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Statutory Guidance on Constitutions
Status of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance issued under section 38 of the Local Government Act 2000, as amended by section 45 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021. A local authority (a county or county borough council in Wales), elected mayor or an executive leader must have regard to it. This guidance replaces previous guidance relating to constitutions issued under this section in 2006.
Purpose of this Guidance
This guidance is to support councils in the preparation and maintenance of their constitutions.
Developing a Constitution
Under Section 37 of the Local Government Act 2000, each council operating executive arrangements is required to prepare, keep up to date and publish electronically a document known as the council’s ‘constitution’. This must include a copy of their standing orders, code of conduct and other information the council considers appropriate.
The Welsh Ministers issued separate guidance on Modular Constitutions for Welsh councils in 2001. This is regularly updated by Lawyers in Local Government and the WLGA and remains a valuable resource for local authorities.
Content of the Constitution
Councils should ensure their constitution is easy to use and understand. It will also be supplemented by a constitution guide. Councils should in particular make sure parts of the constitution which deal with related issues are cross-referenced. In considering their constitution, councils should have regard to their statutory duties in relation to the Welsh language, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, equalities, including the public sector socio economic duty, and also that they are now required to publish their constitutions electronically.
The constitution must include:
- such information as the Welsh Ministers may direct, this currently includes information with respect to the discharge of all the council’s functions as directed by the Local Government Act 2000 (Local Authority Constitution) (Wales) Direction 2023 made under section 37(1)(a) (annexed to this guidance)
- a copy of the authority’s standing orders
- a copy of the authority’s code of conduct for members (including co-opted members)
- such other information as the authority considers appropriate
The Local Government Act 2000 (Local Authority Constitution) (Wales) Direction 2023 provides that a constitution must specify the roles of the full council. The arrangements for the discharge of non-executive functions should be a statement of who or which body within the council is responsible for the discharge of non-executive functions, (as described in the Local Authorities Executive Arrangements (Functions and Responsibilities) (Wales) Regulations 2007 made under Section 13(3)(a) of the Local Government Act 2000) together with a description of the role of the full council. The constitution must be clear as to how decisions are taken, who takes them, which decisions are delegated and to whom and how the decision to delegate is made. Decisions involving significant and/or controversial matters must not be delegated to officers.
There is considerable scope for local choice and diversity in the content of the constitution and the way in which it operates. Many of the matters to be included in the constitution may also be included in an authority’s standing orders.
There will be other matters governing the conduct of the authority’s affairs which will not be included in standing orders, executive arrangements, the arrangements for the discharge of non-executive functions, the code of conduct for members or the code of conduct for officers. Councils may, if they choose, include any of these other matters in their constitution.
For example, a council should include a description of locally developed protocols governing the relationships between the executive, other councillors and officers. The constitution should be clear these relationships must be constructive and respectful at all times. Also, as well as enabling informal routes for disagreements between members to be addressed, the constitution should provide routes for officers to seek informal resolution of difficulties in relationships with members without the need to escalate to formal processes. The code of conduct for officers should make clear that that code of conduct is incorporated into the officers’ contract of employment. It should also be clear that, once informal routes have been exhausted, statutory processes must be followed in relation to any disciplinary action relating to officers falling within the remit of the Local Authorities (Wales) Standing Order Regulations 2006.
