|Date: Tuesday 4th October 2016 Time: 10.00 a.m. Place: Executive Room, Civic Centre, Ebbw Vale|
|Present||And||With||Report to||Report of|
|COUNCILLOR G. COLLIER (CHAIR)|
Apologies for absence were received from:-
Councillors B. Clements and R. Jones.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST AND DISPENSATIONS
There were no declarations of interest or dispensations reported.
DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE
The Minutes of the Democratic Services Committee held on 20th April, 2016 were submitted for consideration.
RESOLVED that the minutes be accepted as a true record of proceedings.
WALES AUDIT OFFICE REVIEW (APRIL 2016) AND SCRUTINY ACTION PLAN UPDATE
Appendix 1 (357K/bytes)
Appendix 2 (296K/bytes)
Appendix 3 (36K/bytes)
Consideration was given to the Wales Audit Office Review on Governance and the update against the Council's Scrutiny Action Plan.
The Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) spoke briefly to the report and highlighted points contained therein. The officer explained that the report:-
â€ž Presented the Wales Audit Office Review on Governance Arrangements with a focus on Scrutiny.
â€ž Provided a position station as of September 2016 against the Council's scrutiny action plan together with proposals to amend the scrutiny action plan format in response to one of the proposals for improvement contained in the Wales Audit Office Review.
It was noted that the review had been considered at a recent meeting of the Audit Committee and at a meeting of the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of Scrutiny Committees and progress had already been made against a number of the proposals for improvement.
At the invitation of the Chair, Mr. Dave Wilson, Wales Audit Office spoke briefly to the Wales Audit Office Governance Review with a Focus on Scrutiny.
It was noted that the Auditor General's Improvement Assessment Letter dated October 2013 had made two statutory recommendations for improvement under Section 19 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009, namely:-
â€ž To address weaknesses in financial planning by improving the quality of reports to Members on budget savings proposals.
â€ž Strengthen scrutiny decision making.
The Wales Audit Office had concluded that the Council had taken positive steps to address the Auditor General's statutory recommendation relating to scrutiny but further work could still be undertaken to make scrutiny more effective and consistent in practice.
Councillor J. Morgan joined the meeting at this juncture.
Mr. Wilson concluded by advising that the Wales Audit Office had made 5 proposals for improvement that recognised the progress made by the Council and which reflected the emerging issues.
Members were then given the opportunity to raise questions/comment in relation to the report.
A Member commented that the review and the proposals contained therein was more than a fair appraisal, however, there was still a massive potential for improvement. The Member continued by asking Mr. Wilson how Blaenau Gwent compared (benchmarked) against other local authorities that had been similarly evaluated.
Mr. Wilson advised that the Wales Audit Office did not formulate a comparison league table. It was important for the Council to focus on the messages contained within the report and the required improvements. He pointed out that the Council had made good progress and said that the processes that had been established, for example, Executive handbook and process around scrutiny were very positive.
However, one strong important message related to the meeting environment, particularly the quality of chairing and questioning at scrutiny meetings. Members needed to focus on the content of reports and ensure that robust challenge was provided. Whilst training had been provided with regard to these aspects of meeting management this was an area that required further improvement.
A Member referred to Wales Audit Office improvement study "Good Scrutiny? Good Question!" and the issues highlighted in terms of chairing and questioning and pointed out that respective group leaderships also had the responsibility and onus to nominate individuals with the relevant competencies in order that this area could be addressed effectively. The competency framework could also be used in order to achieve this.
Mr. Wilson referred to proposal number 1 which related to the evaluation of the impact of member support and training to improve the quality of chairing and questioning at scrutiny meetings and said that Members could also address this issue by evaluating their own performance and identifying where improvements were required and areas that were working effectively.
This issue was debated and Members made the following comments:-
â€ž Apart from training it was important that the skills and professionalism of the individual was taken into account in order to ensure that they were appointed into an appropriate field.
â€ž The consistency of Chairs from one office term to another was an important factor.
â€ž The onus was not just on the Chairs and Group Leaders it was also a personal responsibility.
Where areas for improvement had been identified i.e. public engagement and social media, a new web page for the scrutiny function would be established in due course. Progress had been made and this improvement was continuing in some areas and the views of Members were welcomed as they would have an internal part to play on this improvement journey.
In reply to a question relating to engagement with the public, Mr. Wilson said that this was a difficult issue to address and was not unique to Blaenau Gwent. He suggested that people be asked how they wanted to be engaged with e.g. face to face contact, venues etc. He referred to the forthcoming Let's Talk Engagement Events and suggested that this forum could be utilised to discuss this matter.
The Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) clarified that the report related to public engagement in terms of the scrutiny function and there was a need to promote and raise awareness of the issues being scrutinised in order to increase engagement.
In order to address this issue Scrutiny Committees were being rotated at different locations throughout the County Borough and work was being undertaken with the Chairs and Vice-Chairs on how to develop the area of engagement with regard to the scrutiny function.
A further discussion ensued when it was proposed that Option 1 endorsed. This proposal was seconded.
