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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 19th October, 2016.

 

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

 

 

473            APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE – 

 

These were received from Councillors J. Drysdale, R.L. Traherne and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

474            MINUTES – 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 26th July, 2016 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

475            DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

476            ICT UPDATE FOR MEMBERS (MD) –

 

Contracts to replace the hardware for the Oracle E-Business Suite and to upgrade the Cisco telephony system had been advertised and awarded.  The servers supporting the Oracle E-Business Suite had been in place for almost ten years and had been very reliable, but would be changed before the end of the year.

 

Cabinet on 14th March, 2016 resolved that “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”.  It had been intended to present a report to Cabinet in September, but the range of hardware options that was being considered had changed and needed to be more fully tested.  A report to Cabinet would be presented before Christmas; the report would reflect the fact that the Committee at its last meeting had 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 ……..”

 

(N.B. The Committee’s views referred to above were contained in the minutes of the last meeting and would be reported to Cabinet as part of the further report.)

 

The Head of Strategic ICT circulated for Members’ viewing/observations a Windows 10 Tablet (which represented the potential type of future equipment that could be provided for Members).  He assured the Committee that his further report to Cabinet on this matter would include a fully-costed Business Case in the event that the provision of such equipment was progressed.  This would take account of the significant savings in terms of paper, other consumables, postage and staff time which he considered could be achieved by changing from a “paper based” system for Committee papers to an electronic one.  There was a general consensus amongst Members that the approach to discussions around potential refurbishment of the equipment on offer should be on a non-political basis. 

 

In addition to the hardware for Members, the Council’s Corporate Management Team had approved a trial of the Google for Work system as a possible replacement for Microsoft Office.  This would test the functionality of the Google applications for e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and video conferencing.  Around 50 staff had been selected to take part in the trial, including the Managing Director. The Head of Strategic ICT indicated that it would be useful to have one or two Members involved in the evaluation.  Should the pilot project be successful and subsequently expanded, appropriate training would be provided as part of any “roll out” of the system. 

 

The Head of Strategic ICT provided a brief presentation of the draft ICT and Digital Strategies at the meeting.  Both of these would need further development and approval, but moving to a Digital First approach would need some careful handling if the Council was not to exclude those citizens who were not comfortable using technology.  The Digital Strategy represented a fundamental part of the Council’s Reshaping Services programme.  It would also impact on Members’ interaction with constituents given the Council’s desire to continue to develop electronic interaction with citizens in terms of service delivery.  Once completed, the draft Digital Strategy would be submitted to the Corporate Management Team and, subsequently, Cabinet.  The Council’s approach to Member ICT would need to be presented in the context of the overall Digital Strategy. 

 

In response to points raised by Members, the Head of Democratic Services undertook to confirm the position regarding matters such as the legislative provisions relating to the provision of Council and Committee papers (e.g. whether any impediment existed in terms of any suggestion of “full” electronic provision).

 

A national system for Social Services and Community Health (WCCIS) had been procured by Welsh Government, with the intention that all Councils and Health Boards move to the new system to improve collaboration and joint working to improve outcomes for patients.  This Council was scheduled to move to the new system late in 2017 and this would change the way in which staff in these areas worked.  As a national system it would be hosted in the Welsh Government Data Centre in Blaenavon.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T it be recorded that the Committee is pleased with the progress made to date.

 

(2)       T H A T the Head of Strategic ICT include in his further report to Cabinet on Member ICT the points raised by the Committee at its meeting on 26th July, 2016.

 

(3)       T H A T the current draft Digital and ICT Strategies (as summarised at the Committee) be endorsed.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1-3)    To make Cabinet aware of the Committee’s views and assist in discussion on the matter.

 

 

477            WALES AUDIT OFFICE CORPORATE ASSESSMENT REPORT 2016: SCRUTINY FEEDBACK (HDS) –

 

In 2013-14, the WAO commenced a four year cycle of Corporate Assessments of Authorities in Wales, this being in addition to an annual programme of improvement studies and audits of Council activity.  The Corporate Assessment of this Council was carried out during the early part of this year and the report was published on 25th August, 2016.  The purpose of the Corporate Assessment, as described by the WAO, was to provide a position statement of an Authority's capacity and capability to deliver continuous improvement.  The assessment process considered an Authority's track record of performance and the key arrangements in place to deliver continuous improvement.  The focus was on the extent to which arrangements contributed to delivering improved performance and service outcomes for citizens.