Other matters councils should consider including and/or taking into account in their constitutions include:
- the need for a “preamble” (or introduction) to the constitution, setting out the important principles that underpin the constitution’s contents and recognising the council’s broader obligations to local democracy and local people
- the relationship between Articles of the constitution and more detailed rules of procedure (if this is the structure that a Council chooses to use to organise its constitution)
- the way in which informal discussions between members and officers inform and influence formal decision-making at the council
- the way the council makes decisions in partnership with other councils and other bodies, in particular through public service boards, regional partnership boards, corporate joint committees, and any joint committee established under the Local Government Act 1972
- how the council will appoint members to national park authorities and fire and rescue authorities and how those members will update the council on their work;
- the working arrangements and relationship with community and town councils in the council’s area
- rules of procedure which relate to high profile issues for example, the full council procedure rules, including the arrangements in place for the electronic broadcasting of those meetings and the archiving and retention of the broadcasts
- financial procedure rules
- details on arrangements relating to public participation in relation to duties included in sections 39 to 41 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021
- the arrangements for dealing with complaints including interaction with the PSOW
- the needs of equality, diversity and inclusion and the statutory duties related to these and the Welsh language. This relates not only to ensuring that constitutional documents are themselves accessible, but that rules and procedures take account of the needs of people with a wide range of needs. For example, parts of the constitution that relate to the public’s right to be involved in decision-making should take account of these needs
- Councils’ duties relating to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Councils’ overall legal obligations under this Act are well understood, but it also has implications, for example, through the ways of working, for how councils make formal decisions, and how scrutiny and oversight systems operate
- the way the council will fulfil its obligations under the UK General Data Protection Registration (UKGDPR) when dealing with personal information
Importantly, the constitution should be drafted as a flexible document. For example, it should not be necessary to produce a revised constitution every time an ad-hoc committee or sub-committee is appointed to undertake a particular task. However, this needs to be balanced against the need for a constitution to be detailed enough so that anyone who has dealings with the council can use it to determine who is responsible for the matter with which they are concerned.
Availability of the Constitution
The Act requires that copies of the constitution are published electronically and available at the council’s principal office for inspection at all reasonable times. Members of the public should be able to take away copies of the constitution for free or charge representing no more than the cost of providing the copy a reasonable fee. It is also recommended that local authorities should make copies of the constitution available more widely, for example at all their offices, libraries, community buildings etc.
Review and Revisions to the Constitution
The council's constitution should be kept up to date at all times. Councils should review the constitution regularly to make sure it continues to be fit for purpose, with these reviews being led by councillors, and supported by the council’s monitoring officer in consultation with the head of democratic services.
In considering their arrangements for the ongoing review and revision of their constitution councils should consider:
- whether the council constitution will permit the monitoring officer to make “minor” amendments and what constitutes a minor amendment, for example the updating of a reference to legislation. Full reviews and major amendments must be agreed at full Council. Councils may wish to systematise this process, by linking it more formally to the annual general meeting to ensure that the constitution is kept under regular review
- arrangements for councillor “ownership” (that is, a clear sense that councillors are responsible for making sure that the constitution is of a high quality). This matter of ownership is important. Ownership must be held by full council; but detailed work can be led by a named committee. Whichever formal space is designated it is important that councillors have regular opportunities to reflect on the strength of the governance framework, of which the constitution forms a central part
An individual councillor may propose additions, amendments, suspensions or withdrawals to the council’s constitution, but in doing so would have to declare any interest they have before obtaining a decision of the full council. Any proposal should also be accompanied by advice from the Monitoring Officer to full Council (or any committee or member considering potential changes).
All proposed changes, unless previously agreed as being ‘minor’ have to be debated by the full council and require a majority vote of those members voting to be accepted.
Any changes the council has resolved to make will come into immediate effect unless the decision specifies otherwise.
The published constitution should be amended within 5 working days of the making of a resolution to ensure the most up to date version of the constitution is always available.
The Welsh Ministers, in exercise of the power given to them by sections 37(1)(a) of the Local Government Act 2000 (“the Act”), directs each county and county borough council (“local authority”) in Wales that the document which they must prepare and keep up to date in accordance with section 37(1) of the Act and referred to in that section as their constitution must contain the information specified in the Schedule.
This direction will have effect from to be confirmed.
The Local Government Act 2000 (Local Authority Constitution) (Wales) Direction 2001 is revoked.
Minister for Finance and Local Government
A summary of the constitution.
The roles of members and (if applicable) of the elected mayor including:
- their election and terms of office
- the rights and duties of all members and (if applicable) of the elected
- Mayor, including the application of family absence for members
The roles of the full council including:
- the functions and actions which are reserved to the full council
- the different types of council meeting and the rules governing the proceedings of those meetings, including the arrangements for multi-location meetings and for their electronic broadcast where this is required on a statutory basis or undertaken voluntarily
The roles of the chairperson or presiding member of the council, and their respective deputies.
