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Agenda Item No

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

Cabinet Meeting: 9 February, 2015

Report of the Leader

Proposed Merger of Coroner Areas

Purpose of the Report

1. To consider the Rhondda Cynon Taf Council proposal to merge the existing Cardiff and Vale Coroner Area (C&V) with the Powys, Bridgend and Glamorgan Valleys Coroner Area (PB & GV).

Recommendations

1. That, subject to agreement by Cardiff City and County Council and subsequent approval from the Chief Coroner and Lord Chancellor, the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Coroner Area and the Powys, Bridgend and Glamorgan Valleys Coroner Area is merged to form one coroner's area.

 

2. That a new full-time senior coroner and one part time area coroner be appointed on a permanent basis covering the combined areas and the existing Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Coroner's administration support staff be transferred to the Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC merged coroners service.

 

3. That any redundancy costs that result either before or 12 months after the transfer of staff to Rhondda Cynon Taf are met by the present employing relevant authority and apportioned between the Councils of that coroner's area.

 

4. That Rhondda-Cynon-Taf Council is designated as the 'relevant authority' for the administration and support functions for the other authorities.

 

5. That all costs be apportioned to the constituent local authorities on a population ratio basis.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1. To enable efficiency savings and a more resilient service for all authorities.

 

2. To enable efficiency savings and a more resilient service for all authorities.

 

3. To enable efficiency savings and a more resilient service for all authorities.

 

4. To ensure the most suitable local authority is chosen as the 'relevant authority'.

 

5. To agree the methodology for the relevant authority to recover agreed costs from the other authorities.

Background

2. Upon Local Government re-organisation in 1996, the Bridgend and The Glamorgan Valleys jurisdiction was created (excluding the Rhymney Valleys) with Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) assuming the Lead role. Similarly, the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan (VGC) area was created with The Vale of Glamorgan as the Lead Authority.

 

3. In July 2014, Judge Peter Thornton QC in his first annual report to Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling quoted that the ‘99 coroner areas should be reduced further, to around 75 or fewer.  At present, 60% of coroner areas have fewer than 2,000 reported deaths a year and Judge Peter Thornton said most senior coroners should deal with between 3,000 and 3,500 deaths to make the service viable. The Lord Chancellor has the power to combine, or merge, coroner areas after consultation.

 

4. At the beginning of 2012, the Coroner for both Powys and Bridgend and The Glamorgan Valleys resigned and a Coroner was appointed as his successor.  The post was subject to a joint appointment between Powys, Bridgend and The Glamorgan Valleys (PB&GV), albeit these remained as separate areas prior to their amalgamation in July 2013.  The Coroner resigned from this post in November 2013 and a further appointment assumed the role of Acting Senior Coroner. 

 

5. Similarly, following the resignation of the Coroner for Cardiff and the Vale (C&V) in July 2013 the post has until recently been covered by two Part-time Assistant Coroners.  One of the Part-time Coroners has subsequently stepped down and consequently further interim arrangements have been put in place. This has meant that PB&GV’s acting Senior Coroner, supported by RCT, has assumed, in addition to his current role, the Acting Senior Coroner for C&V.  An Assistant Coroner for PB&GV is also assisting in this arrangement.  The Acting Senior Coroner is confident that whilst he has only been assisting C&V for a short period of time, he will be able to introduce some savings with further savings if a formal merger were to be agreed.

 

6. Appendix A1 and A2 displays the current structures of both the PB&GV area and the C&V area and Appendix C the current financial position.

Relevant Issues and Options

7. Detailed negotiations between officers have resulted in a merger proposal from Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) whereby they would act as the relevant authority for a merged Coroner Area of C&V and PB&GV.  Details of the merger proposal and other Options considered are contained in the Report.

 

8. The merger proposal for the RCT option relies on achieving £70k efficiency savings and will ensure

- Continuity of service delivery across the merged area;

- be cost neutral to existing authorities;

- potential future savings resulting from inter alia economies of scale, rationalisation of back office support and SLA’s with Local Health Boards.

 

9. The scope of the merger proposal relates to the two coroner jurisdictions PB&GV and C&V and sets out the rationale and benefits for a single area to cover the six local authorities.  Also included is the proposal to recruit a whole time Senior Coroner and part time Area Coroner ensuring a resilient service whilst maintaining current service provision.

