 Members in receipt of a Senior Salary) took up the opportunity of having a Personal Development Interview.  By their very nature, the discussions at interviews varied amongst Members.  The opportunity was taken to discuss:

 

  • Members’ current roles and responsibilities
  • Any specific tasks Members envisaged carrying out during the year ahead
  • Identifying areas of existing and / or new knowledge which Members felt might help in their undertaking of their various roles
  • Any 'barriers' to undertaking their role effectively
  • Training / development received during the preceding year and the outcome of such.

 

The above elements, in turn, then enabled an assessment to be made of identified training / development needs.  The intention was that, unless impracticable, the specific individual and / or collective, needs would be provided for and met within the Council's ongoing Member Development Programme through to the Council elections in May 2017.

 

The Head of Democratic Services indicated he had found the exercise to be both interesting and informative and very useful in providing a framework for the Council's ongoing Member Development Programme.  In summary, the interviews resulted in:

 

  • Requests for individual 'refresher' training (including topics such as ICT developments and media skills)
  • A general awareness amongst Members of the importance of maintaining awareness of legislative, and other, changes (particularly within quasi-judicial areas such as Planning and Licensing, but also in respect of any emerging significant legislation likely to impact on the Council)
  • Requests for training and development in areas including (but not limited to) Finance, Chairing and Questioning, Consultation and Community Engagement, Contract Management, Commissioning, Public Speaking and the Welsh Language Standards.  One Member also felt their effectiveness would be assisted by wider access for Members to information such as Corporate Management Team minutes and other internal management information.
  • A willingness on the part of Members to participate in different forms of training and development (including e-learning).

 

Significantly, Members clearly recognised the ever-changing nature of local government and the pace of change.  In this context, there was a clear acknowledgement amongst Members of the importance of maintaining awareness of the Council's Corporate Priorities and emerging initiatives.  This would include, for instance, continuing the series of briefings which had already taken place in respect of the Reshaping Services Programme and, more recently, the move towards a revised Scrutiny Committee structure more closely aligned to the provisions of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

 

The Chairman commented that he had enjoyed his Personal Development Interview and he mentioned that One Voice Wales was one other avenue that Members may use to discuss their (Town / Community Council) training requirements. 

 

RESOLVED -

 

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

 

(2)       T H A T the 'themes' and, where practicable, all individual training needs identified, be provided for within the Council's Member Development Programme up to the Council elections in May 2017.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To inform the Committee of the outcome of the Member Development interview process and inform the Council's ongoing Member Development Programme.

 

 

841     DRAFT UPDATED MEMBER DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY (HDS) -

 

The Government’s ongoing Modernising Local Government agenda meant that Members had had to embrace, and adapt to, many different roles and responsibilities.  The Leader and Cabinet model of governance, introduced in May 2002, had had a major impact on Members’ roles.  Executive Members played a key role in policy and decision-making, with the non-Executive Members on the Council’s five Scrutiny Committees providing a valuable means of challenge (“critical friend”) and assisting the Executive in areas such as policy development. 

 

The Wales Programme for Improvement placed a responsibility on the Council to maintain continuous improvement in service delivery, emphasising the need to develop new and innovative ways of working to improve service outcomes.  All Members would have a key role in the process of challenging established patterns of service delivery. 

 

Various statutory responsibilities were placed on the Council to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the community and to lead and co-ordinate the preparation of the Community Strategy in partnership with the Council’s public, private, voluntary and community sector partners.  Within this area, all Members had a key role in providing leadership and front-line representation to the local community.

 

The Strategy had been developed in the context of ongoing changes in Local Government and with a view to enabling Members to meet the challenges and opportunities presented to them, both through legislative changes and drivers in the County Council’s organisation, the way it delivered services and the way it worked with its communities.  It did not set out to specify in detail the training that would be undertaken, when it would happen and who would facilitate it.  Rather, it sought to reaffirm the principles that would govern the Council’s approach to Member Development and to set out in broad terms how the aims and objectives of Member Development would be met.

 

To provide the context in which the Strategy sat, the document began by setting out the Council’s Vision and Values.  It then explained the overall objectives of Member Development within that context, before setting out the role of the Democratic Services Committee and supporting officers.  Finally, the Strategy outlined the structure for Member Development.

