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Agenda Item No. 7

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Democratic Services Committee: 26th July 2016

 

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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

  1. The Democratic Services division as a whole comprises three distinct sections:
  • Scrutiny and Committee Services
  • Freedom of Information / Records Management / Land Charges
  • Registration Service.
  1. 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.
  2. 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

  1. For the reasons set out below, and taking into account the extremely difficult (and ongoing) 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 and Whistl (formerly TNT) contract) and the provision of administrative support for processing activities relating to TransAct, Council Tax, Housing Benefits and C1V.
  4. 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 members of staff have already become valued members of the section and one was recently appointed to one of the two Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer posts (following the retirement of the previous postholder). The recruitment process for the subsequent vacant post of Scrutiny Support Officer is underway.
  5. The following is a summary of work undertaken in the last twelve months and 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.

Wales Audit Office : Scrutiny Improvement Study

  1. Members will be aware from previous reports that officers drew up an Action Plan in response to the above study. The Action Plan was subsequently considered / endorsed for further progression by the Committee at the meeting in April 2015. Again Members will be aware from subsequent monitoring reports of the various pieces of work undertaken and progress made in this area. Indeed, the Committee in February 2016 agreed that, whilst some components of the Action Plan, by their very nature, are ongoing, the Action Plan itself had been completed. As such, rather than an update to every meeting, it was agreed that the next update report be in six months' time, with the report summarising achievements following implementation of the Plan. However, rather than duplicate reporting, Members are requested to consider this year's Annual Report as also constituting that report, given that it covers the relevant main elements, each of which are dealt with separately elsewhere in this report.
  2. An Annual Report on the work undertaken by all Scrutiny Committees is reported to Full Council and is being timetabled to be presented to all Scrutiny Committees in September 2016 and to Full Council on 28th September 2016

Protocol re Scrutiny and Cabinet Roles and Responsibilities

  1. The Action Plan alluded to in paragraph 12 above included the drawing up of a Protocol designed to encompass a number of elements of the Wales Audit Office recommendations, including:
  • the overall roles / responsibilities of Scrutiny and Cabinet Members (and, indeed, officers),
  • the general arrangements in place governing the Scrutiny process,
  • the need for correlation of internal (i.e. Council, Cabinet and Scrutiny) Work Programmes and correlation between those and external regulators' Work Programmes.
  1. The Protocol was approved by Council on 27th April 2016 and sets out parameters governing the following specific areas:
  • Principles of Effective Scrutiny
  • Role of the Scrutiny Committees
  • Holding the Cabinet to Account
  • Relationship Between Cabinet and Scrutiny
  • Work Programmes and Agendas
  • Ethos of a Scrutiny Committee Meeting
  • Attendance by Cabinet Members at Scrutiny Committee Meetings
  • Attendance by Officers at Scrutiny Committee Meetings
  • Responses of Cabinet Members to Questions from Scrutiny Committees
  • "Call-In" of a Cabinet Decision
  • Recommendations made by Scrutiny Committees
  • Meetings Between Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Cabinet Members
  • Public Speaking at Scrutiny Committee Meetings.

New Performance Management Framework

  1. In December 2015, Cabinet approved proposals for changes to the Council's Performance Management Framework (PMF) as the basis for consultation with Scrutiny Committees. A subsequent report in February 2016 provided Cabinet with a summary of the views of the five Scrutiny Committees. On Cabinet's recommendation, a Working Group, comprising Group Leaders, Chairmen of Scrutiny Committees and senior corporate officers has been established to develop the arrangements that will support the revised PMF. This will include the development of performance monitoring reports to demonstrate progress towards achieving the Council's four Well-being Outcomes and corporate actions contained in the new Corporate Plan.
  2. In 2013-14, staff of the Wales Audit Office began a four-year cycle of corporate assessments of local authorities in Wales. The purpose of the corporate assessment is to provide a position statement of the Council's capacity and capability to deliver continuous improvement. As part of the assessment, the Wales Audit Office has considered the Council's track record of performance and outcomes as well as an examination of the key arrangements that are necessary to underpin improvements in services and functions.
  3. Between the end of 2015 and the start of 2016, staff from the Wales Audit Office conducted their assessment and sought to answer the following question: 'Is the Council capable of delivering its priorities and improved outcomes for citizens?' The findings of the Wales Audit Office assessment will be published in the near future.

Council Constitution

  1. The cross-party Constitution Working Party established to consider amendments to the Council's existing Constitution, taking into account the new Model Version issued for consideration/adaptation by Local Authorities in Wales, concluded its work in the summer of 2015. As anticipated, the exercise took a considerable time, given the length / complexity of the document. Indeed, it appears that very few Welsh Local Authorities have concluded a review exercise such as that undertaken by this Council.

Webcasting

  1. 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. A separate report on webcasting is included on the agenda.

Public Speaking at Planning Committee and Scrutiny Committee

  1. The arrangements for public speaking at meetings of the Council's Planning Committee have been in place since February 2015 and are working well, with public involvement at the vast majority of meetings. The process provides an opportunity for increased public engagement in the planning application process.
  2. As far as Scrutiny Committees are concerned, the arrangements for public speaking were only introduced at the beginning of 2016. Again, the process is designed to enhance / increase opportunities for public participation in the Council's democratic processes. It is acknowledged that there is a need to increase the promotion of / publicity for the process and officers from Democratic Services and the Communications Unit will work on this aspect. For example, relevant links on the Council's website have been made more prominent
  3. During 2016/17, people who have registered to speak will be surveyed in order to enable the Council to ascertain public perception of / satisfaction levels with the public speaking arrangements and consider whether any refinements should be made.

