Agenda Item No. 5
THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL
DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE: 15TH JANUARY, 2014
REFERENCE FROM COUNCIL: 18TH DECEMBER, 2013
"696 FAMILY ABSENCE FOR ELECTED MEMBERS (HDS) –
Part 2 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 ('the Measure') introduced an entitlement to a period of family absence for Members of local authorities, during which a Member was entitled to be absent from authority meetings. The entitlement created by the Measure was subject to Members satisfying conditions prescribed by the Welsh Ministers in Regulations
There were five types of family absence to which a Member might 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 was either the father of the child or who was married to, the civil partner or the partner of, the child's mother but was 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 had, or expected 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 became responsible for a child (and did not meet the conditions for Newborn Absence, Adopter’s Absence or New Adoption Absence), for a period of up to three months.
The Regulations prescribed the conditions that Members must satisfy to be entitled to a period of family absence, made 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 had also published Statutory Guidance on Family Absence ('the Guidance' issued under section 30 of the Measure), to which the Council was required to have regard.
The administrative process set by the Regulations provided:
(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 indicated that the Head of Democratic Services was also free to inform any other persons felt necessary, e.g. fellow Ward Members);
(iii) if the Head of Democratic Services informed the Authority that he/she had 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 failed 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 could not 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 was 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.
The Council was required to make Standing Orders, as soon as reasonably practicable after the Regulations come into force, in respect of the following matters set out in sub-paragraphs 6(iv) and (v):
(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 stated 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 stated 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".
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 was proposed that a sub-committee of the Democratic Services Committee (with any necessary amendments to its terms of reference) be established to hear and determine any complaints from Members regarding a refusal by the Head of Democratic Services to grant family absence. The Regulations required a membership of 3, which in terms of political balance, would mean a Sub Committee comprising 1 Labour; 1 Conservative; 1 Plaid Cymru Member
In addition to the report submitted with the agenda, Members had also been circulated prior to the meeting with supplementary information in the form of a draft Supplementary Report of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales. Members were asked to consider the draft Determinations of the Remuneration Panel as part of the discussion of this item.
The Leader proposed that the Panel’s draft Determination be submitted to the Democratic Services Committee in January for consideration. At that meeting, the Committee would also be asked to appoint the three members to the above sub committee. It was further proposed that the Head of Democratic Services be authorised to submit a response following the Democratic Services Committee to the Remuneration Panel.
(1) T H A T 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) T H A T 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) T H A T 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) T H A T 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) T H A T 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; membership of the Sub Committee to be determined by the Democratic Services Committee at its meeting in January 2014.
(6) T H A T the Head of Democratic Services be authorised to respond to the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales following consideration of its draft Supplementary Report by the Democratic Services Committee in January 2014."
Attached as Appendix – Report to Council – 18th December, 2013 [Supplementary Information Presented to Council]