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the updated Member Development Strategy be endorsed and referred to Cabinet for consideration.

 

Reason for decision

 

To provide for Members an updated Member Development Strategy which, in turn, will inform the Council’s ongoing Member Development Programme.

 

 

842     DRAFT PROTOCOL RE SCRUTINY AND CABINET ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES (HDS) -

 

Members had been made aware from previous reports, of the all-Wales Scrutiny Improvement Study undertaken by the Wales Audit Office.  As far as this Council was concerned, in response to the nine specific recommendations emerging from the Study, an Action Plan was prepared.  That Action Plan had been the subject of update reports to both the Democratic Services Committee and the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group.  That would continue to be the case.

 

The nine specific recommendations of the Auditor General had been reported previously and were covered in the Action Plan (which, in itself, was included as a separate agenda item).

 

The Action Plan included the drawing up of a Protocol designed to encompass a number of elements of the Wales Audit Office recommendations, including:

 

  • the overall roles / responsibilities of Scrutiny and Cabinet Members (and, indeed, officers),
  • the general arrangements in place governing the Scrutiny process,
  • the need for correlation of internal (i.e. Council, Cabinet and Scrutiny) Work Programmes and correlation between those and external regulators' Work Programmes.

 

The draft Protocol was attached as Appendix A to the report.  The draft was also being submitted to the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group. 

 

The draft Protocol sought to set out parameters governing the following specific areas:

 

  • Principles of Effective Scrutiny
  • Role of the Scrutiny Committees
  • Holding the Cabinet to Account
  • Relationship Between Cabinet and Scrutiny
  • Work Programmes and Agendas
  • Ethos of a Scrutiny Committee Meeting
  • Attendance by Cabinet Members at Scrutiny Committee Meetings
  • Attendance by Officers at Scrutiny Committee Meetings
  • Responses of Cabinet Members to Questions from Scrutiny Committees
  • “Call-In” of a Cabinet Decision
  • Recommendations made by Scrutiny Committees
  • Meetings Between Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Cabinet Members
  • Public Speaking at Scrutiny Committee Meetings.

 

Within the Draft Protocol, the Head of Democratic Services specifically referred Members’ attention to Section 7, and, in particular, paragraphs which related to forward work programmes and to pre-Cabinet scrutiny.  He advised that the protocol outlined the need for close correlation between the work programmes of not only Cabinet and Scrutiny, but also external regulators.  He also informed Members that the recently updated Council Constitution reflected the fact that indicative Council, Cabinet and Scrutiny Annual Work Programmes would be published at the beginning of each Municipal Year and, thereafter, updated on a quarterly basis.  In terms of pre-Cabinet scrutiny, he advised the Committee that the protocol recognised and reflected the need for a consistent and clear approach regarding what items were subject to pre-Cabinet scrutiny.

 

In referring to the Cabinet forward work programme, a Committee Member commented that Scrutiny needed more than 4 months’ notice as this was not long enough to inform the Scrutiny work programme.  In reply the Head of Democratic Services stated that new procedures around the forward work programme would commence in May and this would improve the synergy between Cabinet and Scrutiny.

 

The Chairman then alluded to the “blurring” which could occur between pre-Cabinet scrutiny and consultation and he alluded to the benefits of pre-Cabinet scrutiny and, as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning), he stated that the Scrutiny Committee had been part of a number of consultation exercises.  He then commented on observations that he made around the collective responsibility of Cabinet, on occasions, not being quite as clear as he would expect.

 

With regard to pre-Cabinet scrutiny, a Member stated that this needed to be very carefully planned and he alluded to his previous point that Cabinet needed to provide Scrutiny with more notice of items on its work programme.  Another Member commented that he was in favour of pre-Cabinet scrutiny and he would like more Scrutiny involvement in policy formulation.  He then queried whether there was a contradiction around this, in which Scrutiny would be asked to scrutinise decisions that it had already been involved in and he stated that the idea was for Cabinet to make decisions and then for Scrutiny to question these.  In reply to these points, the Head of Democratic Services stated there needed to be a balance between those items that were considered pre-Cabinet scrutiny and those which were not and he advised that legislation did stipulate that one of the roles of Scrutiny was to assist Cabinet with policy development.  The Chairman also added that he did not have an issue with Scrutiny involvement in policy formulation and he commented that any recommendations made by Scrutiny would be a matter for Cabinet to determine.  He also stated that if there was an alternative view held by Cabinet then Scrutiny would be able to discuss these, as the role of Scrutiny was to review decisions made.  The Head of Democratic Services advised, that the new protocol stated that in instances where Cabinet had not accepted the views of Scrutiny, Cabinet would have to record reasons for this in their minutes and this would be recorded in the Scrutiny Committee decision- tracking.

