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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources): 21st February, 2012

 

Report of the Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing Services

 

Local Government (Wales) (Measure) 2011

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To apprise Members of, and afford Members the opportunity of expressing views on, draft guidance received from the Welsh Government regarding the Local Government (Wales) (Measure) 2011.

Recommendations

1.             That the draft guidance be noted.

2.             That any views expressed by the Committee be referred to Cabinet on 29th February, 2011.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.             To keep Members aware of draft guidance as it is issued.

2.             To allow Members the opportunity to comment on the draft guidance.

Background

2.             A Measure is a piece of law made by the Welsh Assembly.  It has similar effect to an Act of Parliament.  The Assembly is able to pass Measures on any "matter" on which power to legislate has been devolved to it by the UK Government. 

3.             The purpose of the Measure is to make provision to strengthen the structures and working of local government in Wales at all levels and to ensure that local Councils reach out to, and engage with, all sectors of the community they serve. 

4.             The Measure consists of 179 sections, most of which are due to come into effect before the Annual Meeting of the Council in May 2012.  Some provisions are already in force.  The Measure is accompanied by an explanatory memorandum of 104 pages.  The key elements of the Measure were highlighted in a report to Cabinet on 8th June, 2011.  This report is available at the following link: http://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/our_council/council/minutes,_agendas_and_reports/reports/cabinet/2011/11-06-08/government_measure.aspx

Relevant Issues and Options

5.             Notwithstanding the above, the Welsh Government has only recently issued Draft Statutory Guidance regarding the Measure.  Given the delay which has occurred in its issue, the consultation period allowed by the Welsh Government has been reduced from 12 to 8 weeks and ends on 30th March, 2012.  All Members of the Council have received under separate cover a copy of the draft Guidance, together with a letter from the Minister for Local Government and Communities and a covering letter from the Operational Manager (Democratic Services). 

6.             The opportunity exists for comments to be submitted to the Welsh Government from individual Members and / or political groups as a whole.  Obviously, any comments made by this Committee and / or Cabinet will also be conveyed to the Minister.

7.             It is important to bear in mind that the consultation is in respect of the draft Guidance and not the Measure itself.  The various components covered within the Guidance are now already enshrined within the Measure.  Guidance on certain elements is still awaited and not anticipated prior to the May election. 

8.             Group Leaders have been contacted separately and offered a briefing to their respective Groups on this matter, should this be required.  This could be as part of the consultation process itself and / or a general raising of awareness of the wide-ranging provisions of the Measure and any potential implications for the Council.

9.             The Draft Statutory Guidance is issued under the following sections of the Measure:

(i)           Section 6(1) - Guidance in relation to timing of Council meetings

By virtue of Section 6(2) of the Measure, local authorities must have regard to this guidance in respect of the times and intervals at which meetings are held.  All local authorities should review the times at which meetings are held at least once in every term, preferably shortly after the new Council is elected.  In general terms, the expectation is that meetings should be held at times, intervals and locations convenient to the majority of Members.

(ii)          Section 7(4) - Guidance in relation to training and development of Members of a local authority

Section 7 of the Measure requires local authorities to provide reasonable training and development opportunities for its Members.  This should include the opportunity for each Member to have a review of their training and development needs on an annual basis.  In doing so, Members would need to be afforded the opportunity for an interview (i.e. a Personal Support and Development Interview) with a "suitably qualified" person. 

The new Democratic Services Committee, the establishment of which is a requirement of Section 16 of the Measure (see below) will have overall responsibility for deciding what is to be regarded as reasonable training and development opportunities.  These should be contained within a published development strategy which, as far as the Council is concerned, would be its Member Development Strategy.

(iii)         Section 16(2) - Guidance in relation to the discharge of functions by the Democratic Services Committee

Section 16 of the Measure deals with "local authority democratic services".  Whilst acknowledging the most Councils will have a "democratic services" function and officer(s) within its structure, this is the first time that such provision is being made in legislation.

As part of this section, each Council is required to designate one officer to the new statutory post of "Head of Democratic Services".  Certain officers are precluded from being designated such and these are set out in the Guidance.  The Guidance acknowledges the fact that, in many Councils, there will already be an officer who fulfils much of the Head of Democratic Services function.  As such, the designation could be added to an existing job description.  Such a person, once designated, is not prevented from performing other roles within the Authority

The Council is also required to establish a Democratic Services Committee to perform the following roles:

·               Carry out the function of designating the Head of Democratic Services

·               Keep under review the provision of staff, accommodation and other resources made available to the Head of Democratic Services, in order to ensure that it is adequate for the responsibilities of the post

·               To make reports, at least annually, to the Full Council in relation to these matters.

