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Agenda Item No. 8

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Democratic Services Committee: 16th July 2014

 

Report of the Head of Democratic Services

 

Annual Report of Head of Democratic Services

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To outline for Members the resources available to support the Democratic Services function (as provided for under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011) and a summary of how the resource is utilised.

Recommendation

That the report be noted.

Reason for the Recommendation

To keep Members informed.

 

Background

2.         Members will be aware of the requirement under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 ("the Measure") for the Council to appoint a Democratic Services Committee.  The Measure also requires the Council to designate one of its officers to the statutory post of "Head of Democratic Services" and provide that officer with sufficient resources to discharge these statutory functions. 

3.         The purpose of this report is to provide the Committee with an outline of the staff resources existing within Democratic Services and a summary of the wide range of duties undertaken, ongoing developments and plans for the future. 

Relevant Issues and Options

4.         The Democratic Services division as a whole comprises three distinct sections:

·           Scrutiny and Committee Services

·           Freedom of Information / Records Management / Land Charges

·           Registration Service.

5.         This report, by its very nature and its linkage with the requirements of the Measure, covers the work undertaken by the Scrutiny and Committee Services section. 

6.         The functions of the Head of Democratic Services are set out in the Measure and relate particularly (but not exclusively) to the provision of advice and support to non-executive Members.  The Committee, at its first meeting in July 2012 agreed the designation of myself as the Council's Head of Democratic Services.  The Welsh Government Guidance associated with the Measure specifically provides for the Head of Democratic Services to perform other roles apart from the new statutory functions.  This recognises the fact that the creation of a new post would have been an unacceptable burden on the budget of most, if not all, Councils at a time of economic pressures. 

Staff structure

7.         For the reasons set out below, and taking into account the extremely difficult economic pressures facing the Council generally, the current structure is considered to be appropriate. 

8.         In addition to myself, as Head of Democratic Services, the section comprises a Principal Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer, two Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officers, one Scrutiny Support Officer, one Assistant Democratic Services Officer, two WP/Admin. Support officers and 3 Administrative Assistants.

9.         The above team deals with a wide range of activities, which include, but are not limited to:  Maintaining and developing the Council’s decision-making processes to include the preparation of agendas, reports and minutes, facilitating accountability and transparency; Managing and providing Scrutiny and Committee Services support to the Council and its various committees; Support to Elected Members including, Constitutional advice, Member Development, ; Maintain the Register of Members' interests; Oversee appeals relating to school admissions and school permanent exclusions, Develop and update the content of MemberNet; Manage the Council's committee room bookings; Corporate responsibility for  all Council inbound and outward bound mail (Royal Mail & TNT contract) and to provide administrative support for processing activities relating to TransAct, Council Tax, Housing Benefits and C1V.

10.      The current structure is relatively new and follows a review of the (limited) resources available within the section and, indeed, the Council as a whole.  That review took into account the departure in May 2013 of a former long-serving member of the team.  At the time, funding was also still in place for a separate, administrative, post (a post which had been held vacant for some time).  Following discussion with the Director of Resources, it was agreed that the funding attached to both of those posts could be utilised to create two new posts.  Whilst these are on a lower grade than the previous postholder, it was felt that the revised structure would provide the section with increased flexibility to deal with the demands placed upon the team. 

11.      As reported to the Committee in July 2013, proposals were drawn up for the creation of two posts, one entitled a Scrutiny Support Officer and the other an Assistant Democratic Services Officer.  Those posts have been filled since December 2013 and November 2013 respectively.  It can be seen, therefore, that both postholders are still relatively new to the Section.  However, they are already contributing to supporting the Democratic Services function (particularly in relation to the support for School Performance Panels, further details of which are set out below).  The following is a summary of ongoing work / initiatives in which the section is actively engaged.  The Democratic Services Committee will continue to be kept fully informed on progress of these, and other, initiatives. 

Webcasting

12.      The Committee has been kept informed as part of the standing item on agendas - Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011: Update/Action Plan - of progress on a wide range of issues emanating from the Measure.  As far as webcasting is concerned, the Planning Committee is to be used for testing purposes, with live webcasting commencing in October 2014 (preceded by an internal "dry run" at the September meeting. 