 

Following this, a Member queried whether the production of this protocol was somewhat premature, given the changes to the Scrutiny arrangements that would come into effect from May.  In reply to this, the Head of Democratic Services stated that as the protocol covered mainly generic points, the protocol was fairly “future proof” and would also cover the new working arrangements. 

 

A Member, in referring to Paragraph 7.1 of the protocol, which related to Scrutiny being focussed on a limited number of in depth topics, stated that he felt this was key and that the Scrutiny Committees usually had too many agenda items. To this, the Chairman stated that in Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) meetings a lot of “information only” reports were received.  The Head of Democratic Services added that the protocol provided for “information only” reports to be discontinued (albeit they could still be issued to Members outside the formal committee process).  He also commented that the work programme of each of the new Scrutiny Committees would need to be closely aligned to specific outcomes (linked to the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act), so reports needed to indicate how they contributed to the relevant Council objective(s).  He further advised that other performance data would still be collected for Management Information purposes; the aim being to streamline this process to which, the format of new scorecards were currently being looked into by officers and, in due course, would be considered by Members.

 

With reference to Section 12 of the protocol, which related to a ‘Call-In’ of a Cabinet decision, the Committee felt that Cabinet Members should be in attendance when any decisions that came under their portfolio had been ‘called-in’ and similarly for the Member, who had ”called-in” a decision, should also be in attendance to present their ‘Call-In’.  Finally, the Committee noted that the protocol would be reviewed again in 12 months’ time which would allow for the new Scrutiny arrangements to “bed in”.

 

RESOLVED

 

(1)       T H A T the draft Protocol be endorsed and submitted to Cabinet and Council for consideration.

 

(2)       T H A T the Protocol, if endorsed by Cabinet and Council, be reviewed 12 months following implementation.

 

Reason for decision

 

(1) To further apprise Members of actions being taken in respect of the specific recommendations and various other elements contained in the Wales Audit Office Scrutiny Improvement Study.

 

(2)       To consider any parts of the protocol that may need to be revised.

 

 

843     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 term 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.  Following consideration by the Group at an earlier meeting, a survey form was also considered by the Democratic Services Committee and then circulated to all Members of the Council and to Co-opted Members of the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning). 

 

The broad areas 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
  • The profile of Scrutiny
  • The process for selecting subjects for Task and Finish Reviews
  • Responses of the Cabinet to Scrutiny Committees' recommendations
  • The value added by Scrutiny to the decision-making process within the Council
  • The value added by Scrutiny Committees to performance management / service improvement
  • The level of public involvement in the Scrutiny process
  • The level of media coverage / interest in the work of Scrutiny Committees
  • The evaluation of Council projects with a view to ensuring maximum effectiveness and impact
  • The monitoring and follow-up work relating to Scrutiny Committees' recommendations (i.e. decision-tracking)
  • The level of training received by / offered to Members in both their Scrutiny and Councillor roles.

 

A summary of the results of the survey was attached at Appendix A to the report.  As in 2014, satisfaction levels in respect of support provided by officers (i.e. by both the Democratic and Scrutiny Services Section and other officers) were very good.  Similarly, there remained general satisfaction regarding the Overview and Scrutiny process generally.  However, and as again anticipated, Members clearly felt there remained room for improvement in terms of the level of coverage/interest in the work of Scrutiny Committees. 

