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DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 18th January, 2017.

 

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

 

 

683     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE – 

 

These were received from Councillors Ms. B.E. Brooks, R.L. Traherne and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

684     MINUTES – 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 19th October, 2016 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

685     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

686     ICT UPDATE FOR MEMBERS (MD) –

 

A report entitled “Review of ICT Systems for Elected Members” was considered and approved by Cabinet on 9th January, 2017.  The report set out the approach to be taken in terms of Member ICT for new and returning Members following the Council election in May 2017.  Much of the content had been previously discussed by this Committee.  A review of the ICT Guide for Elected Members was also underway and was out for consultation with officers.

 

In addition to the actual provision of equipment, the report referred to the fact that it was considered that the arrangements for its issue, the type of equipment offered and the various officer roles and responsibilities in terms of Member ICT were in need of clarification and regularising.  Officers were currently reviewing (prior to consideration by Members) the relevant documentation, together with guidelines to assist Members in ensuring appropriate use of equipment (covering areas such as Data Protection).  The intention was that a link to the information be included in the Candidates' Pack which would be distributed to all candidates standing in the May 2017 Council Election.

 

If it was considered necessary, an additional meeting of the Committee would be arranged to consider any other matters requiring attention ahead of the next scheduled meeting of the Committee, which was not until April 2017.

 

The trial of the Google for Work system as a possible replacement for Microsoft Office had concluded and, although the trial met most of its objectives, a decision had been taken by Corporate Management Team not to adopt Google for Work at this time, mainly due to a time limited offer from Google ending on 31st December, 2016, which did not allow enough time to complete the evaluation and consult widely enough across the Council.

 

The Head of Strategic ICT addressed the point that “one size does not fit all” with regards to software and 75% of staff do not actually require all functions of the software available.  The purpose of current negotiations was to give staff what they actually need and use to complete their particular workloads. 

 

The ICT Service was undergoing a restructure and the management restructure was now complete, with formal consultation starting later this month for the remainder of the service.  Support for Members was included in the review and it was proposed to maintain support at the current level, whilst looking at opportunities to update equipment for Members as referred to above.

 

The Head of Strategic ICT reminded the Committee that new tablet devices were currently being trialled by officers and the continued aims were to reduce paper use and allow Members to continue their functions, such as accessing corporate documents, with the ability to annotate.

 

The Head of Democratic Services confirmed that Members would continue to be involved as key documents were renewed covering areas such as Data Protection and any interface between personal and corporate equipment currently in circulation. 

 

In response to a Member’s question as to whether any accredited training would be offered to Members, following the next local election, the Head of Strategic ICT confirmed that accredited training, such as ECDL, could be provided if requested.  The purpose of ICT involvement within the Members’ Induction Programme was to provide initial training at the same time as the equipment was issued. 

 

The Head of Democratic Services informed the Committee that officers were working to iron out any equipment disparities between Members so that each Member had access to up to date and good quality equipment.  The Head of Strategic ICT added to this point by highlighting that any equipment and / or software updates, alongside the aim of paper reduction, would encourage savings as the reduction in paper would also mean a reduction in consumables, postage costs and staff time.

 

Officers agreed to establish the potential level of savings.

 

Having discussed updates, the Committee

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the content of the report be welcomed.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

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

 

 

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

 

A report was presented to Committee, by the Head of Democratic Services, to comply with the resolution of the Committee on 19th October, 2016 that such a report be included as a standard item on the agenda for the remaining meetings of the Democratic Services Committee in 2016/17.

 

In 2013-14, the Wales Audit Office (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 last 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.

 

As reported to the last meeting, following a Corporate Assessment, the WAO could take one of four steps.  Where it had concerns, it could ask Welsh Government to intervene, conduct a special investigation, or make formal recommendations for improvement.  In this particular case, none of these measures was required.  It was however common and expected that the WAO make “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.

 

Again, as previously reported, 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 the report and were brought together as part of a two page "Scrutiny Feedback" section, which was reported to the last meeting of the Committee.

 

The Head of Democratic Services acknowledged the updates using the Scrutiny Feedback table and addressed the fact that there was currently no formal scrutiny in place for the Shared Regulatory Services (point 9 in the Scrutiny Feedback table).  He referred to this point as being the only area of slippage and stated that when the Joint Committee was reappointed following the Annual Meeting in May, it was intended that joint scrutiny arrangements would then be put in place. 

 

The WAO's observations fell into various broad areas, which were again set out in the table below.  Updates since the last meeting were shown in emboldened text for ease of reference.

 

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.”