13.      In addition to the above, I reported to Cabinet on 10th February, 2014 in respect of webcasting and also submitted for consideration a protocol which was approved by Cabinet for use during the piloting exercise and for any future webcast meetings, should the Council decide to progress more regular webcasting of meetings.  It was further resolved by Cabinet that any decision to webcast future meetings will be made following the conclusion of, and an assessment of, the pilot exercise.

Public Speaking at Scrutiny Committees and Planning Committee

14.      Again, Members will be aware from previous reports to the Committee of the move towards facilitating public speaking at meetings of the Council's five Scrutiny Committees and the Planning Committee.  This facility will be introduced within the next six months and, in terms of the Scrutiny Committees, reflects the requirements and spirit of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 regarding increasing public engagement and participation in the democratic process.  A draft protocol governing public speaking at Scrutiny Committees has been considered, and is to be submitted for final approval by the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group.

Member Development

15.      It is important that a robust system is in place for affording Members the opportunity of a Personal Development Interview (as provided for under the Measure).  The Training Needs Analysis which would flow from the interviews themselves is seena s fundamental to the subsequent planning, and delivery, of an appropriate Member Development Programme.  In order to avoid the risk of any further undue delay in this process, the Committee is asked to consider its preferred approach.  The intention had been that Group Leaders undertake the exercise, but progress to date has been somewhat limited and a different approach may be required (perhaps, for instance, theHead of Democratic Services actually undertaking / facilitating interviews).

Members' Services

16.      The Managing Director has agreed with relevant officers that responsibility for Members' Services be transferred to Democratic Services and this will take effect from the Autumn.

School Performance Panels

17.      In addition to the existing support for the Council's Scrutiny function, the Committee is asked to note, and acknowledge, the work which has been commenced in terms of School Performance Panels.  Staff within the Section are devoting considerable time to arranging/facilittaing, undertaking research and supporting Panel Members in these exercises. 

18.      The broad purpose of the Panels is to enable the school identified to demonstrate through the democratic process its ambition, capacity and commitment to rapid and sustained progress and to identify any barriers being faced which could be resolved by the actions of the Council.

19.      The Panels' objectives are to establish that up-to-date and authoritative plans are in place to address any concerns identifiied, that the school has arrangements in place to monitor the impact of the plans and to amend them as appropriate and to establish what progress has been made and what further progress is required.

20.      The four secondary schools for which Performance Panels have been initiated are;

·           St Cyres Comprehensive School

·           Llantwit Major Comprehensive School

·           Barry Comprehensive School

·           Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School

21.      The process is also being expanded to embrace relevant primary schools.

Collaborative Working

22.      During 2013/14, both myself and the Principal Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer were heavily involved in attending officer meetings with partner authorities to discuss and agree joint scrutiny arrangements in relation to the Central South Education Consortium.  However, as recently reported to Council, the Consortium arrangements were subsequently aborted by Welsh Government and new governance arrangements introduced.  Officers are also involved in preparing for potential joint scrutiny in respect of the Regulatory Services Collaborative Project which the Council is involved in discussing/progressing with Bridgend and Cardiff Councils.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

23.      As set out above.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

24.      There are no direct implications arising from this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

25.      The Council is required to comply with the relevant provisions of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 with regard to the provision of Democratic Services and support for such.

Crime and Disorder Implications

26.      There are no direct implications arising from this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

27.      There are no direct implications arising from this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

28.      The Measure makes arrangements for changes to the political structure of local government in Wales and the way in which local government operates.

Policy Framework and Budget

29.      The terms of reference of the Democratic Services Committee include "to have regard to Welsh Ministerial guidance when exercising its functions".

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

30.      No consultation has been necessary.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

31.      Corporate Resources

Background Papers

Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011

 

Contact Officer

Jeff Wyatt, Head of Democratic Services, tel: 01446 709408

 

Officers Consulted

Direct of Resources

 

Responsible Officer:

Jeff Wyatt, Head of Democratic Services

 

 

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