 

WAO Fieldwork (visit to site) was undertaken during March 2016.  Auditors from the WAO carried out a range of one to one interviews with staff and Members, focus groups with Members and officers and gathered evidence to inform the outcome of the assessment process. This fieldwork was preceded by considerable research. 

 

The full Corporate Assessment Report had already been circulated to Members, having been considered at meetings of both Cabinet and Full Council.   Steve Barry, Audit Manager Local Government, (WAO) attended and addressed both meetings. Similarly, copies of a WAO press release and a press release issued by Mark Drakeford, Local Government Secretary, both of which contained extremely positive messages as far as the Council was concerned, had been reported to Cabinet and Council.

 

Following a Corporate Assessment, the WAO could take one of a number of steps.  Where it had concerns, it could ask Welsh Government to intervene, conduct a special investigation, or make formal recommendations for improvement.  In the Council’s case, none of these measures were required.  It was, however, common and expected that the WAO made “Proposals for Improvement”.  These were suggestions of areas in which the Council could be doing more and five such proposals were contained in the WAO report.  These related to: performance management and implementing proposed changes to the performance management framework; providing more information as part of financial reporting; completing work that was already underway on developing a vision and objectives for the ICT service; and accelerating the gathering of data and necessary training in relation to buildings compliance.  It was for the Council to implement the proposals.

 

Members were asked to note that the WAO report contained no "Proposals for Improvement" as far as the Council's scrutiny arrangements were concerned.  However, various observations of the WAO were contained within their report and were brought together as part of a two page "Scrutiny Feedback" section, which was reproduced as Appendix A to the report. 

 

The WAO's observations fell into the following broad areas: 

  • The recent introduction of the Council's new Performance Management Framework and the associated scrutiny arrangements which were being developed;
  • Whilst acknowledging the development by the Council of a Scrutiny and Cabinet Roles and Responsibility Protocol, the WAO commented that the above revised Performance Management Framework and the scrutiny arrangements related to that were not reflected within the current Protocol; 
  • The level, and type, of questioning observed at Scrutiny Committees from Members during the Corporate Assessment process;
  • The concept of pre-meetings (i.e. of the whole Committee);
  • The format of budget monitoring reports and the amount of detail contained therein;
  • The alignment of financial and performance information in the context of Performance Management;
  • An acknowledgement of the development of a more co-ordinated / aligned Cabinet and Scrutiny Committee Work Programme process;
  • The importance of Scrutiny Committees playing a role in the Council's Reshaping Services programme;
  • The need to develop joint scrutiny arrangements in respect of the Shared Regulatory Service;
  • An acknowledgment of the introduction by the Council of the ability for members of the public to register to speak on any item on the agenda at a Scrutiny Committee (as well as the introduction of webcasting).

The WAO concluded by stating “Overall, the changes the Council is in the process of implementing represent an opportunity to ensure scrutiny activity has maximum impact by: 

  • aligning forward work programmes to focus on key issues;
  • freeing up agenda time to focus on a more limited number of items in-depth, thereby increasing efficiency as well as impact; and
  • improving the information scrutiny received by aligning financial and performance information with other important information, such as the citizen view, and increasing the focus on outcomes, and supporting consideration of value for money."

The above observations from the WAO were also set out as Appendix B to the report, with an update for Members as to any action taken to date and / or proposed.  Members' comments would be taken into account as part of the ongoing process (particularly in terms of embedding any changes to procedures prior to the May 2017 election).

 

Members welcomed the WAO report and its positive nature.  However, Members were strongly of the view that the concept of pre-meetings (i.e. of the whole Committee) as alluded to by the WAO was not appropriate.  One Member referred to it as going against the concept of openness and transparency in that it would, in essence, represent a “private meeting” of the Committee.  It was suggested that such meetings could be construed as “undemocratic”. 

 

In response to a comment made by a Member regarding the need to promote public engagement in the Scrutiny process, the Head of Democratic Services alluded to the reference in the Action Plan attached to the report confirming that officers from Democratic Services and the Communications Team were liaising regarding means for further promoting the right of individuals to register to speak on Scrutiny Committee agenda items.  He also confirmed that ways of making the public more aware of forthcoming matters to be discussed by Scrutiny Committee were to be looked at.