 

 

WAO   OBSERVATION

UPDATE

1

The recent introduction of the Council's new Performance Management Framework and the associated scrutiny arrangements which are being developed.  The WAO note that the intention is that scrutiny activity becomes more outcome-focused and considers a wider range of cross-cutting information.

Members will be aware that   the Council’s revised performance management framework has been in place since the beginning of the current financial year.  Scrutiny Committees and Cabinet have begun considering performance reports in their   new format and the Member Working Group has again met and its   feedback/ comments have been taken into account in terms of adjustments made to the format of reporting for Quarter 2.    The involvement of the Group and the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group (as appropriate) will continue through the remainder of  016/17.

 

The reports have included a section relating to the use of financial resources (and other “corporate   health” perspectives) and their impact on the delivery of well-being outcomes. This should enable Committees to identify and scrutinise   performance in light of available resources and to identify the value for money associated with service delivery.

 

A significant element in terms of improving outcomes is understanding what is going on in communities and knowing what the challenges are.  Consequently,work such as the Well-being Assessment, being carried out by the Public Service Board (PSB), will show how the Vale can continue to best serve its citizens. In overall terms, the work of the PSB will be scrutinised by the Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee, but with reports on specific   issues continuing to be reported to the relevant Scrutiny Committee. This approach is similar to how the work of the former Local Service Board was scrutinised.

2

Whilst acknowledging the development by the Council of a Scrutiny and Cabinet Roles and Responsibility Protocol, the WAO have commented that the above revised Performance Management Framework and the scrutiny arrangements related to that are not reflected within the current Protocol

The existing Protocol will be reviewed/revised as appropriate and an amended version reported to   Members for consideration/approval, prior to the end of the current Municipal Year.

3

The level, and type, of questioning observed at Scrutiny Committees from Members during the Corporate   Assessment process was considered by the WAO to be variable.

Members will no doubt have their own views on this particular WAO observation. In any event, it is intended that the Scrutiny-related element of the 2017 Member Induction/Development programme will include a session on questioning skills.

4

The concept of pre-meetings (i.e. of the whole Committee) being considered

Although alluded to briefly in the WAO report, it is worth recalling the report of the Auditor   General for Wales – “Good Scrutiny? Good Question!” (the report on the all-Wales Scrutiny Improvement Study).  

One section in the Study report dealt with the various approaches within Councils to 'pre-meetings'.  Whilst acknowledging that pre-meetings could assist the scrutiny process, the Study stated "We have also observed some confusion   about the role of pre-meetings.  There were some concerns that the use of pre-meetings could undermine the formal committee meeting, leading to "staged" questions with little spontaneity or follow-up questions."

The Council’s own Peer Team (comprising Members and officers) did not consider the pre-meeting they observed as part of their work to add any particular value to the overall process and that it did, indeed, illustrate some of the above traits.

5

The format of budget monitoring reports and the amount of detail contained therein

Consideration has been given as to how more details could be incorporated into regular financial monitoring reports. The Quarter   2 monitoring reports include more details on reshaping services savings and other in-year committed savings, including a “RAG” status to assist members in scrutinising how individual schemes are progressing.

6

The alignment of financial and performance information in the context of Performance Management

The work undertaken above on the changes to format and content of the budget monitoring reports is assisting here.  With the development of the new quarterly   performance reports, Members are now able to see relevant financial information within the quarterly performance reports, with commentary as to how the financial position (and other integrated planning activity) is affecting the delivery of the Council’s well-being outcomes. The integrated planning   activity is then summarised in the Corporate Health report quarterly.

7

An acknowledgement of the development of a more co-ordinated / aligned Cabinet and Scrutiny Committee work programme process.  The WAO consider “This will better enable scrutiny committees to plan their own work programmes to ensure they are focusing on key issues, and can build in   time for policy development through pre-scrutiny, where required.”  They also allude to the changes which the Council has implemented as providing an opportunity for freeing up agendas to   focus on a more limited number of items in-depth, thereby providing increasing efficiency as well as impact.

Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and officers to take into account as part of the Scrutiny Committees’ Work Programme process.

8

The importance of Scrutiny Committees playing a role in the Council's Reshaping Services programme

The work on Reshaping Services was last reported to Cabinet in October 2016 and that report has   been provided to all elected Members for their information.  A further report is scheduled for Cabinet in January 2017. A further report is   scheduled for Cabinet in January 2017.    Individual project proposals and business cases will be presented to Cabinet and Scrutiny Committee as appropriate.  For example, the Healthy Living and Social Care Scrutiny Committee recently received a report on the Reshaping of   Respite Care for Adults with Learning Disabilities and on proposals to change the Meals on Wheels service, with Committee scrutinising the draft business cases ahead of their consideration and determination by Cabinet.