The roles of overview and scrutiny committees including:
- the terms of reference of each of the committees
- the general and specific roles of each of the committees
- the rules governing the proceedings of the committees
- the arrangements in place for the consideration of and response to their reports by the full council and/or the executive
The roles of the standards committee and of any sub-committee of that committee including:
- the membership of the committee and any sub-committee
- the roles, functions, rights and duties of the committee and any sub-committee
- the rules governing the proceedings of the committee and any sub-committee
- the arrangements in place for the consideration of and response to their reports by the full council and/or the executive
The roles of any area committees including:
- the membership, terms of reference and functions of the committees
- the rules governing the proceedings of the committees
- the arrangements in place for the consideration of and response to their reports by the full council and/or the executive
The roles of the governance and audit committee and of any sub- committee of that committee including:
- the membership of the committee and any sub-committee
- the roles, functions, rights and duties of the committee and any sub-committee
- the rules governing the proceedings of the committee and any sub-committee
- the arrangements in place for the consideration of and response to their reports by the full council and/or the executive.
The roles of the Democratic Services Committee and of any sub-committee of that committee including:
- the membership of the committee and any sub-committee
- the roles, functions, rights and duties of the committee and any sub-committee
- the rules governing the proceedings of the committee and any sub-committee
- the arrangements in place for the consideration of and response to their reports by the full council and/or the executive.
In the case of a local authority which is operating executive arrangements as defined by section 10(1) of the Act the roles of the executive and of members of the executive including:
- the roles, functions, rights and duties of members of the executive and assistants to the executive, including the maximum number of assistants that may be appointed
- the roles, functions, rights and duties of any elected mayor and any deputy mayor
- the allocation of responsibility for the exercise of social services functions including responsibility for looked after children
- the process for the appointment and removal of members of the executive and assistants to the executive
- the rules governing the proceedings of the executive, including the arrangements for multi-location meetings
- the arrangements for determining and managing the job sharing of executive posts, including the executive leader in relation to managing, and the manner in which this will be considered when allocating seats on committees which include a seat for members of the executive, such as the governance and audit committee and the democratic services committee, to which the political balance rules apply. In the case of the executive leader, the arrangements must set out how an election for executive leader will be undertaken where one or more of the potential office holders seeking that office are seeking it on the basis of job sharing arrangements.
Particulars of any arrangements for the discharge of any functions by individual members, another local authority, including corporate joint committees, or for the exercise of any functions jointly with another local authority including:
- the nature of the arrangements and the functions to which they apply
- the membership of any joint committees and sub-committees
- the rules governing the proceedings of any joint committees and sub-committees
- details of any contracting out arrangements
The roles of officers of the local authority including:
- the management structure of the local authority
- the functions of the chief executive, the monitoring officer, the head of democratic services and the chief finance officer (section 151 officer)
- the code of conduct for officers
- the arrangements for recruitment, appointment, remuneration, dismissal and disciplinary action in relation to officers, including officers covered by the Local Authorities (Wales) Standing Order Regulations 2006 and the council’s pay policy statement
- details of delegations of functions to officers
- protocols for managing constructive and respectful relationships between officers and members, including informal and formal processes for handling disputes and complaints
The principles and processes for efficient, transparent and accountable decision making within the council and access to information about decision making including rules of procedure for decision making and access to information in respect of the full council, its committees and sub-committees, the executive, overview and scrutiny committees and officers.
The confidential reporting procedure with references to the authority’s codes of conduct for members and employees respectively.
The rules and regulations governing finance, contractual and legal matters including:
- audit procedures
- contracts and procurement rules and procedures including authentication of documents
- the rules governing legal proceedings by and against the local authority
The arrangements to fulfil the duties under sections 91, 92 and 93 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 to report on the council’s performance and to arrange and respond to a panel assessment.
The rules and procedures for review and revision of the constitution.
Provisions for the suspension and interpretation of the constitution and elements of it.
The statutory derivations of all of the provisions of the constitution (i.e. the powers and duties under which they are made).
The Constitution Guide Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This statutory guidance is issued under section 38 of the Local Government Act 2000. A local authority (a county or county borough council in Wales), elected mayor or an executive leader must have regard to it.
