DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE
Minutes of a meeting held on 25th July, 2018.
Present: Councillor O. Griffiths (Chairman); Councillor S.J. Griffiths (Vice-Chairman); Councillors G.D.D. Carroll, N.P. Hodges, K.F. McCaffer, N. Moore, M.J.G. Morgan, L.O. Rowlands, N.C. Thomas and E. Williams.
Also Present: Mrs P. Hallett (Standards Committee Member – Observer).
214 MINUTES -
RESOLVED - T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 18th April, 2018 be approved as a correct record.
215 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST -
No declarations were received.
216 ANNOUNCEMENT -
At the start of the meeting, the Chairman took the opportunity to welcome Mrs. P. Hallett who was a Member of the Standards Committee and was observing the meeting.
217 VALE OF GLAMORGAN MEMBER SUPPORT AND DEVELOPMENT EVALUATION (HDS)
The Head of Democratic Services presented the report to inform Members of the feedback / comments received during the independently led Focus Group of 20th April, 2018 arranged to review the experiences of newly elected Members and the support, information and training they had received in their period of office since May 2017.
It was timely to review newly elected Member experiences of the support provided to date and to use the feedback to inform forward planning for the next induction round post Local Government elections in May 2022. To ensure the success and engagement with any future member development programme, it was essential that direction be taken from elected members so a formalised action plan for improvement could be collated.
The Officer advised that the focus group was facilitated by the WLGA Policy and Improvement Officer and out of the 25 newly elected members invited to attend 6 were in attendance on the day. The Officer highlighted that whilst only a small group of Members attended the focus group their comments were considered to be representative of the wider newly elected member cohort.
With the support of the WLGA Policy and Improvement Officer, the Focus Group was asked questions relating to the following four areas of discussion:
- Discussion 1. Potential candidates
- Discussion 2. Candidates
- Discussion 3. Newly Elected Members
- Discussion 4. Now – One Year In
The collective views of the Focus Group were subsequently collated into an anonymised report. As indicated within the Officer’s report, "it reflects all the views put forward rather than the consensus". A copy of the anonymised report produced by the WLGA was attached for the Committee's consideration and comment at Appendix A to the Officer’s report.
The Officer added that it should be noted that Members attending the Focus Group were requested to provide an honest account of their experiences. No Council officers were in attendance at the Focus Group session and played no role in the collation of the WLGA report.
In conclusion, the Officer drew the Committee’s attention to paragraph 11 of the Officer’s report which set out, in detail, the key feedback points identified during the focus group session.
In response to the Officer’s request for comments, the Committee raised the following points and subsequent suggestions:
- A Member shared her regret that only a small number of Elected Members were able to attend the Focus Group, however, understood that Member availability was often limited due to the varied nature of the work and personal commitments. This, therefore, needed to remain a key consideration in any future development session scheduling.
- A Member highlighted that by providing development activities, at the candidate stage, the Council would be required to accommodate and support a much larger number of individuals which could prove a significant strain on existing resources. In response, the Officer advised that the Local Authority would be obligated to find the necessary resources to support all candidates. However, the level of support would need to be depicted by the current Elected Members and would prove extremely beneficial for the length of the subsequent term if undertaken.
- With regards to the Candidates Information Pack provided by the Local Authority, a Member stated that the amount of information included was overwhelming. As a supplementary point, the Chairman added that the information was however relevant and therefore earlier contact between possible candidates and the local authority could help to limit the amount of written information being sent out as part of the Pack.
- A Member acknowledged the fact that each individual interested in becoming a candidate would have different motives for standing and level of existing commitments, therefore, their availability during a pre-election period could be very limited. Consideration would need to be given to this to avoid putting individuals off standing by providing too much information and/or asking them to attend multiple induction style events at the wrong time. At this point, the Chairman added that the political parties also had a responsibility for recruiting and educating individuals wishing to stand.
- A Member shared his experience of candidate induction sessions as conducted by a local town council. The sessions were run within small groups and feedback from the individuals concerned was that the session was useful and not off-putting. A guest speaker was recruited to provide an impartial view on the ethos and work conducted by the Town Council. In addition to this point, a Member suggested that ‘open day’ sessions, for potential candidates, would be better run by Town and Community Councils which would make the political environment more accessible and less intimidating.
- A Member commended Officers on the comprehensive and relevant Member Induction and Development Programme that took place during the course of 2017. Therefore, it was difficult for Elected Members to suggest any further changes to be made. The mandatory elements of the Development Programme were excellent for newly elected and returning Members and a clear understanding of the Elected Member role would need to be achieved at the candidate stage and led by the political parties and the candidates themselves; as Local Authority support only began post-election which was too late.
