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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 26th July, 2016.

 

Present:  Councillor N.P. Hodges (Chairman); Councillor A.G. Bennett (Vice-Chairman); Councillors Ms. B.E. Brooks, J. Drysdale, G. Roberts, J.W. Thomas and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

230            APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE – 

 

These were received from Councillors R.J. Bertin, R.L. Traherne and E. Williams.

 

 

231            MINUTES – 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 13th April, 2016 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

232            DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

233            ICT UPDATE FOR MEMBERS (MD) –

 

The Civic Offices was undergoing an upgrade in terms of electrical cabling and network cabling which had started on the ground floor and which would cover the public access areas such as committee rooms etc. This would improve the wi-fi coverage to better enable Members to use tablet computers for meetings in the future as referred to in the last meeting.  This would also improve access for members of the public.

 

Minute Number 3109 from Cabinet on 14th March, 2016 resolved that “the Council should pursue 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”.  A report would be presented to Cabinet in September giving the full details of the proposal and an analysis of the costs and savings that would result from the implementation of the proposal.

 

The free public access wi-fi across Barry Island beach front had now come on line and was working well, with initial feedback being positive.  The area covered included the train station, funfair, promenade and beach.  Full coverage of the area past the Eastern Shelter had been delayed whilst waiting for listed building consent to install wireless access points on the shelter itself; however, tests had shown that, although coverage existed to that area, it was not as good as the rest of the beach area.

 

The Head of Strategic ICT (who was unable to be present at the meeting) had requested a postponement to the next meeting of the presentation of the ICT and Digital Strategies as he wanted to deliver them personally.  This was agreed by the Committee.

 

For clarification, the Committee was informed that ICT Support to Primary Schools was being provided by a separate team within the Education Department.  Corporate ICT had been providing support to Bryn Hafren Comprehensive and had written to Barry Boys Comprehensive School, Ysgol Bro Morgannwg and Llantwit Major Comprehensive School to explore the possibility of providing a similar service to them (which was a potential revenue stream for the ICT Service).

 

The Head of Democratic Services suggested that the report to Cabinet in September (as alluded to above) should be widened to encompass options in terms of the Council’s strategy for the provision of ICT equipment to new, and returning, Members following the 2017 Council elections.  The Principal Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer referred to having undertaken an “audit” of equipment currently provided to Members and commented on the amount of recycled equipment issued at the time of the last Council elections in 2012 and to the different types of equipment issued to Members.  A comprehensive discussion ensued and the general consensus of the Group was as follows: 

  • it would be advantageous for the Candidates’ Pack (to be prepared and issued by Democratic Services) for prospective candidates in the 2017 Council elections) to contain clear information as to the type of equipment which would be offered to Members.
  • linked to the above, making available information regarding the types of ICT-related training which would be on offer to Members (which it was felt needed to be as “user friendly” as possible)
  • in considering / promoting the greater use of tablet devices by Members, officers be requested to explore also providing suitable software to facilitate, and assist in, scrolling of, and annotation to, information shown. 
  • a general feeling that every effort should be made to reduce the amount of paper currently involved in the distribution of agendas / reports.
  • an acknowledgement of the other associated costs (e.g. staff time and postage), which it was felt would also be reduced, with consequential savings achieved.
  • the importance of not simply concentrating on a perceived “solution”, but to take into account the actual service requirements. 
  • a suggestion that, in the event of electronic distribution of information, Members should be encouraged to print off only the specific information they feel they need to (again resulting in an overall reduction in paper usage).
  • that, perhaps, officers could be encouraged to produce more concise reports (which could, for example, utilise more use of electronic “links” to other information, rather than the wholesale inclusion of such information within the body of the report). 

In response to a specific query, the Head of Democratic Services was of the view that electronic distribution to Members of agendas / reports could be accommodated within existing legislative requirements, subject to Members’ preferences regarding the preferred means of receipt being clearly recorded. 

 

During the discussion, and in response to some of the specific comments made by Members, Councillor Wilson (as Chairman of the Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee) undertook to request officers to produce a report for a future meeting encompassing the overall sustainability issues related to the subject under discussion.

