Agenda Item No
The Vale of Glamorgan Council
Shared Regulatory Services Joint Committee: 28th June 2016
Report of the Director of Environment and Housing
SRS Governance Arrangements
Purpose of the Report
- To advise the Joint Committee of proposals to improve the governance arrangements for the Shared Regulatory Service (SRS).
- That the Joint Committee notes the contents of this report.
- That the Joint Committee is consulted on any future 'Scrutiny Committee' proposals prior to them being passed through the relevant Executive and Full Council meetings for ratification.
Reasons for the Recommendations
- To apprise Committee of ongoing work aimed at improving the engagement of elected Members on decisions associated with the shared service.
- To ensure that this Committee is appropriately engaged with the outcome of the SRS Scrutiny working group.
- This report deals with two specific governance concerns; the role of the respective Executives in the business of the SRS and the role of Scrutiny Committees with responsibility for SRS functions, in effectively scrutinising the work of the Joint Committee and of the work of senior officers employed in this area.
- The Joint Working Agreement (JWA) for the SRS is the main document which details the governance arrangements for the shared service. Whilst this is a comprehensive document it does not expressly detail any role for the Executives of the participant Councils, which for such a potential high risk service requires further consideration.
- In addition the JWA did not conclude, but did direct to some degree, on what would be the most appropriate Scrutiny arrangements for the new service, suggesting …. "Participants will liaise about requests from their Overview and Scrutiny Committees and Audit Committees and shall consider joint Scrutiny arrangements with a view to avoiding duplication of effort". (JWA section 5.5 page 14).
- The reports to Councils in November 2014 approving the establishment of the SRS stated "There are a range of approaches to scrutiny of collaborative activities, and may include scrutiny by existing Scrutiny Committees on a 'council by council' basis, joint meetings between Councils' Scrutiny Committees through to the establishment of new joint overview and a Scrutiny Committee. It is proposed that initially scrutiny will be undertaken by Councils' existing Scrutiny Committees and further consideration given in due course to the potential benefits of any shared arrangements. During the pre-decision scrutiny process, the Chairs of Scrutiny Committees in each of the three Councils expressed a desire to explore joint scrutiny arrangements.
Relevant Issues and Options
- Dealing with concerns regarding the role of the participants' Executives first; many of the decisions now within the remit of the Joint Committee were previously the responsibility of the respective Executives. Whilst there is no suggestion there are any issues with the operation of the Joint Committee it is a fact that the remaining members of the respective Executives (a number of the Joint Committee Members are also Executive Members) could be left somewhat 'unsighted' on many developments and decisions associated with such an important public service; a service that potentially carries a significant level of risk.
- There is also a perception that elected Members for the host organisation could be party to greater information concerning the SRS than elected Members from Bridgend and Cardiff, simply due to the Vale of Glamorgan Council being the employing authority
- To help rectify this it is suggested, that in future, minutes of the Joint Committee be circulated to forthcoming meetings of the respective Executives for consideration . This would ensure that all the participants' Executives are equally informed on the business of the SRS and decisions of the Joint Committee.
- Should any of the Executives raise concerns on a matter a specific report seeking to address that concern could be requested from the Chair of the Joint Committee, if it concerned a decision of that Committee, or from the Director of Environment and Housing if the concern related to a service matter, e.g. performance standards or finance.
- The reports to the Executives would include all the necessary financial and other performance related information to permit the elected Members to have a regular overview of the progress of this significantly important partnership.
- As this proposal would be a matter for each participant to consider, it is suggested that the Managing Director of the Vale of Glamorgan Council writes to the Chief Executive / Managing Directors from Bridgend County Borough Council and Cardiff Council advising of the Vale of Glamorgan's plans to involve its Executive in the SRS governance arrangements as specified, suggesting that they give consideration to doing likewise.
- It is possible that, if willing, this arrangement could be in place for all participants via the recess allowing the first set of reports to be included showing the Annual Report and the remainder of the agenda for this meeting.
- The arrangements for Scrutiny are a little more challenging and will require more detailed consideration. As previously advised the JWA makes reference to participants considering joint Scrutiny arrangements and this would seem appropriate given the magnitude and scope of the partnership.
- There are currently four Scrutiny Committees across the partnership with responsibility for SRS functions which are now the sole responsibility of the Joint Committee. For the Vale of Glamorgan Council there is the Homes and Safe Communities Committee, for Bridgend County Borough Council there is the Partnership and Governance Committee and for Cardiff Council there are the Community and Adult Services Committee and the Environment Scrutiny Committee.