- The Vice-Chairman advised that once he had signed up as a candidate he had received a letter from the Local Authority confirming his nomination and suggested that this contact point would be a good opportunity to educate an individual on the remit of the Council and key issues the Council was facing.
- A Member wished to add that it was important that the Local Authority reached the individuals who had an interest in their local community but had not yet established any relationships within local politics. These individuals often had strong ties to their communities making them excellent candidates however; they were unaware of the process for becoming a councillor. Work around this area would also allow the Local Authority to build relationships with active community groups/organisations.
- As a newly elected member, a member of the Committee advised that, as a candidate it was intimidating going to meetings with Members that had experience and prior knowledge, therefore, it was important for candidates and newly Elected Members to be clear on the meetings that they were permitted to attend. Also, as a supplementary point, it was imperative that younger generations be included in decision making and that ‘A’ Level students had already identified an interest.
- As a returning Elected Member, a Member wished to add that the Induction and Development Programme 2017 had vastly improved in comparison to his first term. However, there was a significant amount of PowerPoint presentations given and that scenario and case study based sessions would be more engaging and effective for all Members. Also, that there needed to be an acknowledgement that certain knowledge could only be obtained by practical experience.
- A Member referred to the ‘Rules of Debate’ training session that was pending as part of the current development programme and requested that the session take place as soon as possible. With regards to future development programme planning, the ‘Rules of Debate’ session must take place much earlier in the term.
- A Member highlighted that there was a lack of training in casework and managing difficult confrontations with constituents within the current/ongoing development programme. This type of training was increasingly important as Councillors were now more contactable and present in the public eye.
- A Member noted that as the local authority had recently gone through a Corporate Plan review there was learning to be made on all sides and for both returning and newly Elected Members. With this in mind, it was important for newly Elected Members to receive advice and guidance from returning Members and Group Leaders. The Head of Democratic Services added that there had been an Elected Member mentoring scheme historically, however, Members at the time did not appreciate the formality that the scheme presented.
- A Member wished to add that the individuals present at the Focus Group also referenced the excellent level of one to one and individual support available when required and the fantastic support provided by the ICT Service Desk.
In conclusion, a Member asked if the Council had made any comparisons with Member Development Programmes delivered by neighbouring Local Authorities, to which, the Head of Democratic Services advised there had been a significant increase in the attention and delivery of the Member Development Programme in the Vale during 2017 and therefore, the Vale of Glamorgan were setting the standard for this type of support. Each Local Authority would approach Member Development differently; however, the corporate training sessions were classed as standard and were necessary to meet Audit standards. Officers were continuing to work towards improvement however; the Vale of Glamorgan Council was starting from a very good position.
As a supplementary point, a Member advised that there were two aspects of responsibility regarding Member Development. The first being a political party responsibility and the second being the responsibility for maintaining standards. It was important that these two aspects operated independently and that Elected Members focussed on the political group’s responsibilities with Officers leading on standards.
The Committee welcomed the introduction of mandatory training for certain subject areas and acknowledged that it was the individual responsibility of each Member to engage in related processes. A number of Members suggested that the following subjects should be covered in future induction programmes:
- Rules of Debate;
- Public Speaking / Public Engagement;
- Casework Advice Support.
(1) T H A T the combined feedback from the focus group facilitated by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) be noted.
(2) T H A T suggested areas for improvement regarding the ongoing Member Development and training needs of Elected Members, as raised during the WLGA focus group and Committee comments as above, be developed further as part of a future induction programme or as part of ongoing development of Members.
(3) T H A T appropriate arrangements be put in place, for both candidates and Elected Members, to enhance candidate information and Member Induction where the Council has control, in time for the next Local Government Elections in 2022.
Reasons for decisions
(1,2&3) To ensure that all suggested areas for improvement are clearly identified and actioned upon to support Members following the focus group undertaken by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and in advance of the Local Government Elections in 2022.
218 MEMBER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME (MD) -
The Operational Manager for Performance and Policy presented the report to provide the Committee with an overview of the proposed future Member Development Programme and to seek authority to further the development programme via a working group of Elected Members.
The Council was reviewing its approach for the support, training and development opportunities provided to Elected Members. As described in the report on Member Support and Development Evaluation following the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) focus group work, there were a number of actions which applied to the general development of Elected Member skills and competencies. These were the basis for the proposals set out in the Officer’s report.