 

10. Drivers for change include direct correspondence from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Chief Coroner who are very keen to explore the potential for amalgamating the two Coroner Areas particularly as both are covered by part time provision and also advocates the post of a Whole Time Coroner as set down in the Coroners and Justice Act.  This is supported by the Coroner’s Society for England and Wales who appear to also prefer this arrangement.  This has been the case in a recent review with the appointment of a Whole Time Coroner for North East Wales and North Central Wales which have recently merged into one jurisdiction; this took effect from 1st January 2013.

 

11. RCT has previously attempted to recruit a whole time Coroner for the PB&GV Coroner Area but the Chief Coroner’s Office has advised that a merger should be considered prior to initiating any recruitment processes.  Whilst a merger is unlikely to be forced, participating Local Authorities must demonstrate valid reasons against such an amalgamation.  In the short term mergers of Coroner areas are only likely to take place with the agreement of all local authorities, amongst others.  There is, however, no reason in principle, why the Lord Chancellor should not in due course combine areas after consultation but without agreement if there is a clear case for merger.

 

12. The MOJ and Chief Coroner are aware that the Acting Senior Coroner and Assistant Coroner for PB&GV are providing cover in the absence of a Coroner presence in C&V and will question how effective this assistance is proving to be.  They may well determine that the next natural step would be to merge the two Coroner Areas.

 

13. The introduction of medical examiners, expected to be introduced following the UK General Election in May 2015 will also impact on the number of cases investigated and the number of inquests held in the future. This will have a positive impact as it will decrease the number of cases going to Inquest and thus result in a reduction in expenditure.

 

14. RCT have agreed the terms on which it is prepared to act as relevant authority for the merged Coroner Areas.  As constituent authorities for the C&V Area, both Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan Councils must also agree in order for the proposed merger business plan to be submitted to the Chief Coroner and Lord Chancellor for approval.

 

15.  RCT have agreed to take on the Relevant Authority role on the following basis. To merge the two Coroner Areas with one whole-time Senior Coroner, one part time Area Coroner, shared administration and potentially achieve £70k efficiency savings in year 1.  This proposes that the PB&GV and C&V Areas merge to form a single entity. One whole-time Senior Coroner would be employed to manage the new Area which will be supported by a shared administration.  This proposal is supported by both the Ministry of Justice and the Coroner’s Society.  Whilst it would mean a slight increase in the Coroner’s salary costs, these would be negated in part by the cessation of Long Inquest payments.

 

16. The reconfiguration of the administration structure could result in redundancies, the costs of which would fall to those Councils of the existing coroner areas, should the redundancy occur prior to any merger and 12 months thereafter.

 

17. Appendix B sets out the structure for the proposed merger and Appendix D the financial case (assuming £70k efficiency savings).

 

18. As discussed this would see the two Coroner Areas merge, with one permanent Senior Coroner, a permanent part-time Area Coroner, introducing a new restructured administration service headed by a Service Manager.  This would relieve some of the existing cost pressures as it also factors in potential service savings of £70,000.

Examples of how these savings could be made include;

- Development of beneficial service level agreements.

- Increased options to undertake competitive tenders from Area Health Boards

- A reduction in Long Inquests realised through employing a full time Senior Coroner.

 

19. In addition the work of the Service Manager should realise additional savings through more efficient procurement of services and reducing unnecessary expenses where possible.  There would also be a part -time Area Coroner which would result in all current service provision being maintained and added resilience in event of leave and sickness.  This would significantly reduce the risk of future service cost increases and would result in the following small savings against current contributions for Cardiff & the Vale of Glamorgan Local Authorities - A detailed breakdown is included as Appendix D to this report:

 

Cardiff  £ 7.6k saving

Vale of Glamorgan  £ 2.3k saving

 

It should be emphasized that this is the preferred proposed option with RCT as the Relevant Authority.

 

20. The current Acting Senior Coroner for the PB&GV has worked with Rhondda Cynon Taf on the following initiatives which could be replicated for C&V;

- Introduction of a Service Level Agreement with Cwm Taf Local Health Board for the provision of an autopsy service – this will allow more efficient payment of invoices and effective budget monitoring.  It will also enable the Coroner to closely monitor the number of Post Mortems performed with a view to reducing the numbers actually required and thus decrease future costs.