9

The need to develop joint scrutiny arrangements in respect of the Shared Regulatory Service

A report has been considered by the Shared Regulatory Services Board and the Joint Committee and it has been agreed that a group be established to look at / progress joint scrutiny options.

10

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).

Most meetings of Planning Committee now involve individuals who have registered to speak on planning applications. 

 

Officers from Democratic Services and the Communications Team are liaising regarding   means of further promoting the right of individuals to register to speak on Scrutiny Committee agenda items.

 

A Member referred to the recent shift in the council’s policy regarding exception reporting and, whilst endorsing the approach, considered it important to maintain an overview as well as the ‘by exception’ content within reports.

 

Reference was also made, by certain Members, to the lack of progress made through the Reshaping Services Programme to date, but they acknowledged that the Democratic Services Committee was not the appropriate forum to discuss further.

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the updated report on Scrutiny Feedback contained in the Wales Audit Office Corporate Assessment report 2016 be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

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.

 

 

688     MEMBER INDUCTION 2017 (HDS) –

 

The report presented outlined the proposed Induction Programme for newly elected and returning Councillors following the Local Government elections in May 2017.  It was noted that the draft Programme, by its very nature and timescale, contained some dates / times and draft content which were indicative and subject to change.

 

The work of a Councillor was complex and challenging and the political, legislative and local landscape in which they worked was changing constantly.  Communities had high expectations of their elected representatives from the day of their election and throughout their period of office.  It was essential, therefore, that elected Members were given every assistance in preparing to be able to quickly and successfully navigate the numerous different aspects of local government.  The report outlined the importance of Member Induction and presented an outline draft Induction Programme for consideration by the Committee.  The Head of Democratic Services informed the Committee that the Induction Programme would shortly be distributed to the Electoral Registration Office so that the information could be included within the Election Candidates’ packs.  This would highlight any training requirements to Members in advance of them accepting office in May.

 

The Programme had taken account of comments received from Councillors regarding the 2012 Member Induction programme.  Any candidate who may have been in office prior to 2012 and who was now re-standing would see a significant change in the political environment and this gave greater weight to making certain development sessions mandatory.  All sessions would be run within the first six months of office.  If a Member did not attend the training, they would not be able to sit on the relevant Committees. 

 

Member training and development was required by the Local Government Act 2000, Local Government Measure (Wales) 2011 and the Council's Member Development Strategy.  Both the initial Induction Programme and the ongoing Member Development Programme, in addition to their obvious importance for Members generally, would need to be delivered against the background of the following Well-being Goals within the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales): 

  • A prosperous Wales
  • A resilient Wales
  • A healthier Wales
  • A more equal Wales
  • A Wales of cohesive communities
  • A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language
  • A globally responsible Wales. 

The Programme, in turn, would assist in preparing Members for their decision-making roles and responsibilities, where they would be called upon to consider issues, make recommendations and decisions that would impact on both present, and future, generations.

 

An induction programme was an important development opportunity as it enabled Members to quickly become familiar with how the Council worked, the rules and procedures under which it operated and the complexities of the Elected Member role.

 

The proposed Induction Programme would be delivered over the first few months of the new Council term and would provide Members with an opportunity to clearly establish their roles and responsibilities and to build positive working relationships with officers from the outset.  The Programme had been designed to highlight key Council information, its main corporate policies and priorities as well as delivering both "mandatory" and "recommended" development sessions.  All of this was designed to enable Members to actively and rapidly participate in the business of Council, increasing their confidence in their ability to make informed and effective decisions from the start of their term of office.

 

To support the Induction Programme, an information pack would also be produced and would include a timetable of meetings, copies of, or links to, core policies and procedures, frequently asked questions and useful contact numbers and would be distributed to Members when they signed the Acceptance of Office register.  Links to some of that information would also be contained in the information provided to all candidates who stand in the Council election in May 2017.

 

The Programme would include a ‘Market Place’ event, which would provide Members with the opportunity to find out more about the Council's services and meet Officers as well as other new, and returning, Members.

 

"Stalls" would be set up and would include officer presence and contributions from areas such as Democratic Services, ICT, Transact and Corporate Training.  It was envisaged that the issuing of security passes (and / or taking of individual photographs for such) could be incorporated in the event.  It would also incorporate a formal welcome / presentation by the Managing Director.

