The Head of Law and Regulation provided a brief overview of the annual report of the Head of Democratic Services. It was explained to the committee that both the Head of Service and Head of Democratic Services have worked on the report.
It covers the period November 2020 to October 2021 with an update on where the Council is with Democratic Services staffing arrangements in terms of supporting councillors to discharge their roles.
Committee was advised that the Democratic Services team is at full complement with Leanne Rowlands in the post as Head of Democratic Services and as the Democratic Services Manager. Two scrutiny advisers in post after a long delay during the lockdown.
The view is that they have sufficient support in the team to support the committee but that is subject to review in terms of Council policy or if there will be new initiatives to look at. They would keep the structure and capacity under review.
Over the next twelve months, the Democratic Services team’s main priority is to develop the technology for hybrid meetings and to provide training for members to enable them to use the system effectively.
The Committee will get a report in the agenda in terms of hybrid meetings, the priority will be within 6-8 months, in time for the May elections in 2022 to meet that transition from remote to hybrid meetings with the sufficient support.
When the civic centre is back in occupation with people meeting in meeting rooms; attendees can dial in remotely as the statute requires this. This is to support the councillors deliver their work programme for the next twelve months.
The Lead Officer welcomed questions and comments from the Committee.
The Committee asked the following:
· The Chair of the Committee queried when attending a meeting in person, would that individual carry more weight in the discussion for being at the face to face meeting.
In response, the Head of Law and Regulation stated that they have to ensure those dialling in remotely have the same rights and ability to participate in discussion as others and are not disadvantaged in any way. Chairing the meeting will also take different skills, the officer is conscious of that training need.
It was reiterated to the Committee that dialling in will be a personal choice to the Members and not something required for public health reasons.. However going forward it will be a matter of personal choice; therefore if someone cannot get to the Council chambers for any reason, they can dial in remotely. For such meetings members cannot be disadvantaged in terms of their voting and role within the committees.
· Councillor Hourahine queried if there should be a reason given for remote working, for instance, would personal choice be a reason for that.
The Lead Officer confirmed that personal choice is a reason; the point of hybrid meetings is to be part of the Welsh Government diversity equality agenda. As some Councillors with other commitments such as work cannot travel into the civic centre, will be able to dial in remotely. There will be no need to give apologies for absence for not being physically sat in the meeting as the remote attendance counts because the Member will be participating in the meeting.
· Councillor Giles noted that it was good to hear of the success of the reorganisation, that the team has all of the staff they require and congratulated everyone on their posts.
In terms of virtual attendance; Councillor Giles commented that this could hopefully increase attendance because not everyone is able to get in so it gives more opportunity for people to attend meetings in that way. They can see a lot of thought has gone into ensuring there is equality of access. If it works well, it will be a good thing.
· Councillor Clarke congratulated the team on getting full staff levels on board after being through Covid. In the year from November 2020 to November 2021, they are looking at hybrid meetings for the future but noted it was important to reflect back on how it has been conducted and mentioned what the chairs of committees will have to do to get on top of the virtual meetings. In reflection, it has been a good job done by everyone and thanked the team.
· Councillor Watkins echoed the previous point that as long as the meeting system works well, then it will give a positive effect. It gives the opportunity for those unable to access the civic centre for any reason, to attend the meeting.
· It was mentioned by the Chair that the meeting system seems to be improving and is more workable.