- Introduction of a Service Level Agreement with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board for the provision of an autopsy service – again this will see the same benefits as above. 

- Initiated a pilot scheme with a Consultant Pathologist with a view to reducing the number of invasive Post Mortems required, which will see considerable savings in the future.

- The Coroner is also working closely with GPs to establish Causes of Death, in order to avoid the requirement for unnecessary Post Mortems.  In April 2014, a total of ten Post Mortems were avoided which resulted in a saving of £4,000, thus potential savings of £48,000 per annum.

- A pilot is also underway in PB&GV with an Assistant Coroner who as well as being legally qualified, has a medical background.  The purpose of this pilot scheme is to utilise the Assistant Coroner’s skills and experience to further reduce the number of required Post Mortems by determining the Cause of Death through the medical records.  This initiative will further complement the point above in making future savings.

 

21. Under this proposal regular budget reports will be circulated to all partner authorities for consideration and Client Officers will have the ability to meet when necessary.  A number of performance management reports and procedures will be put in place to ensure that all partner authorities are being informed of service performance and achievements.  A Service Level Agreement will be negotiated between the authorities to ensure that all relevant information is communicated in agreed time frames. Quarterly financial updates and invoices are examples of information that could be shared with all partner authorities.

 

22. A Relevant Authority is the local authority that is responsible for the delivery of a Coroners service on behalf of its partnering authorities.  It is proposed in this case that that RCT will be the Relevant Authority as the Council has the specialist knowledge, experience and expertise to effectively deliver the service and the anticipated savings.

 

23. Other options considered for the future of the Coroner Service include;

- Do Nothing with Merger and retain current Cardiff & Vale of Glamorgan structures and increase apportioned costs to Cardiff in line with latest Census figures.  This would realise a short term saving for the Vale of Glamorgan of £9k and additional cost to Cardiff of the £9k.  This would not put the service in a position to find possible long term savings and could actually cost more as we would only be able to appoint a Part Time Area Coroner who would be entitled to long term Inquest payments.  Also this option may not be acceptable to the Chief Coroner and Ministry of Justice who may intervene to enforce a merger at their terms.  A breakdown of the costs is included in Appendix C to this report.

 

24. Merge with Powys Bridgend and the Glamorgan Valleys in relation to Rhondda Cynon Taf becoming the 'Relevant Authority' for both areas.  In this option both services would be run separately which would generate a £10k increase in cost for the Vale of Glamorgan and £27k increase for Cardiff as the pool of costs is higher without management & admin changes.  Again this would miss opportunities to save on other back office costs and lose the benefit of economies of scale in tendering for services.  A breakdown of the costs is included in Appendix E to this report.

 

RCT have identified that this option is not acceptable to them and they would not be prepared to be involved in this way forward.

 

25. It is therefore proposed that the option put forward by RCT to undertake a full merger between PB&GV and C&V Coroner areas is implemented at the earliest opportunity to adopt and drive forward the efficiency initiatives.  Whilst this Option is dependent on achieving £70k efficiency savings it should be achievable through a restructured administration and management arrangement plus the added benefit of bargaining power within a much larger area and enable the new merged area to drive through further economies of scale.

 

26. If there is a decision not to proceed with the proposed merger, the current interim support will be at risk in the medium and long term.  RCT would look to ensure a Senior Coroner is fully employed in their area and would fill their vacancy for a Coroner in the PB&GV Area which has been on hold for some considerable time whilst merger options have been investigated and proposals drawn up.  RCT would give notice for the withdrawal of the interim arrangements to support the C&V Area. 

 

27. The Vale of Glamorgan as relevant authority for their Area would also need to take appropriate steps to fill the vacancy for C&V in light of the instruction from RCT above and overspends from previous years are likely to continue due to Long Inquests payments. This service is also out of scope of the Regulatory Services Collaboration and the service would need to be allocated to another Vale of Glamorgan manager.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

28. Current Budget - The total annual budget for Coroners in the Coroner Area of PB&GV is £1,005,190 and in the Coroner Area of C&V is £ 771,180 giving a combined total budget of £1,776,370. Within both Coroner Areas, a budget is allocated for Local Authority administration. Consideration has been given to a restructure of the staff that are currently based in Rock Grounds, Aberdare (PB&GV) and Cathays Police Station (C&V) with a view to consolidating the support provided for the Coroner’s Service, albeit there would still be a requirement to run the service across the aforementioned sites.  Appendix C details the current financial position for the Cardiff & Vale of Glamorgan Coroner Area.