 

In terms of raising the profile of Scrutiny and seeking to increase public participation/engagement, Members were aware of the recent work undertaken to facilitate formal arrangements for public speaking at Scrutiny Committees.  These new arrangements came into force during January 2016 and members of the public now had a right to register to speak (or submit written representations) on any item contained on a Scrutiny Committee agenda.  A Guide to Public Speaking at Scrutiny Committees had been produced and (together with the registration form and accompanying details) was available on the Council's website.  The arrangements would be monitored and both the Democratic Services Committee and the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group would be kept updated as to the level of public participation.

 

Members were also asked to note that, following a restructuring of the Council's Communications Unit, which was currently underway, officers from Democratic and Scrutiny Services would seek to liaise with officers in the revised Communications Unit regarding further ways in which the profile of scrutiny could be increased. 

 

The Committee, in noting the survey response rate, was keen for all Elected Members to make every effort to ensure that they completed any future survey.  The Committee suggested a pop up reminder message should appear on all Members’ laptops until a Member had completed the survey.

 

A Committee Member referred to comments made regarding public engagement and to the difficulties in trying to attract people to attend a Scrutiny Committee meeting.  He alluded to the possible idea of having a 30 minute session before each meeting, in which members of the public would be able to speak to an officer to share any questions on an item on the agenda for that particular meeting.

 

The Committee then considered the possibility of conducting a survey of members of the public who had attended / spoken at a Committee meeting and to ask such questions like, did they understand what was going on and were they satisfied with the Committee’s response.  The Committee also felt that for any such survey, Planning Committee would be an obvious choice and which should also include Community Cabinet meetings.  Members of the Committee were mindful that phrasing of the questions was an important consideration and the Committee discussed the need to manage public expectations, particularly around Scrutiny not having any direct decision-making powers.

 

A Member of the Committee had also e-mailed the Head of Democratic Services to suggest whether the Council could regularly write to local newspapers to ask members of the public for topics and areas for discussion that they would like a Scrutiny Committee to consider.  The Head of Democratic Services stated that the Council had done this previously, but it did not generate much interest.  A Committee Member considered that the Council should triangulate its efforts and that a variety of options should be utilised in order to provide a balanced picture of views held by the public.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the outcome of the survey be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the introduction of arrangements for public speaking at Scrutiny Committees be welcomed.

 

(3)       T H A T all Elected Members should be reminded to make every effort to complete any future Member Satisfaction survey.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To inform the Council's scrutiny arrangements.

 

(2)       To acknowledge the work undertaken designed to enhance public engagement/ participation in the Scrutiny process.

 

(3)       To increase the survey response rate.

 

 

844     “GOOD SCRUTINY? GOOD QUESTION!”: AUDITOR GENERAL FOR WALES SCRUTINY IMPROVEMENT STUDY: SCRUTINY IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT: ACTION PLAN: UPDATE (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 was only issued in the Summer of 2014 and had been the subject of reports to the Committee in July and October 2014. At the October meeting, it was resolved that officers prepare an Action Plan, which had subsequently 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 had assisted the Council in preparing for the forthcoming Corporate Assessment by the WAO.

 

Members were asked to note in particular, progress on the following (which was alluded to in the Action Plan):

 

  • A protocol governing relationships between Scrutiny Committees / Cabinet Members and Officers and clarifying various issues in respect of the scrutiny process generally had been drawn up.  The draft Protocol had been discussed informally with Cabinet Members, submitted to the Corporate Management Team and was included as a separate agenda item for this meeting.
  • The draft Protocol alluded to above included recognition of the need to establish effective correlation between the work programmes of scrutiny, Cabinet and external regulators.
  • The fact that a number of actions had been incorporated within the wider Corporate Assessment Action Plan which had been drawn up in anticipation of the forthcoming WAO corporate assessment of the Council.
  • A draft revised / updated Member Development Strategy had been drawn up and was included as a separate agenda item for this meeting.
  • All Members had been offered a Personal Development and Review interview and, again, a separate report was included on the agenda informing the Committee of the outcome of that exercise.

 

The Committee agreed that an update report would be provided in six months’ time, the style of which would be more descriptive of the outcomes and what had been achieved following the implementation of the Plan.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the progress made and the updated Action Plan as set out below be noted:

 

(2)       T H A T an update report be received in 6 months’ time.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To apprise Members of actions being taken in respect of specific recommendations and various other elements contained in the Wales Audit Office report as appropriate.

 

[View Action Plan]

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