 

The Head of Democratic Services informed Members that the Action Plan considered under this item would also be reported to the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the Scrutiny Feedback contained in the Wales Audit Office Corporate Assessment Report 2016 be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the actions taken to date and / or proposed be noted and welcomed and an update be included as a standard item on the agenda for the remaining meetings of the Democratic Services Committee in 2016/17.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To apprise Members of the specific Scrutiny Feedback within the WAO Corporate Assessment Report and the actions taken to date / proposed by the Council in response.

 

 

478             DRAFT ANNUAL REPORT OF INDEPENDENT REMUNERATION PANEL FOR WALES (IRPW) 2017/18 –

 

A copy of the draft IRPW Annual Report was submitted to the Committee for consideration.  The Panel’s draft determinations were contained under each section of the report and also set out on pages 57 – 60.  The Head of Democratic Services referred Members to a short summary of the proposed changes considered most relevant to Members, which was attached as an Appendix to the report as follows:

 

-          Basic Salaries – a “very modest increase of 0.75% to the basic salary” for Councillors and members of National Park Authorities and Fire and Rescue Authorities.  This was the first increase for three years and “follows the slight easing of restraint in the pay of public sector employees”.  It represented a £100 increase in the Basic salary for Councillors (to £13,400), a £25 basic salary increase for National Park members and a £15 basic salary increase for Fire and Rescue Authority members.

-         Senior Salaries – no increase was proposed for Senior Salaries but post holders would receive the uplift in the basic salary paid to all Councillors.

-         Sickness Absence for Senior Salary Holders – this was proposed in response to feedback from Members and Authorities.  The approach would operate in a similar way to the current “family absence” provisions.  

-         Care Allowances – following concerns about low take-up and discussions with Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) members, the IRPW was proposing to rename “Care Allowances” as “Reimbursement of costs of care” to seek to separate it from being perceived as part of an individual Councillor’s salary or allowances.  The IRP also proposed changing the way such payments were published by allowing Councils to either:

o          “Publish the details of the amounts reimbursed to named Members; or

o          The total amount reimbursed by the Authority during the year but not attributed to any named Member”.

 

Given the elections next May, the IRPW’s determinations (once finalised) would come into force as follows:

 

-          For Principal Councils:

           o     Basic Salary Holders – 5th May, 2017, (subject to the Member having signed the Declaration of Acceptance)

           o     Senior Salary Holders – following the first Annual Meeting of the new Council.

-          For National Park Authorities – With effect from 1st April, 2017

-          For Fire and Rescue Authorities – With effect from the Annual Meeting of the Authority.

 

Reference was made by one Member to the Committee having expressed concern that the previous year’s Annual Report had been accompanied by (and potentially influenced) by a letter from the relevant Minister.  The Committee had considered that to be somewhat “political” and the Member felt similarly this year that the Panel was being “political” in terms of certain of its comments regarding financial constraints on the public sector and Local Authorities specifically.  He suggested that this represented giving in to public pressure. 

 

Councillor Bertin stated he was against the increase proposed by the IRPW and felt that the public would not be happy with the suggestion.  He indicated he would donate the additional £100 to charity and was of the view that all Councillors on the Vale of Glamorgan Council should refuse to accept the £100 increase.

 

Other Members of the Committee did not concur with Councillor Bertin’s view and points raised during the discussion included: 

  • reference to the fact that the proposed increase represented 0.75%
  • the view that remuneration for Elected Members should not be continually eroded.

The Head of Democratic Services reminded Members of the Council’s current position in terms of determinations of the IRPW.  The Council’s Members’ Allowances Scheme stated that “…. The Basic Salary will be uplifted with effect from 1st April each year in line with the determination of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales …”.  As stated above, the proposed increase of £100 represented the first increase for three years.  He also reminded Members that it was the right of any individual Member to decline any, or all, of any allowance to which they were entitled.


Members confirmed that they had no specific comments to make regarding any of the other determinations in the IRPW draft Annual Report.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the draft determinations contained in the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales’ draft Annual Report be noted.

 

Reason for decision

 

To facilitate discussion of the matter allow any specific views to be forwarded to the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales.

 

 

 

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