Various limitations apply to the composition of the Democratic Services Committee, which must consist solely of Members and cannot include more than one Member of the Executive, who must not be the Leader.  The Chair of the Committee must be appointed by the Council and must not be a member of any political group represented on the Council's Executive. 

(iv)         Section 56(6) - Guidance in relation to exercise of functions by Councillors

Section 56 makes provision for Councils to be able to make arrangements for any functions to be exercised by individual Councillors to allow them to make decisions at an electoral division level that may result in improvements to their local areas.  Arrangements under this section only provide for a non-executive Member to exercise functions in relation to the electoral division for which the Member has been elected, or to their official membership of an outside body. 

(v)          Section 62(4) - Guidance in relation to taking account of the views of the public

The "Making the Connections" strategy for improved public services in Wales adopts a citizens centred model with public involvement as a primary requirement.  The guidance regarding Section 62 of the Measure links in particular to two of the "Making the Connections" principles:

·               Citizens at the Centre

·               Public Engagement.

The scrutiny function is regarded by the Welsh Government as helping to both build and represent democratic capacity.  Section 62 covers provisions relating to the ability of Members to bring to the attention of relevant Scrutiny Committees views and issues.  The guidance also covers suggestions regarding how local authorities might improve public awareness of the scrutiny process and the promotion of its work.  The issue of actual public engagement within the process (e.g. at meetings and in generating issues for consideration) is also included.  This section of the guidance also covers the expansion of the Councillor Call for Action (CCfA), which is already in place for Crime and Disorder Scrutiny, to a more wide provision.  Finally, ways in which engagement with the Third Sector might be enhanced are also set out. 

(vi)         Section 63 - Reference of matters to Scrutiny Committees and Councillor Call for Action

As alluded to above, the Measure introduces new powers for Councillors which, in essence, widen the existing CCfA provisions.  It is important to note, however, that, as is the case with CCfA for Crime and Disorder matters, the provision under this section of the Measure should be regarded as a means of "last resort", with issues only being raised at a Scrutiny Committee once all other relevant avenues have been explored.

(vii)        Section 75(2)(a) - Guidance in relation to appointment of Scrutiny Committee Chairs

Section 66 basically requires political balance to be applied to the allocation of Chairmen of Scrutiny Committees.  The allocation of Vice-Chairmen is a matter for each Authority to decide upon. 

(viii)       Section 76(1)(a) - Guidance in relation to co-option of Scrutiny Committees

Welsh Government considers the contribution of co-opted members on committees to be able to significantly strengthen their effectiveness.  They consider it to be an important tool in achieving "buy-in" from representative groups and individuals that might otherwise be disengaged from local decision-making processes.  This section of the Guidance sets out the processes and procedures which Authorities might follow in determining whether they wish to increase the level of co-option within the scrutiny process.  In recognition of the democratic mandate of elected Members, the Draft Guidance recommends that the number of such co-optees on a Scrutiny Committee should not exceed one third of the total membership.  Importantly, any new co-opted members appointed to committees would not be able to be granted voting rights.  Existing voting rights applying to statutory representatives on the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) and in respect of Crime and Disorder matters on the Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection) will remain.

(ix)         Section 85(1) - Guidance in relation to Audit Committees

Sections 81 to 87 of the Measure make provision for Audit Committees.  The requirement is that each Council appoints an Audit Committee with specific functions.  Obviously, such a committee is already in existence within this Council.  The Draft Guidance covers the legislative requirements relating to the composition of an Audit Committee (including lay member representation) together with the areas of work expected to be covered by the Committee. 

10.        As indicated earlier in the report, various elements of the Draft Guidance relating to the Measure are still awaited and not anticipated prior to the May election.  This is despite the fact that the indication is that commencement orders for virtually all elements of the Measure are to be introduced by the Welsh Government prior to the election. 

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment and Climate Change, if appropriate)

11.        Some of the Measure's provisions will have resource implications. At a time when Councils are under severe pressure to reduce costs this measure will add to them.  The final Guidance and Model Standing Orders to be issued by the Welsh Government will assist in clarifying the resources required to meet the requirements of the Measure but they have the potential to be significant.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

12.        As set out in the Measure and this report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

13.        None.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

14.        These matters will have been taken into account by the Welsh Government in making the Measure.

Corporate/Service Objectives

15.        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

16.        This is a matter mainly for the Executive to note although the provision for Audit Committee is a council matter.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

17.        None.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

18.        Corporate Resources.

Background Papers

Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.

Report to Cabinet: 8th June, 2011.

Draft Statutory Guidance issues by Welsh Government: 3rd February, 2012.

 

Contact Officer

Jeff Wyatt, Operational Manager - Democratic Services.

 

Officers Consulted

Chief Executive

Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing Services

Director of Finance, ICT and Property

 

Responsible Officer:

Peter H. Evans, Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing Services

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