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Agenda Item No. 5

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Council: 18th December 2013

 

Report of the Head of Democratic Services

 

Family Absence for Elected Members

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To inform the Council of new legislation regarding Family Absence for Members and to recommend related actions to enable the Council to meet the relevant legislative requirements.

Recommendations

1.         That the Council note the provisions of the new Family Absence for Members of Local Authorities (Wales) Regulations 2013, and the statutory obligations imposed on the Council, as set out in the report.

2.         That provision be made as soon as practicable in the Council's Standing Orders to ensure that the Council complies with legislative requirements in respect of Family Absence for Members and a further report be submitted to Council accordingly.

3.         That the Head of Democratic Services be granted delegated powers to carry out duties as required under the Family Absence for Members of Local Authorities (Wales) Regulations 2013.

4.         That the role and function of the Chairman of the Council, as set out in Article 5 of the Council's Constitution, be amended to provide for the Chairman to carry out duties as required under the Family Absence for Members of Local Authorities (Wales) Regulations 2013.

5.         That a Sub Committee comprising 3 members of the Democratic Services Committee be established to hear and determine any complaints from Members regarding a refusal by the Head of Democratic Services to grant family absence ; the Sub Committee to comprise 1 Labour : 1 Conservative ; 1 Plaid Cymru Member.

Reasons for the Recommendations

To ensure the Council meets the requirements of the Family Absence for Members of Local Authorities (Wales) Regulations 2013.

Background

2.         Part 2 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 ("the Measure") introduces an entitlement to a period of family absence for Members of local authorities, during which a Member is entitled to be absent from authority meetings.  The entitlement created by the Measure is subject to Members satisfying conditions prescribed by the Welsh Ministers in Regulations.

Relevant Issues and Options

3.         The Family Absence for Members of Local Authorities (Wales) Regulations 2013 ("the Regulations"), drawn up under the powers conferred by Part 2 of the Measure, came into force on 5th December 2013.

4.         There are five types of family absence to which a Member may be entitled under the Measure, subject to compliance with the Regulations:

     (i) Maternity Absence – for the mother of a child, granted up to a maximum of twenty six weeks;

     (ii) Newborn Absence – for a Member who is either the father of the child or who is married to, the civil partner or the partner of, the child's mother, but is not the child's father, for a period of up to two consecutive weeks (N.B. in each case, the Member must have or expect to have, responsibility for the upbringing of the child);

     (iii) Adopter’s Absence – for the adopter of a child, for a period of up to two consecutive weeks;

     (iv) New Adoption Absence - for the husband or wife, civil partner or partner of an adopter (and who has, or expects to have, the main responsibility [apart from the responsibility of the adopter] for the upbringing of the child), for a period of up to two consecutive weeks; and

     (v) Parental Absence – for a Member who becomes responsible for a child (and does not meet the conditions for Newborn Absence, Adopter’s Absence or New Adoption Absence), for a period of up to three months.

 

5.         The Regulations prescribe the conditions that Members must satisfy to be entitled to a period of family absence, make provisions regarding the duration, start, cancellation and end of a period of family absence, and set out an administrative process for dealing with family absence.  Ministers have also published Statutory Guidance on Family Absence ("the Guidance" issued under section 30 of the Measure), to which the Council is required to have regard.

6.         The administrative process set by the Regulations provide:

     (i) that the Member must give written notice to the Head of Democratic Services of his/her intention to take family absence and the intended start date (and any change or cancellation of the period of absence);

     (ii) that the Head of Democratic Services must maintain a record (for at least 10 years) of all notifications and periods of family absence taken and must inform the Chairman of the Council, the Chairman of the Democratic Services Committee, and the Leaders of each political group of the Authority (the Guidance indicates that the Head of Democratic Services is also free to inform any other persons felt necessary, e.g. fellow Ward Members);

     (iii) if the Head of Democratic Services informs the authority that he/she has reasonable grounds to suspect that a Member may not be entitled to the family absence notified, the local authority may cancel or end the family absence (and if the Member then fails to resume duties, the local authority may withhold the Member's remuneration);

     (iv) for the option for a Member to continue to attend particular meetings or perform particular duties during a period of maternity or parental absence, subject to permission from the Chairman of the Council (who must inform the political Group Leaders before granting permission);

     (v) a requirement for the Council to make provisions regarding the extent of any duties which Members may still be required to perform during a period of family absence;

     (vi) a Member may complain in writing to the Head of Democratic Services regarding a refusal to grant family absence.  Any complaints received must be forwarded by the Head of Democratic Services to the Chairman of the Council.