 

The "Mandatory Induction" sessions were considered to be essential and encompassed Members’ statutory responsibilities and regulatory Committee membership.  These would include sessions (for all Members) on subjects such as Members' Code of Conduct, Equalities, Information Governance and Data Protection and Introduction to Finance.  The "Introduction to Finance" session, for example, would explain how, and from where, the Council got its funding and help Members to understand financial terminology, budget setting and Medium Term Financial Planning.  In addition, they would include sessions on Planning, Licensing, Standards Committee and Audit Committee, to be delivered prior to the first meeting of the respective Committee.  Subject to any views the Democratic Services Committee may have, Cabinet would be recommended to approve the designation of the "Mandatory Induction" elements of the Programme, together with the requirement on relevant Members as identified to attend (if they were to take up their place on the relevant Committee). 

 

The "Recommended Induction" seminars presented were considered to be important, but not essential, and would include "Smart and Safe Working Practices", which would look at Social Media and managing an online presence and hints and tips on working safely in the community.

 

The "Recommended Induction" programme also included a series of ‘Introduction To…” training sessions.  Members of each Scrutiny Committee, as well as any other Committees, would be provided with a briefing prior to its first meeting (possibly on the same day as the meeting).  All new Members, along with the actual Committee Members, would be encouraged to attend.

 

In addition to the ongoing Member Development Programme, during December 2017 - January 2018 a Training Needs Analysis Questionnaire would be compiled and distributed.   In addition, all Members would be afforded the opportunity of an individual Personal Development Interview (with the Head of Democratic Services), as provided for within the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.  All Members’ responses would be analysed and, from this, the Council's ongoing Member Development Programme would be developed and presented to the Democratic Services Committee and Cabinet for consideration.

 

The Programme would largely be delivered in-house and would comprise a mix of delivery methods, which would include access to e-learning (for example, utilising All-Wales Academy training material (now hosted on the National Health Service portal).

 

In addition to any reports to the Democratic Services Committee and Cabinet as appropriate, the Council's (Officer) Insight Board had approved, and would be kept updated on, a related Action Plan.  A small Officer Working Group would be responsible for progressing the work.

 

Suggestions/comments from the Members of the committee were as follows:

 

Member Suggestion

Officer Response

A suggestion that the title of the “Introduction to” sessions be changed to “Issues and Developments for   …” 

A3 factual sheets would be produced for, and distributed at, the “Market Place” session of the Programme.  Other short relevant documentation also covering issues and developments, would be available.

The amount of information supplied in 2012 was daunting and certain presentations were designed too full of text. 

We have learned from previous induction periods and are still looking for feedback from Member’s personal experiences in 2012 which would continue to be acted upon for this Induction Programme.

A Glossary of terms be created for Members that included both the acronym and its meaning.

Agreed would be incorporated.

If we are to adopt a paperless approach, this needs to be reflected in the officers’ delivery of   the induction programme.  We must lead by example and start how we wish to go on.   

Agreed.

A good, robust programme.   How do we allow Members the opportunity to ask questions before and within the programme?

Questions and answers would be encouraged at all sessions.    Electoral Registration will be aware of the Induction Programme so any questions directed to them can be addressed using the information received from Democratic Services.

Will the Member’s Pack be available online?

Yes.

Officers involved to ensure they are equipped to deal with Members’ enquiries. 

Designated officers will be involved in the “Market Place” section of the Programme and subsequently the training materials produced for this.

Will a single point of contact within Democratic Services be available during the induction period?

Yes, all of the Democratic Services team would be heavily involved in the induction process.

A suggestion that a section on general “etiquette” be added to the Programme – if it is not already   incorporated somewhere.

Agreed would be incorporated.

In 2012, there were various sources of information saved in different places following the training.  Can all Councillors be given a pre-loaded   USB stick?

The concern with USB sticks was that these could be lost and/or misused.  There was currently an extensive document resource available to   Members in the form of MemberNet, the use of which would be encouraged to enhance paperless use. 

MemberNet is all good if the ICT equipment available to the Member allows quick and reliable online access. 

Cabinet on 9th January 2017 resolved that, subject to appropriate testing, the procurement   of ICT hardware for new, and returning Members in May 2017 be approved.

A suggestion that paper copies of documents only be supplied to Members by direct request.

Agreed that approach would be promoted.

Will there be any further training throughout the term on top of the “issues and developments”   sessions?

Ongoing Member Development would always be encouraged.  In addition, mentoring between returning and new Members had proved effective previously. 

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the draft Member Induction Programme, attached at Appendix A to the report, be endorsed and referred to Cabinet for consideration, with thanks to all officers involved.

 

(2)       T H A T Cabinet approve the designation of the “Mandatory Induction” elements of the Programme, together with the requirements on relevant Members as identified to attend.

 

(3)       T H A T the induction event entitled “Chairing Skills” be classed as Mandatory.

 

Reason for recommendations

 

(1-3)    To facilitate the approval and subsequent delivery of a Member Induction and ongoing Member Development Programme.

 

 

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