- In most cases the terms of reference of the relevant Committees has not changed significantly since the formation of the SRS. The fact that the sole decision making forum is now the Joint Committee with no provision for the Scrutiny Committees to stop a decision of the Joint Committee needs however to be addressed..
- Whilst the scrutiny of decisions made by the Joint Committee could still take place, such scrutiny is likely to be disparate and un-co-ordinated, being that it would most likely take place within one of the participant Councils only, it would also be less effective than the previous single authority regulatory service scrutiny arrangements as there is no provision for the 'calling in' of a decision. This therefore does not allow for the necessary rigour and testing of processes and decisions associated with the SRS and the Joint Committee.
- The centre for Public Scrutiny has identified the following four principles that underpin effective scrutiny:
- Provide a constructive 'critical friend' challenge to the Executive ("Cabinet") as well as outside agencies;
- Reflect the voice and concerns of the public and its communities;
- Take the lead and own the scrutiny process on behalf of the Council;
- Make an impact on the delivery of public services.
- In the case of the SRS 'the Executive' is effectively the Joint Committee as no other forum can currently challenge the decisions of the Joint Committee. With such a potentially high risk service, where the Joint Committee effectively takes decisions for all partners without further recourse, there are obvious weaknesses in the current governance arrangements that did not exist prior to the setting up of the partnership, and these should be addressed as soon as possible.
- In addition to weaknesses in the governance arrangements, the current provision for scrutiny can require a significant staffing resource; the worst scenario being that SRS senior officers are required to attend all four meetings each month. Further there is no one SRS Scrutiny Work Programme, which would allow prioritised topics to be considered in greater depth, neither are there any specific overview arrangement for service performance or financial management.
- Discussions have taken place between relevant senior Democratic / Scrutiny Services Officers of the three Authorities, but, whilst it has been agreed that options for joint scrutiny need to be considered establish appropriate, and robust, scrutiny arrangements this work has not been concluded.
- The formation of a Joint Scrutiny Committee involving elected Members from all participant authorities who currently sit on the four existing Scrutiny Committees mentioned could be a way of addressing the current disparate scrutiny issues. Given that the Vale of Glamorgan is not only the Host Authority, but is also supporting the "Executive" it is suggested that the scrutiny function could be the responsibility of either Cardiff Council or Bridgend County Borough Council, which again could help with maintaining good governance of the partnership.
- However, it would be inappropriate to seek to impose any new scrutiny arrangements on the participant Councils without them being fully engaged in a consultative process where there would be an opportunity for them to bring other possible options to the table.
- It is therefore proposed that a Working Group be set up, Chaired by the Director of Environment and Housing Services, involving the senior democratic services officers from the participant Councils with the aim of progressing the initial discussions held and ensuring effective future scrutiny arrangements for the SRS and addressing the concerns raised within this report. The Chair would feedback the outcome of this process to the Joint Committee for their views prior to the proposals being passed back to the participant Councils for progression through their Scrutiny and Cabinet meetings. Ultimately if new scrutiny arrangements are agreed these will need to pass through the respective full Council meetings for the JWA to be amended accordingly.
- The Working Group would aim to conclude its work to permit a report to be considered by the Joint Committee before the end of the calendar year.
Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)
- None. All work will be funded from existing budgets.
Sustainability and Climate Change Implications
- None from this report.
Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)
- Changes in the arrangements for Scrutiny will require an amendment to the current JWA if accepted by all participants. This will be a matter that can only be determined at the Full Council meetings of each participant.
Crime and Disorder Implications
Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)
- This report links to the SRS Business Plan vision of; Leading the way in safeguarding the health, safety and economic wellbeing of the region.
Policy Framework and Budget
- The content of this report is consistent with the Policy Framework and Budget.
Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)
- Consultation will be undertaken with the relevant participant Scrutiny Committees on any changes that may be proposed to future scrutiny arrangements.
Relevant Scrutiny Committee
- Homes and Safe Communities.
JWA - SRS
Scrutiny and Cabinet - Roles and Responsibilities - Draft Protocol (VoG)
Miles Punter - 02920 673 101
Committee Reports - Legal - Vale of Glamorgan Council
OM - Democratic Services - Vale of Glamorgan Council
Accountant - SRS
Head of Service, Bridgend County Borough Council
Assistant Director, City of Cardiff Council
Miles Punter - Director of Environment and Housing Services