Purpose of this Guidance
This guidance accompanies the requirement set out in section 38 of the Local Government Act 2000, as amended by section 45 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021. This section requires councils to publish electronically and keep up to date a guide which explains in ordinary language the content of their constitution.
What is the Guide?
Councils must produce and publish a guide to their constitution. A guide to the constitution is not the same thing as a guide setting out how the council works, although there is likely to be some overlap, nor is it an annotated index of the constitution itself. Councils are likely to already hold material on their website explaining key aspects of their operation, which could be used to form this guide.
Consultation and matters to be taken into consideration when preparing the guide
How to prepare an effective constitution guide should form part of the council’s strategy on encouraging public participation in decision making by the council prepared under sections 40 and 41 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021. Councils could speak to local people, and to voluntary organisations representing local people, to understand what it would be most helpful to put in the constitution guide.
Councils should also have regard to their statutory duties in respect of equalities, Welsh language and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 when preparing their constitution guide. Councils should involve and consult a wide range of people and groups from diverse backgrounds before publishing the final guide.
An effective constitution guide will be one that understands the different interactions local people are likely to have with the council, and with local democratic systems, and which focusses in more detail on those interactions. It may bear some similarity with some of the introductory information on councils’ websites describing how the council operates.
For example, a guide could provide particular detail on:
- the rights of the public to access information about the council (including the right to inspect accounts, and other formal documents)
- rights of access to meetings, and public speaking rights
- arrangements for petitions
The Welsh Local Government Association and Lawyers in Local Government have produced a model guide to the constitution which councils may find helpful.
The Exercise of Functions by Councillors Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance made under Section 56 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure). This replaces previous guidance issued on this matter.
Purpose of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance issued in accordance with section 56(6) of the Measure to which the county or county borough council or senior executive member of the local authority must have regard in making arrangements under section 56.
Powers under section 56 are optional in nature but those councils that decide to use them may have regard to this guidance to assist them.
By giving more autonomy to elected members in their local area, section 56 enhances councillors’ ability to resolve issues and problems on behalf of their residents.
The Measure includes powers for councillors to help them tackle issues and resolve problems in their local ward.
Section 56 enables councils to make arrangements for functions to be exercised by individual councillors to allow them to make decisions at an electoral ward level that may result in improvements in their local areas.
Arrangements under this section provide for a non-executive member to exercise those functions in relation to the electoral ward for which the member has been elected, or to exercise functions in relation to their official membership of an outside body.
This guidance seeks to outline potential positive benefits from delegating functions to elected members both within their role as ward members and as the council’s official representative on outside bodies. The aim is to support elected members in being the voice of their community within the council and the voice of the council in their community.
What the Measure says about exercise of functions by councillors
Section 56 gives powers to local authorities to formally delegate powers to individual councillors to carry out any function of the authority. With regard to the range of functions that may be exercised by non-executive councillors, section 56 allows local authorities flexibility to develop arrangements which may best suit their individual preferences. This includes enabling local authorities to delegate both executive functions and other council functions to non-executive councillors.
Section 56(1) provides that the senior executive member of a local authority may make arrangements for a non-executive member of the authority to exercise a function of the local authority which is the responsibility of the executive. Section 56(2) provides that a local authority may make arrangements for a non-executive member of the authority to exercise any other function of the authority.
However, councils will need to be mindful that section 56(3) stipulates that local authorities may only delegate functions to non-executive members:
- in relation to the electoral ward for which the non-executive member is elected, or
- in relation to the non-executive member’s official membership of a body other than the local authority
Purpose and objectives of section 56
The intent behind the provision is to provide councils with a wider range of opportunities to make effective use of elected members’ representational role, this could now also be considered in conjunction with the duties placed upon councils in sections 39 to 41 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 (the 2021 Act) to encourage local people to participate in decision making.
It could also be a way of supporting elected member training and development. For example, councils may wish to use the provision as a means to create developmental ‘on-the-job’ learning initiatives for non-executive members in instances where they may be utilised as council representative on outside bodies such as local health boards, housing associations, voluntary organisations, trusts or agencies. Such ‘learning by doing’ would be a chance to further councillors’ skills and knowledge in a given area and broaden the council’s overall pool of experienced elected members.