 

29. Table 1 below states the budgets set by Cardiff &Vale for the last three financial years against the actual spend. Cardiff &Vale have exceeded their budget in all three financial years.  The main reason for this is the substantial costs of Long Inquest payments. Table 2 shows the same period for Bridgend & Glamorgan Valleys 

Table 1 - Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan

Financial year Budget Actual Spend (Under)/Overspend (Under)/Overspend %
2011/2012 £626,000 £656,693 £30,693 5%
2012/2013 £664,000 £743,714 £79,714 12%
2013/2014 £722,000 £765,646 £43,646 6%


Table 2 – Bridgend & Glamorgan Valleys

Financial year Budget Actual Spend (Under)/Overspend (Under)/Overspend %
2011/2012 £824,630 £812,900 £(11,730) (1)%
2012/2013 £824,630 £795,510 £(29,120) (3.5)%
2013/2014 £826,572 £746,000 £(80,572) (9.75)%


(Powys was seperate budget until 2014 (post merger) and data is not available)

 

30. Cost Apportionment - As per the recommendations of the Ministry of Justice, the cost of the service for both Coroner Areas is apportioned amongst the participating Local Authorities on a population basis (as per the current Census).  Recent discussions have resulted in a review of the contributions that Cardiff and The Vale of Glamorgan local authorities make towards the service provision for their Coroner Area. Previous contributions have been based on the 2001 Census figures.  As a result of this review, future contributions will be made according to the most recent Census. 

 

31. For the proposed merger it is proposed that the most appropriate commonly used cost apportionment method is on the basis of population as supported by MOJ.  The reasoning for this is that it is readily available, is updated regularly and is a fair and stable basis which enables accurate financial planning for the service and the authorities.  Implementation and operational costs will be apportioned on this basis. Redundancy costs are the exception to this, which will be met by the local authority from where the member of staff originated from.  The financial case for the proposed new structure is in Appendix D.

 

Jurisdiction Population* %
Glamorgan Valleys, Bridgend & Powys 565,366 54
Cardiff & Vale of Glamorgan 472,426 46
Total 1,037,792 100


*Source: Census 2011

 

32. A breakdown of the proposed merger costs is included as Appendix D and the other options considered as Appendix C & E respectively.

 

33. The Human Resources (HR) and employment lawyer in the VGC and RCT will be required to liaise and consider the staffing implications and consultation obligations in respect of the VGC employees.  On the basis of the information available the principles of TUPE are likely to apply for those employees within the VGC Coroners service. To date VGC staff have been made aware of the possibility of a proposed merger.

 

34. Work has been undertaken to determine contractual terms and conditions and differences which may apply. HR representatives have also identified those VGC staff in scope of potential transfer.  It is acknowledged that there may be a change of staff location for some staff.  Terms and conditions for existing employees will be maintained on the whole, however, some changes to existing work arrangements due to operational or organisational issues may need to be implemented immediately following transfer, for example, some payroll dates may change.  Such matters will be considered as part of the on-going consultation process with staff. 

 

35. Formal meetings will be convened with the staff following discussions with the recognised trade unions. All affected staff within VGC will be given written correspondence informing them of the process.  Consultation meetings with appropriate staff in PB&GV will be progressed following determination of this report by both Cardiff County Council and the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

 

36. It is anticipated that there will be a restructure at some point following transfer. No reductions are anticipated in respect of the specialist Coroner officers.  However on the basis of the existing workforce, a reduction in the numbers of administrative/support staff is anticipated to achieve the necessary efficiencies and financial savings outlined in this report and the supporting appendices.