RESOLVED to recommend that the report be accepted and Option One be endorsed, namely:-
â€ž the position statement against the scrutiny action plan be noted; and
â€ž the proposed changes to the format of the scrutiny action plan in response to the proposal for improvement be implemented.
PROPOSALS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SCRUTINY ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE BLAENAU GWENT PUBLIC SERVICES BOARD
The report of the Head of Policy and Performance was submitted for consideration.
At the invitation of the Chair, the Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) spoke briefly to the report and highlighted points contained therein.
The officer explained that the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 established statutory Public Scrutiny Board's which replaced the voluntary Local Service boards in each local authority area.
Comparative information from other local authority areas indicated that there were a number of approaches emerging to the development of the Public Services Board scrutiny arrangements i.e. there was not a common template across Wales.
The Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) concluded by commending Option 1 outlined in Paragraph 2.1 of the report.
Members were then given the opportunity to raise questions/comment in relation to the report.
In reply to a question, the Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) confirmed that the Local Service Boards no longer existed i.e. they had been subsumed within the Public Service Board.
A discussion ensued when Members commented that all Chairs and Vice-Chairs of Scrutiny Committees should be included as part of the membership of the Public Service Board as part of the democratic arrangements.
In terms of resources, this would be set against the national well-being goals which were set by Welsh Government. Authorities would have to establish well-being plans and objectives which would demonstrate how they would contribute to the well-being goals.
It was noted that there was further work needed to be undertaken in respect of engagement of co-optees. This proposal was an interim measure in order that work could be undertaken to establish effective scrutiny arrangements. Members were advised that a training session would be arranged for the Committee as this was a newly established role.
In reply to a question, the Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) suggested that all Members of the Public Services Board Committee be allocated with voting rights. These voting rights would also apply to the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees.
A Member referred to the proposed Committee membership and enquired with regard to proportionality - he was mindful that a large Committee size could become unwieldy.
The Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) advised that proportionality had not been referred to as part of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 - this set of arrangements had been left to local discretion. Once the arrangements had been established these changes reflected in the Council Constitution.
A Member proposed prior to the report being submitted to the next meeting of Council for consideration the issues in respect of voting rights and proportionality be resolved.
RESOLVED to recommend accordingly.
The Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) advised that proportionality would be considered prior to the report being submitted to Council.
The Chair requested that a further report be submitted to Democratic Services Committee following receipt of the national guidance.
FURTHER RESOLVED to recommend, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and Option 1 be endorsed, namely:-
That the following interim arrangements were established (until the formation of the new Council in 2017):
- The current Corporate Overview Scrutiny Committee acts as the Public Services Board Scrutiny Committee.
- The Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the Social Services, Education, Active Living and Learning, Economy and Infrastructure were invited as Members of the Committee when it acted in the role of Public Services Board Scrutiny Committee.
- The Committee forward work programme be developed taking account of the requirements in the Act.
- The arrangements be reviewed in line with the national guidance anticipated in early 2017.
- The Public Services Board Scrutiny Committee arrangements be confirmed in the new Council term and reflected in the Constitution.
SUPPORT ARRANGEMENTS FOR MEMBERS ON OUTSIDE BODIES
Appendix 1 (56K/bytes)
Members considered the report of the Head of Policy and Performance.
The Senior Strategic Policy & Project Officer spoke to the report and highlighted points contained therein. The officer explained that Council had requested arrangements to be put in place to support Members on Outside Bodies and to identify the most appropriate mechanisms to feedback relevant information to Full Council.
A review of the existing guidance had been undertaken (namely the Welsh Local Government Association and other local authorities) and a short guidance document had been produced for Members appointed to outside bodies.
Information was in the process of being collated for each of the outside organisations in order that the authority held a comprehensive set of role descriptions, terms of reference, and legislative bases/governance documents for these bodies.
An initial review of the list of outside bodies had been undertaken to ascertain if representation was required. The remainder of the outside bodies appointed to needed to be reviewed with a view to rationalisation and this work would be completed prior to the Annual Meeting of the Council.
A Member training session had taken place on 1st August, 2016 for Members who currently sat on outside bodies and a further training session would be incorporated within the induction programme following the Local Election in May 2017.
Members were then given the opportunity to raise question/comment in respect of the report.
In reply to a question regarding the potential level of detail that would be reported back, the Senior Strategic Policy & Project Officer suggested that as part of the support arrangements the Member would have a post briefing with relevant officer in order to determine the level of appropriate information that could be reported back to Council. If there were specific issues regarding exempt information the Monitoring Officer would be able to advise Members accordingly.
The Head of Policy and Performance (designated Head of Democratic Services) added that the information presented to Council would have to be carefully managed. It was noted that this process had been developed following comments by Members regarding the opportunity to feedback.
RESOLVED to recommend, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and
Option 1 be endorsed, namely:-
The following new support and feedback arrangements be established:-
- A short pre-meeting be held between the Members(s) and relevant lead officer to discuss the agenda and any particular points of interest.
- An agenda item to be added to Council on a quarterly basis for communication/feedback from Members on outside bodies.
Review of Current Outside Bodies Appointments
- A review of the list of outside bodies be undertaken with the aim to rationalise the number from the current appointments required.