For those outside bodies where more than one member is appointed, councils may wish to delegate functions in a way which empowers non-executive members on occasions where the executive member may be absent.
In these instances, it would be important for the council to ensure those non-executive councillors to whom functions had been delegated receive the support and developmental opportunities necessary for them to successfully fulfil their role.
As a means to provide the necessary transparency and accountability for delegated functions, section 100EA of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended by section 57 of the Measure) provides the Welsh Ministers with powers to make regulations to require councils to publicly record decisions made under section 56 of the Measure. This is in order to give the public information about the work undertaken by councillors within their wards. The Welsh Ministers have not exercised this power however councils are encouraged to publish these decisions as a matter of good practice. Councils may also wish to publish delegated decisions of councillors as part of their annual review process.
Although section 56 gives broad powers to delegate any local authority function to an individual member, there are obviously some functions that will be more appropriate than others. It would not be appropriate to delegate powers which are specified as specifically not to be exercised by the executive or not to be exercised solely by the executive in the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Functions and Responsibilities) (Wales) Regulations 2007 as these functions are intended to be exercised by the membership of the council as a whole or one of its committees. Also it would not be appropriate to delegate functions requiring a council wide strategic approach such as social care. But, delegated powers could be used to allow councillors to play a more active role in a wide range of policy areas.
For example, functions that could be delegated may include:
- powers to effect repairs or improvements to streets. This could include road calming measures or street lighting
- powers to develop and oversee youth activities within the area of an electoral ward
Factors to consider when delegating powers
When considering whether or not to delegate functions to non-executive members, councils may wish to give thought to the following issues in relation to members:
- What value can be added by delegating powers? What specific local problems will be able to be tackled as a result?
- Would councillors need additional support such as legal advice in the discharge of delegated functions?
- How will members be supported if their decisions are challenged, for example, by judicial review?
- How will councillors publicly record decisions made using their new powers?
- Integrating the learning and participation generated through the delegation in to wider initiatives and strategies including statutory ones to strengthen them.
- How the delegations support the council in meeting statutory duties in relation to equalities, Welsh language, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the duty to encourage participation in the 2021 Act.
For officers, in supporting elected members discharge delegated functions, things to think about include:
- working more closely with councillors to develop their knowledge and skills
- providing advice and reports to ensure delegated powers are used effectively and in accordance with duties placed upon the council, including advice on statutory duties such as those contained in the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015, the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 and the Equality Act 2010
- Will members need legal advice and support to discharge the delegated functions?
- How will members be supported if their decisions are challenged, for example, by judicial review?
- How will the decisions made by councillors with delegated functions be officially recorded?
- Implementing decisions that are made under delegated powers
- developing processes to appropriately record decisions made by a councillor under these powers
Some practical considerations
Practically speaking, most local authorities will probably wish to amend their constitutions to put in place arrangements for delegating powers to councillors. Councils may wish to utilise existing procedures used to delegate powers to cabinet members when developing frameworks for delegating functions to non-executive members. In particular, any decisions made by non-executive members using delegated functions should be subject to the same call-in procedures as relate to executive functions more generally. Further options councils may wish to adopt include:
- establishing enabling powers in their constitution for the purpose of delegating powers to non-executive members to be used as and when needed
- using delegated powers to tackle specific area based issues in response to local challenges
It is for councils to decide the extent and means by which they wish to use the powers under section 56. It is advised that councils should develop a protocol to define when and under what conditions a function will be delegated to a non-executive member. Also, that the training, development and support the councillor might require to undertake the role is considered as part of their annual training review. When making arrangements to delegate powers, councils should take into account the need to avoid the possibility of allegations of favouring councillors of a particular political persuasion. In multi-member wards, local authorities should make the same arrangements for delegated functions including any associated budgetary arrangements to apply to each elected member or to none.
The powers in the Measure relate to individual councillors but local authorities may need to put arrangements in place to ensure that delegated powers are used jointly by all members representing a particular ward especially if those members are from different political parties.