 

37. The potential reduction to the existing workforce will be conducted with the engagement of all the relevant staff and relevant trade unions with the costs of any redundancy of C&V staff incurred prior to and 12 months after transfer being shared with Cardiff Council.  During the period of the agreement post transfer any costs of redundancies or premature retirement will need the prior joint consent of both VGC and RCT which will be reflected and applied on the terms and conditions of the future percentage funding allocation as set out within the overarching legal agreement between the constituent local authorities.

The date of the transfer of VGC staff will be identified once a decision has been made by the collaborating councils.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

38. None.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

39. Councils are under a statutory duty to appoint a Coroner and reimburse the cost of providing the Coroner Service.  The relevant provisions are found in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 Schedule 3:

Para 1 deals with Appointment of senior coroners;

- The relevant authority for each coroner area must appoint a coroner (the “senior coroner”) for that area.

- In the case of a coroner area that consists of the areas of two or more local authorities, the relevant authority for the area must consult the other authorities before making an appointment under this paragraph.

- A person may not be appointed as a senior coroner unless the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Coroner consent to the appointment of that person.

Para 15 deals with the salary of senior coroners;

- The senior coroner for an area is entitled to a salary.

- The amount of the salary is to be whatever is from time to time agreed by the senior coroner and the relevant authority for the area.

- The salary to which the senior coroner for an area is entitled under this paragraph is payable by the relevant authority for the area.

Section 24 of the 2009 Act makes provision for staff and accommodation;

- The relevant authority for a coroner area

- must secure the provision of whatever officers and other staff are needed by the coroners for that area to carry out their functions;

- must provide, or secure the provision of, accommodation that is appropriate to the needs of those coroners in carrying out their functions;

 

40. Current Position / Status Quo - The Vale of Glamorgan is the relevant authority for the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Coroner Area (C&V).  RCT is the relevant authority for the Powys, Bridgend and Glamorgan Valleys Coroner Area (PB&GV) (comprising the unitary authorities of Powys, Merthyr, RCT and Bridgend).  At present there are Coroner vacancies in the two adjacent Coroner Areas of C&V and PB&GV.

 

41. RCT as relevant authority for PB&GV had prepared an advertisement to fill their vacancy but were requested by the Chief Coroner’s Office to defer placing the advert until merger with the adjoining vacant Area of C&V was explored.

 

42. There is currently an Acting Coroner for PB&GV until a successor can be appointed.  In addition to this role he is also supporting the C&V Coroner Area until a decision is taken on the proposed merger of the two Coroner Areas.  Clearly these temporary measures cannot continue indefinitely.

 

Employment Law Implications

 

43. The proposals raise employment implications for staff, in particular to the administrative staff that directly support the service concerned.  This will require a continued communication and engagement strategy with staff and the recognised trade unions, which has commenced and will continue in each employing authority (VGC and RCT).  The proposals will involve the initial transfer of employees from the VGC to the host employer, RCT in accordance with the principles of TUPE.

Crime and Disorder Implications

44. None.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

45. None.

Corporate/Service Objectives

46. Corporate Plan (Health, Social Care and Well Being). Outcome - Citizens of the Vale of Glamorgan are healthy and have equality of outcomes and through appropriate support and safeguards, the most vulnerable members of our community maximise their life opportunities.

Policy Framework and Budget

47. This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

48. RCT have formally agreed to act as lead authority for the proposed merger area. They await a response to the merger proposal from this Council as relevant authority and Cardiff as contributing authority for Cardiff and Vale coroner area.

 

49. If agreement is reached RCT will then take lead in producing business plan to meet needs of MOJ and others so that MOJ can start formal consultation process under 2009 Act.  This cannot commence however until all councils involved agree

 

50. The existing Assistant Coroners and Coroner’s staff are aware of the proposed merger and the staff and relevant trade unions will be consulted as part of the consultation process.

 

51. The Coroners’ Society of England and Wales have indicated that its preferred option is that of a full-time Coroner. The Ministry of Justice also supports the option to amalgamate the jurisdictions and appoint a full-time coroner.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

52. Housing & Public Protection.

Background Papers

None.

Contact Officer

Alun Billinghurst - Cardiff & the Vale of Glamorgan (01446 709720)

Officers Consulted

Laura Davis - Financial Services

Adrian Unsworth - Human Resources

Evelyn Morgan - Legal Services

Responsible Officer:

Rob Thomas - Director of Development Service

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