     (vii) for a requirement for the Council to appoint a Panel comprising three Members (which cannot include the Chairman of the Council) to hear and determine complaints from Members, the Panel’s determination being final; and

     (viii) for the right for a Member to complain to the Panel against a decision of the Authority that the Member is not entitled to a family absence; and / or against a refusal by the Chairman of the Council to grant permission for the Member to continue to attend particular meetings or perform particular duties whilst on family absence.

 

7.         The Council is required to make Standing Orders, as soon as reasonably practicable after the Regulations come into force, in respect of the matters set out in sub-paragraphs 6(iv) and (v) above, that is:

     (i) To describe the circumstances in which a Member on maternity or parental leave may continue to perform some duties if so desired.

The Guidance states that this may be "where the Member has a well-known particular interest in a matter of business or if urgent business affecting their local area is being considered"; and

     (ii) To provide whether any duty conferred on Members should be performed during a period of family absence.

The Guidance states that this may "enable a Member on family absence to be asked to attend a meeting if it might otherwise be inquorate.  The Standing Orders could enable different arrangements to be made for different Members.  There might be a particular area of expertise possessed by a Member which would be difficult to replace on a temporary basis, which might suggest a limited commitment could still be expected of a Member in such defined circumstances.  However, the effect of any such provision under the Standing Orders should not be contrary to the purpose of the Measure and the Regulations".

 

8.         The issue of making relevant provision in Standing Orders was the subject of discussion at a meeting of the all-Wales Monitoring Officers and Governance Group on 6th December 2013.  It was agreed that further thought would be given to the drawing up of potential wording for consideration / adoption by Local Authorities in the New Year.  It should be noted that the Standing Orders may include other provisions relating to family absence, provided this is not contrary to the purpose of the Measure and the Regulations (for example, regarding temporary cover for Members who are on family absence).

9.         Council is recommended to consider establishing a sub-committee of the Democratic Services Committee (with any necessary amendments to its terms of reference) to hear and determine any complaints from Members regarding a refusal by the Head of Democratic Services to grant family absence.   The Regulations require a membership of 3, which in terms of political balance, would mean a Sub Committee comprising 1 Labour : 1 Conservative : 1 Plaid Cymru Member

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

10.      There are no direct implications arising from the report.  In the event of a Member in receipt of Senior Salary being granted family absence, there is no provision in the Regulations governing payment to another Member for assuming any temporary responsibilities.  The general consensus of the all-Wales Monitoring Officers and Governance Group at its meeting on 6th December 2013 was that any such arrangement could only be facilitated by some form of mutually acceptable arrangement (e.g. splitting the payment between the two Members concerned).  The Group is to seek further advice from the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales regarding this aspect.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

11.      There are no direct implications arising from the report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

12.      The Council is required to comply with the provisions of the Family Absence for Members of Local Authorities (Wales) Regulations 2013.

Crime and Disorder Implications

13.      There are no direct implications arising from the report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

14.      The Family Absence provisions apply to all Members of the Council, subject to the requirements of the legislation being met.

Corporate/Service Objectives

15.      There are no direct implications arising from the report.

Policy Framework and Budget

16.      This is a matter for Full Council.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

17.      This is an internal matter and, as such, no consultation has been necessary.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

18.      Corporate Resources

Background Papers

Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011

Family Absence for Members of Local Authorities (Wales) Regulations 2013

 

Contact Officer

Jeff Wyatt, tel: (01446) 709408

 

Officers Consulted

Managing Director

Monitoring Officer

Section 151 Officer

 

Responsible Officer:

Jeff Wyatt, Head of Democratic Services

 

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