If functions are delegated to councillors within the same ward, councils may wish to produce guidance and support aimed at ensuring decisions undertaken in wards are co-ordinated and complementary in improving outcomes for local people.
Links with Councillor Calls for Action (CCfA)
Where councils have decided to take advantage of the powers under section 56, they will find that there are some close links with CCfA. Members exercising delegated powers may find that they have more opportunities to resolve issues locally without having recourse to CCfA. CCfAs on particular issues may encourage councils to use section 56 to delegate powers to members to resolve those issues locally.
Council Executives Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This guidance is statutory guidance issued under section 38 of the Local Government Act 2000 and a county or county borough council, elected mayor or executive leader must have regard to it. This section was amended by section 59 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 to provide for Welsh Ministers to issue guidance under section 38 which ‘may among other things, include provision designed to encourage good practice in relation to equality and diversity (within the meaning of section 8(2) of the Equality Act 2006).’
Purpose of this Guidance
The purpose of this guidance is to require the executive leader of a council to take into account diversity when appointing their cabinet. The aim is to support and encourage decision making in the executive which understands and reflects the diversity of the communities in the council area.
This guidance also requires council executives to take a proactive, positive and constructive approach to its interactions with scrutiny in the council.
Diversity in Cabinets
When establishing their cabinet the executive leader or elected mayor must have regard to statutory duties relating to equalities and the Welsh language. This includes consideration of the protected characteristics set out in the Equalities Act 2010, including the public sector duty to have due regard to the need to reduce the inequalities of outcome resulting from socio-economic disadvantage.
The leader or mayor must consider how their appointments to the cabinet reflect and support the diversity of the communities in the council area and as far as possible try to reflect this diversity. This is to ensure decision making in the executive is informed by a wide range of perspectives and experiences. The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 (the “2021 Act”) provides executive leaders with opportunities to increase the diversity in their cabinet through the use of job sharing arrangements and/or the appointment of assistants to the executive.
When appointing two or more members to a job sharing arrangement the leader must not make the cabinet role covered by the job sharing arrangement of such a size that it could not reasonably be undertaken by a single cabinet member working on their own. The workload of the role must not increase simply because two or more members will now be undertaking it. The purpose is to support diversity, including through succession planning, to enable members to genuinely share the role.
Job Sharing Executive Leaders and Executive Members
Section 58 of the 2021 Act amends the Local Government Act 2000 to require councils with executive arrangements to make provision enabling two or more councillors to share office on that executive, including the office of leader of the executive. It is envisaged, that the most likely scenario in the case of the leader of an executive, is that 2 or more members would mutually make an arrangement to stand for election as executive leader on the basis of a job-sharing arrangement. The executive procedures and council procedures must provide for this.
In the case of executive members, it is for the executive leader to determine appointments to the executive based on the arrangements set out and agreed in the council’s constitution. The constitution must set out the parameters for the operation of job-sharing arrangements in the executive. The number of executive posts (including that of executive leader) that can be filled on a job-sharing basis is limited to three by the 2000 Act. This is to ensure that in councils with a smaller number of members there are still sufficient members to provide proper scrutiny of the executive.
When making appointments on a job-sharing basis the executive leader should consider matters including how:
- this could increase the diversity in the executive to best reflect the diversity in the council’s area
- job-sharing members will be supported to ensure they can maintain a reasonable work life balance
- those arrangements may offer opportunities for succession planning in the executive
The terms of the job-sharing arrangements should be clear and agreed in advance. Members of the job sharing arrangement, their cabinet colleagues, other elected members and officers will need to understand how the responsibilities of the cabinet role subject to the job sharing arrangement are to be discharged. Job-sharing arrangements should not be used solely as a means of increasing the number of executive members or to create roles for job-sharing members which equate to workloads greater than if the cabinet position was held by an individual member. However, 1 member of the arrangement focusing on some aspects of the role and another member focusing on others enables skills and knowledge to be utilised to best effect.
In the case of both job-sharing executive leaders and job-sharing executive members, the two or more members in the job-sharing arrangement are to be treated as 1 member when attending a meeting in their capacity as members of the executive for voting purposes and for the purposes of determining whether a meeting is quorate. The exception is where 1 member of a job sharing arrangement makes a declaration of interest and has to recuse themselves from the meeting and voting, the other member or members of the arrangement may remain and exercise the vote ascribed to the job share arrangement.