A recent report of the Wales Audit Office (Overview and Scrutiny – Fit for the Future? July 2018) contained a likely proposal for improvement that “The Council should further consider the skills and training that scrutiny members may need to better prepare them for current and future challenges and develop and deliver an appropriate training programme”. Whilst the proposal for improvement was focused on developing the skills required by those Members involved in Scrutiny Committees, some of the general themes that would emerge would be relevant to all Councillors. As such, the Officer’s report set out how general skills and competencies applicable to all Elected Members would be supported.
The Operational Manager for Performance and Policy proposed that a Member Development Programme be designed and delivered to provide all Elected Members with the opportunity to develop a range of skills and experiences relevant to their role. To maximise the impact of the Programme, a Member Competency Framework (along the same lines as the Management Competency Framework) would be established to inform the content of each session and to maximise the impact of the Programme itself. He also circulated ‘talk boards’ to illustrate and to provide a degree of context of the subject matters covered by the Officer Management Development Sessions. These were only examples to develop ideas around what could be delivered to Members around item insight and referred to the new Corporate Plan as one area.
The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) had a Member Competency Framework which was based around five generic competencies applicable to all Elected Members. The Officer advised that the competencies were as follows:
- Fundamentals: A range of generic skills required by all members
- Local Leadership: A range of skills required by all councillors in their role as community leaders
- Casework on behalf of the public
- Partnership and representation
- Working in the Political environment
The proposed Member Development Programme would be run on a six-monthly basis and focus on one area of the competency framework, with the content being tailored to ensure the latest issues were covered at each session.
The WLGA focus group provided useful information about the format, content and delivery of development opportunities for Councillors. The focus group felt that a ‘market place’ approach was useful to cover several topics; however, sufficient time would need to be given to ensure this did not feel rushed. Members also indicated the usefulness of networking sessions; smaller group discussions and that skills and role based sessions were more useful than policy sessions. Members also indicated that it would be useful to have materials beforehand to enable questions to be asked at the sessions.
It was proposed that the six-monthly event would be called the “Member Development Expo”. Run twice each cycle (one day-time session, one early-evening session), with the format as follows:
State of the Nation
An overview of the major strategic issues from the Managing Director with an opportunity for questions.
‘Up To Speed’ Sessions
3 exhibition stands, staffed by service directors and colleague(s) from service directorates to provide updates on major service specific issues in an exhibition style, with Elected Members able to ask questions.
Member Competency Framework Exercise
To focus on one element of the competency framework and to focus on a current topic to gain insight from Elected Members.
Feedback and Questions
An opportunity for Elected Members to revisit any exhibition stalls and discuss issues in further detail.
Elected Members would work in small groups throughout the sessions which would be designed to be interactive, informal and enable plenty of time for discussion and learning. The competency framework exercise would also provide an important opportunity for the Council to understand the perspective of Elected Members on important and contemporary topics, as well as the opportunity for Members to develop their own skills and knowledge.
In order to involve Elected Members in the design and delivery of the Member Competency Framework and the Member Development Expo, it was recommended that the Democratic Services Committee seek nominations from each of the political Group Leaders for a representative to join a working group to further refine the detail of the Programme.
A Member advised that 26 of the 47 individuals elected in May 2017 were classed as newly elected Members and therefore a significant percentage of individuals to provide support and training to. The Head of Democratic Services advised that the Local Authority had put significant support processes in place to address the percentage and now had 7 areas of improvement as set out by the Wales Audit Office to action upon going forward. The Operational Manager for Performance and Policy also wished to add that the future programme would be relevant to all 47 Members going forward as their individual responsibilities changed during the course of their term.
A Member suggested that it would be useful to have new and returning Members on the working group to get a balanced input and recommended that two representatives from each political viewpoint be invited to attend. This included independent members. The Operational Manager for Performance and Policy thanked the Member for his suggestion and reassured Committee that the working group would be designed to be accessible and engaging for all participants.
(1) T H A T the content of the report be noted.
(2) T H A T the earlier report regarding Member Support and Development Evaluation together with the current Officer report be noted.
(3) T H A T the framework for the Member Development Programme as set out in the Officer’s report be endorsed.
(4) T H A T two representative nominations be sought from each of the political group leaders and independent Member to join the working group to further refine the detail of the programme in readiness for delivery of the first session in the winter 2018.
(5) T H A T a further report be presented to the Democratic Services Committee in due course following the delivery of the first Member Development Expo.
Reasons for decisions
(1) To provide an update on progress being made in relation to Member development.
(2) To provide context to the proposals set out in the Officer’s report.
(3) To enable the Member Development programme to be developed as described in the Officer’s report.
(4) To enable a working group of elected Members to be convened in order that Members feed into the design process of the Member Development Programme.
(5) To enable the Democratic Services Committee to consider the outcomes from the first session and evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the Programme.