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Agenda Item No. 6

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Democratic Services Committee: 28th July 2015

 

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.         As previously, 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 and the need for the Division to continue to identify / deliver further savings, 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/Administrative Support officers and 2 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; a range of support to Elected Members, including advice on the Council's Constitution and Members' Code of Conduct, Member Development and Members' Services, ; Maintaining the Register of Members' interests; Overseeing appeals relating to school admissions and school permanent exclusions, Developing  and updating the content of MemberNet; Managing the Council's committee room bookings; Corporate responsibility for  all Council inbound and outward bound mail (Royal Mail & Whistl (formerly TNT) contract) and the provision of administrative support for processing activities relating to TransAct, Council Tax, Housing Benefits and C1V.

10.      The current structure has been in place since around the end of 2013 and resulted from 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 former 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.  Indeed, the two new members of staff continue their "learning curve", but have already become valued members of the section.

11.      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. 

Reshaping Services Agenda

12.      An officer from the Section is currently involved in project managing the Town and Community Council project of the Reshaping Services Programme. 

Task and Finish Review Work

13.      Two reviews were completed in the year - Traffic Management and Assistive Technology and Dementia Care - and reports submitted to the relevant Scrutiny Committees and Cabinet.  Action Plans have been developed in respect of both, which will be continued to be monitored by the relevant Committees.

School Performance Panels

14.      In addition to the existing support for the Council's Scrutiny function, the Committee is asked to note, and acknowledge, the ongoing work in terms of School Performance Panels.  Staff within the Section have devoted considerable time to arranging/facilitating, undertaking research and supporting Panel Members in these exercises. 

15.      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.

16.      The Panels' objectives are to establish that up-to-date and authoritative plans are in place to address any concerns identified, 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.

17.      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

18.      Each school has been visited and Cabinet and the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) have been provided with an update report on progress within each of the four secondary schools.

19.      Following improved examination results in August 2014, St. Cyres and Llantwit Major were removed from the list of those schools requiring close monitoring.  However, progress within Barry and Bryn Hafren was deemed inadequate and both these schools have both been revisited. Consequently, results for August 2015 will be eagerly anticipated and further follow up visits will be arranged for the autumn term.

20.      The process has also been expanded to embrace relevant primary schools. A Performance Panel was established to assess progress at Eagleswell Primary School in Llantwit Major. The Panel visited the school on two occasions, in July 2014 and February 2015. At the second visit, the Panel was encouraged by the school's plans and following an inspection by Esytn the school was removed from its own list of schools requiring significant improvement.

Webcasting

21.      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, Members will be aware the Planning Committee has been used for testing purposes, with live webcasting commencing in December 2014.  The arrangements have generally worked well and seem to have been generally well-received.   

22.      Should the Council decide to consider / progress the webcasting of other meetings, then, as previously resolved by Cabinet, any decision to do so will be made following an assessment of the pilot exercise and of the resources required in terms of any expansion of webcasting.

Public Speaking at Planning Committee and Scrutiny Committee

23.      Again, Members will be aware from previous reports to the Committee of the move towards, and eventual introduction of, public speaking at meetings of the Council's Planning Committee.  The arrangements are still relatively new, having only been in place since February 2015, but, again, are working well and  provide an opportunity for increased public engagement in the planning application process.

24.      As far as Scrutiny Committees are concerned, whilst the ability for the public to contribute (in a number of ways) already exists, it is considered that existing arrangements should be "formalised" through the introduction of an appropriate protocol, as has happened for the Planning Committee.  A draft protocol is set out elsewhere on the agenda for this meeting for the Committee's consideration.  In terms of the Scrutiny Committees, this reflects the requirements and spirit of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 regarding increasing public engagement and participation in the democratic process. 

Wales Audit Office : Scrutiny Improvement Study

25.      Members will be aware from previous reports that officers have drawn up a draft Action Plan in response to the above study and that it was considered / endorsed for further progression by the Committee at the meeting in April 2015.

Member Development

26.      Personal Development Interviews were undertaken by the Head of Democratic Services, with some Senior Responsibility Allowance postholders, but a number of Members did not take up the facility.  However, it is important (in the context of the provisions of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011) that all Senior Responsibility Allowance postholders do, in fact, undertake a Personal Development Interview.

27.      In addition to the above (and to assist in facilitating the preparation / delivery of an appropriate Member Development programme, the Resources Directorate Service Plan 2015/16 contains the following action - "Undertake a Training Needs Analysis to inform the production of a Member Development Programme".  It should also be noted that an ongoing programme of Member Development sessions does, in fact, take place. 

Members' Services

28.      Democratic Services assumed responsibility for Members' Services in the Autumn of 2014.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

29.      As set out above.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

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

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

31.      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

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

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

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

Corporate/Service Objectives

34.      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

35.      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)

36.      No consultation has been necessary.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

37.      Corporate Resources

Background Papers

Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011

 

Contact Officer

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

 

Officers Consulted

None

 

Responsible Officer:

Jeff Wyatt, Head of Democratic Services

 

 

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