Should 2 or more of the members in a job-sharing arrangement attend a meeting in their capacity as executive members they should both be recorded as having attended the meeting and they both may speak at the meeting. However, should the meeting require a vote to be cast, they must decide between them in advance who will cast their vote and inform the chair of the meeting. There is then a careful balance to be struck between pre-determination and proper preparation for the meeting amongst the job-sharers which should include an exploration on their position, what questions they may have on the matter and what further information they might wish to see, in the same way that it would be expected they would manage all aspects of their job-sharing arrangements to ensure continuity and consistency of approach between themselves.
If 1 member of a job-sharing arrangement attends a meeting in their capacity as a member of the executive and the meeting requires a vote then the attending member must cast their vote taking into account preparatory discussions with their job-sharing partners.
Where a member of a job-sharing arrangement casts a vote at a meeting they have attended which is subsequently identified as contrary to any preparatory discussions between job-sharing partners, unless the contradiction is attributable to debate and discussion in the meeting, then that vote may be treated as invalid for the purpose of decision making, as the vote is allocated to the job-sharing arrangement and not to the individual member of that arrangement who has attended the meeting.
It will be for each council to determine the appropriate course of action at that point, based on the specific circumstances, to ensure integrity of decision making is maintained. Councils should explain the significance of this aspect of job-sharing clearly to any members participating in executive job-sharing arrangements in advance and it should form part of induction and training for executive members.
As noted above, councils and job-sharing members should recognise that the successful operation of job-sharing arrangements will require the establishment of effective working arrangements from the outset and high levels of trust between the job-sharing members. The working arrangements should include how disputes between job-sharers will be resolved.
Councils will need to consider how they communicate the position in respect of job -share arrangements to external organisations to which job-sharing members are appointed in their capacity as an executive member.
Councils must consider the implications for political balance requirements for those committees which are subject to political balance requirements and on which a job-sharing member of the executive may sit i.e. the Governance and Audit Committee and the Democratic Services Committee. This will require consideration where a job-sharing arrangement consists of members from more than one political group or a political group or groups and an unaffiliated member or members (where an unaffiliated member is a member not registered with the proper officer as being a member of a political group for the purposes of sections 15 to 17 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989).
The treatment of job-sharing partners as if they were one member for the purposes of voting and quorums for meetings they attend as executive members does not extend to meetings they attend in their roles as members of the council.
Assistants to the Executive
Section 57 of the 2021 Act amends the 2000 Act to provide for the appointment of assistants to the executive. The aim is to support diversity by enabling members who might not be in a position to take up a full time executive role because of personal or other circumstances to have the opportunity to learn and develop. Whilst not members of the executive, assistants can attend and speak at executive meetings or at committees of the executive and could bring valuable diversity and insight into discussions.
The Council’s constitution, which must be agreed by the full council, and its executive arrangements must include provision as to the number of assistants to the executive that may be appointed, their term of office and their responsibilities. Again, there should be a clear purpose to the appointment of assistants to the executive, and these appointments should not be used solely as a means of increasing the number of members able to make a contribution to the running of the executive.
The 2000 Act (as amended) provides that neither the chair nor the vice-chair of the council nor the presiding member, or deputy presiding member can be appointed as assistants to the executive.
Whilst assistants to the executive are not members of the executive, they are treated as if they are members of the executive for the purposes of the allocation of seats on scrutiny committees where neither members of the executive nor assistants to the executive can be members. Likewise, the committees which are able to include one member of the executive, the Governance and Audit Committee, the Democratic Services Committee and the Standards Committee, can only have a member of the executive or an assistant to the executive as part of their membership (Schedule 6, to the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 and The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 Consequential Amendments (Job-Sharing and Assistants to the Executive) Regulations 2022.
Cabinets should recognise the importance of effective scrutiny for the good governance of the council overall and reflect this in their constitutions. They should respond promptly and constructively to requests from scrutiny for information, attendance at meetings and other reasonable requests.