 

The Support Manager (ICT) clarified for Members the position regarding ICT training in that it was facilitated by the Council’s Human Resources Division

 

Referring to the recent introduction of free public access wi-fi across Barry Island Beach front, the Chairman referred to the initial feedback from users as being excellent.  Reference was made as to whether there was any possibility of exploring the provision of “paid links” which could be used by companies on Barry Island and which might, in turn, generate some income for the Council as well as further promote the area itself.  The Support Manager (ICT) indicated he understood that the Council’s Communications Team were looking at that aspect.  In response to questions from Members regarding the potential for expanding the provision of free public access wi-fi across other areas, he understood that this was being looked at and he alluded to a report to be submitted to Cabinet in the near future (albeit he was unaware of the actual content of that report).

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T Cabinet be informed that the Democratic Services Committee considers that there is scope for savings to be made in respect of the costs involved in terms of Members’ use of IT and their receipt of Committee agendas / reports.

 

(2)       T H A T the Head of Strategic ICT include in his report to Cabinet in September options in terms of the Council’s strategy for the provision of ICT equipment to new, and returning, Members following the 2017 Council elections

 

(3)       T H A T, in considering the above report, Cabinet be requested to take into account the views of this Committee as set out in the preamble above.

 

Reason for decision

 

(1)-(3) To assist in Cabinet’s consideration of the Council’s approach to, and provision of, ICT equipment for new, and returning, Members following the 2017 Council election.   

 

 

234            COUNCIL CONSTITUTION: PROCEDURE RE RECORDED VOTES (HDS) –

 

The following Notice of Motion (submitted by Councillors Kevin Mahoney and Christopher Williams) was considered by Full Council on 27th April, 2016.

 

“To change the provision of 4.23.5 Recorded Vote in the Constitution to :-

 

4.23.5  Recorded vote

 

If one member present at the meeting demands it, the names for and against the motion or amendment or abstaining from voting will be taken down in writing and entered into the minutes.  A demand for a recorded vote will override a demand for a ballot.”

 

Consideration of the matter by Full Council (including an amendment to the Motion being approved) resulted in it being resolved that  a report be prepared for consideration by the Democratic Services Committee on options to change the provision of the requirements of Recorded Votes (paragraph 4.23.5) of the Council’s Constitution.

 

The Constitution currently provided (in Section 4.23.5) that "if six Members present at the meeting demand, the names for and against the Motion or Amendment or abstaining from voting will be taken down in writing and entered into the minutes.  A demand for a recorded vote will override a demand for a ballot."

 

The above provision had been in place since the introduction (via the provisions of the Local Government Act 2000) of the requirement for Local Authorities to adopt a Constitution. Prior to that time, an equivalent provision had been contained within the previous Standing Orders.  More recently, no change had been proposed to this aspect of the Constitution during the extensive review undertaken in 2014/2015, which culminated in the current Constitution being adopted by Council in September 2015.  

 

The views of the Committee were sought as to whether it was considered there should be any change to the existing provisions regarding Recorded Votes which, in turn, would need to be considered by Full Council.

 

The Head of Democratic Services was asked whether many queries had been received over time regarding the current voting processes.  In response,  he confirmed that very few enquiries had ever been received.  There had been an occasional enquiry relating to how Members had voted on a particular issue of public interest (but these had been very occasional).

 

As indicated in the report (and alluded to above) reference was made to the considerable amount of work undertaken by the Member Working Party in terms of reviewing the Council’s Constitution.  This had resulted in the relatively recent production of a new Council Constitution.  It was confirmed that, during that process, there had been no suggestion that the Council’s current procedure regarding the recording of votes was in need of being amended or requiring improvement.  A number of Members of the Committee acknowledged the fact that any individual Member could already request that their own position in terms of a vote be formally recorded in the minutes. 

 

Members agreed that the current requirement whereby six Members were required to request a Recorded Vote remained appropriate and that a reduction to, for example, two Members would arguably devalue the process.  In conclusion, there was a unanimous view amongst the Members present that there was no need to change existing arrangements.

 

During the discussion, the concept of electronic recording of votes was raised.  The Head of Democratic Services confirmed that this was an option that could be facilitated by the Council in the event that the Council formally decided it wished to adopt such an approach.  Again, any future changes to such processes would be a matter for consideration by Elected Members (with any changes to the Constitution to facilitate such a process requiring approval of Full Council). 