Member Development

  1. In addition to undertaking interviews with all Group Leaders and Senior Responsibility Allowance (SRA) holders, I also did so with a further 14 Members, resulting in a total of 30 interviews taking place. The resultant Training Needs Analysis will be used to inform the Council's ongoing programme of Member Development.
  2. A Revised Member Development Strategy was considered and approved by Democratic Services Committee and Cabinet on 10th February and 7th March 2016 respectively. An ongoing Member Development Programme is in place, with attendance details maintained by Democratic Services.

Reshaping Services Agenda

  1. An officer from the Section continues to be involved in project managing the Town and Community Council and Voluntary Sector project of the Reshaping Services Programme and acts as the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) Working Group co-ordinator. Update reports on this project are reported to the Community Liaison Committee at each meeting,

Task and Finish Review Work

  1. During the year, the Scrutiny Committee (Social Care and Health) received an update on its Task and Finish Group review of the potential contribution Assistive Technology could provide in the development of a dementia-supported community in the Vale of Glamorgan to enable people to live independently.
  2. In March 2016, a year on from the completion of the review, a number of important issues emerged. This included the difficulties for the Service to keep up with the rapid pace in technological developments, issues around the small size of the Telecare Service and the possibility of working on a collaborative or partnership basis. These are to be explored further and a further update report be provided to the Scrutiny Committee.
  3. Also in March 2016, the Scrutiny Committee (Economy and Environment) received an update report outlining progress that had been made around their Traffic Management Task and Finish Review Implementation Plan. The Committee was pleased that the majority of the 28 improvement actions contained within the Plan had been progressed, either internally using existing funding or delivered through transport grant, Section 106 finance or Section 278 Highway Works as a part of new development, capital funding, or other grants that had become available either through the public or private sectors.
  4. With regard to Task and Finish work, the Council is in the process of agreeing a suite of measures to monitor progress against the new Corporate Plan wellbeing Outcomes which will be considered by Cabinet shortly. This work is being informed by the Member Working Group and Task and Finish discussions will commence thereafter.

School Performance Panels

  1. 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 Democratic and Scrutiny Services Section continue to devote resources to arranging / facilitating, undertaking research and supporting Panel Members in these exercises.
  2. As previously reported, 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.
  3. 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.
  4. During the course of 2015/16, Panels have been initiated for the following schools;

•                Barry Comprehensive School

•                St. Richard Gwyn Roman Catholic High School.

  1. Both of these schools have been visited and Cabinet and the former Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) have been provided with an update report on progress. Consequently, results for August 2016 will be eagerly anticipated and further follow up visits may be arranged for the Autumn term.
  2. In addition, a Panel meeting was initiated for Fairfield Primary School on 22nd June 2016, for which the findings should be presented to the Scrutiny Committee at its meeting in September.
  3. It is also planned for a Progress Panel to re-visit Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School.
  4. An important element to come out of the programme of Progress Panel visits is a "Lessons Learnt" exercise. From this, the Council has been able to assess specific challenges facing the schools and has been able to identify and report on any innovative or good practices. Findings from the first review were reported to the former Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) at its meeting held on 7th September 2015, and a further update will be reported to the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee after the 2016 August Recess.

Shared Regulatory Service and Central South Consortium : Scrutiny Arrangements

  1. As far as the Shared Regulatory Services is concerned, discussions have taken place with officers of the other two Constituent Local Authorities. As part of the more towards formal joint Scrutiny, a 'one off' pilot exercise was undertaken, which comprised a joint meeting of the two relevant Scrutiny Committees of Cardiff Council, but with Members of the relevant Scrutiny Committees of the other two Authorities afforded the opportunity to submit formal questions. More recently, officers have agreed to draw up a Paper containing options for formal joint Scrutiny arrangements. A report has recently been considered by the Shared Regulatory Services Board and the Joint Committee and it has been agreed that a group be established to look at / progress joint scrutiny options.
  2. As far as the Central South Consortium is concerned, the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee will continue to hold the Consortium to account, with invitations being extended throughout the year for officer attendance at Committees. The Managing Director of the Central South Consortium has also agreed to attend each Scrutiny Committee in the South East Wales Consortium on an annual basis, in January / February each year. The Estyn report on the Consortium has also been reported to the learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee and a representative from the Consortium was in attendance.

The Year Ahead

  1. 2016/17 will again be a busy year. In addition to the need to embed the procedures and processes alluded to within this report, there will be a need to prepare for the Council elections in May 2017. As far as Democratic Services is concerned, this will include:
  • Facilitating the remainder of the Member Development Programme between now and the election.
  • Preparation of a Candidates' Guide, which will be circulated to all those individuals who stand for election to the Council in May 2017. This will be circulated at the time individuals request nomination papers and will help new, and returning, Members to plan ahead in terms of post May 2017.
  • The drawing up of a Member Induction Programme for new, and returning, Members.
  • Revising the Scrutiny Handbook in light of changes in the Performance Management Framework and introduction of Public Speaking.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. As set out above.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

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

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. 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

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

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. Arrangements for webcasting and public speaking are linked to the Council's commitment to increasing the level of public participation in, and accessibility to, the Council's decision-making processes.

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. 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

  1. 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)

  1. No consultation has been necessary.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

  1. Corporate Resources

Background Papers

Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011

Contact Officer

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

Officers Consulted

Managing Director

Head of Legal Services

Responsible Officer:

Jeff Wyatt, Head of Democratic Services

 

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