 

In addition to the report itself, Members also took into account an e-mail received from Councillor Bertin (who had been unable to be present at the meeting).  Councillor Bertin had requested a reduction in the number required for a Recorded Vote from six to a single Member and seconder.  He had also asked the Committee to consider a suggestion that audio recordings be made of meetings of the Planning Committee and Full Council on a trial basis.  The former point had already been addressed during the discussion.  The Head of Democratic Services suggested that there would be no point in audio recording Planning Committee meetings, which were already webcast.  He also alluded to the subsequent agenda item which, if approved by Members, would see the webcasting arrangements extended to include Full Council on a trial basis. 


RESOLVED – T H A T it be recommended to Full Council that no changes be made to the procedures governing the recording of votes as currently set out in the Council’s Constitution.

 

Reason for decision

 

To assist in the consideration of the matter by Full Council.

 

 

235            WEBCASTING OF MEETINGS (HDS) –

 

The webcasting of meetings of the Planning Committee was one of the ways in which the Council had sought to increase accessibility in terms of its decision-making processes.  with the “end product” being comparable to Local Authorities who had engaged external providers of a webcasting service.  Subject to Members' views, it was proposed that webcasting be extended to include meetings of Full Council.  This would further demonstrate the Council's commitment to the process.  Whilst consideration had been given to the possibility of including other meetings in the process, by its very nature, such an approach would have immediate resource implications.  For example, the concept of webcasting Cabinet and Scrutiny Committees would result in approximately 70/80 meetings having to be resourced (i.e. ICT officer attendance), the majority of which took place in the evening.   In the current climate, in which savings were constantly having to be effected, it was not considered that incurring additional staffing costs of such a scale could be justified.

 

Any costs associated with the expansion of webcasting to include meetings of Full Council would be met from within existing resources.

 

Members supported the concept of extending the existing arrangements to include, on a trial basis, meetings of Full Council.  It was agreed that an “internal” trial webcast should take place (as had occurred with the Planning Committee) in order that any adjustments required could be made prior to live webcasting commencing. 

 

Officers pointed out that, in terms of configuring the equipment to webcast a Full Council meeting, there would be significant differences compared to the arrangements for Planning Committee.  These included the fact that there would be a lot more Members present and, importantly, the Council’s Constitution contained a requirement for Members to stand when addressing meetings of Council.  This contrasted with the “fixed” position of Members sitting in a Planning Committee meeting.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T Cabinet be recommended to agree the extension of webcasting of the Council’s meetings to include Full Council, the first meeting of which would be an internal exercise in order that any issues arising could be addressed prior to the subsequent commencement of live webcasting of Full Council meetings.

 

(2)       T H A T the Head of Democratic Services consider whether any amendments to the Council’s Constitution will be required to facilitate effective webcasting of Full Council meetings and, if so, to report to Full Council accordingly..

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To further improve accessibility in terms of the Council’s decision-making processes.

 

 

236            ANNUAL REPORT OF THE HEAD OF DEMOCRATIC SERVICES (HDS) –

 

There was a requirement under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 ("the Measure") for 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 Head of Democratic Services, in turn, was required to produce an Annual Report.

 

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 during the previous year, ongoing developments and plans for the future.

 

The Head of Democratic Services alluded to the report as being a comprehensive summary of the work undertaken 2015/16.  As such, he did not intend to elaborate in detail on the report at the meeting.  The report itself could be accessed at the following link http://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/en/our_council/council/minutes,_agendas_and_reports/reports/democratic_services/2016/16-07-26/Annual-Report-of-the-Head-of-Democratic-Services.aspx

 

In terms of the build up to the 2017 Council election, one Member commented on the value of the Candidates’ Handbook to be prepared and issued by Democratic Services to prospective candidates.  Reference was also made to the importance of training for new, and returning, Members.  Within this context, a Member requested that, rather than much of the material being “Constitution / structure” based, training sessions should, wherever possible, revolve around the issues facing the Council. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the Annual Report of the Head of Democratic Services be endorsed.

 

Reason for decision

 

To acknowledge the work undertaken during 2015/16.