Executives should note that Section 65 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 amended section 22(10) of the Local Government Act 2000 which provides Welsh Ministers with a power to make regulations which include provision for or in connection with requiring prescribed information about prescribed decisions made in connection with the discharge of functions which are the responsibility of a local authority executive to be made available to members of the public or members of the authority to include an overview and scrutiny committee of the authority or a sub-committee of such a committee. This is intended to convey the seriousness which Welsh Ministers attach to effective co-operation and information sharing between the executive and scrutiny and its place at the heart of the good and effective governance of the council.
Cabinets should set the tone for organisational commitment to effective scrutiny by ensuring there is parity of esteem between scrutiny and the executive and encouraging scrutiny to operate in a cross party constructive manner.
Cabinets should respond promptly and respectfully to recommendations from scrutiny explaining whether the recommendation will be accepted or rejected, the reasons for these decisions and what actions will be taken. Cabinets should publish their response electronically and the response should be available to the public except for matters exempt from publication.
Cabinets should be open to the need for appropriate use of call-ins and respond in a prompt and constructive manner to such requests. Cabinets should support the design of effective and proportionate call in rules which do not make call-ins overly difficult or impossible.
Leaders and cabinets should also be respectful and mindful of the role of statutory officers such as the chief executive, the monitoring officer and the section 151 officer and their appointment by and role in serving the council as a whole. In exercising their functions, leaders and cabinets must remain within the parameters of the statutory framework and the council’s own constitution. They must respect the role council officers play in advising them of these parameters and the interaction of this role with the scrutiny process and decisions required either by statute or the council’s constitution to be taken by the full council.
Political Assistants Non Statutory Guidance
Status of the guidance
This is non-statutory guidance on the appointment of political assistants to political groups.
Purpose of this guidance
The purpose of this guidance is to explain provisions in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 relating to the appointment of political assistants and to encourage councils to be open and transparent regarding the role and activities of the political assistants they employ.
Local authority political assistants are local government employees who undertake research and provide administrative support for the main political groups within an authority.
The existence of these posts allows a separation of professional officer and political roles and can enable the provision of advice to councillors that local authority officers are prevented from providing.
Part I of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 sets out the framework regulating the appointment and conduct of political assistants.
Under section 2 of the 1989 Act, the post of political assistant in a local authority is politically restricted. This means that, like other politically restricted posts, the post-holder cannot stand for election, act as an election agent or sub-agent, be an officer of a political party, manage a party or branch of a party, and cannot canvass on behalf of a political party or candidate for election.
Political assistants are, however, permitted to speak to the public with the intention of affecting support for a political party, but their actions must not give the impression that they are acting as the representative of the political party.
Political assistants are also able to publish or cause to be published written work or other material intended to affect public support for a political party, but they must not give the impression that the publication is authorised by the political party.
These rules were adopted to address concerns about political impartiality, conflict of interest and the use of taxpayer funds for political purposes in councils. Further details on the restrictions in place can be found in the Local Government Officers (Political Restrictions) Regulations 1990.
The restrictions take the form of terms and conditions that are deemed to be incorporated into those officers’ terms of appointment and conditions of employment. The restrictions applicable to all holders of politically restricted posts are set out in Part I of the Schedule to the Regulations. Part II of Schedule provides for further terms and conditions for political assistants.
Under section 9 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, a local authority may appoint up to 3 assistants for political groups subject to stringent conditions and safeguards.
The 3 largest political groups in each authority qualify for a political assistant if the membership of the group consists of at least 10% of the membership of the authority. The exception is where only one political group accounts for at least 10% of the membership, in which case the next biggest group also qualifies.
No appointments can be made until posts have been established for all qualifying groups, however, only one post can be appointed to a political party.
Under section 7 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 employees of a local authority must be appointed on merit. Section 9 provides an exception to this principle. The appointment of each political assistant is down to the political group each post (political assistant) is to represent. The appointee can take account of the candidate’s political activities during the selection process, although the posts are ‘politically restricted’ (as described above).
Once appointed line management responsibility for political assistants should be assigned to one of the authority’s senior officers. However, in practice, political assistants’ day to day work will be determined and managed by the relevant political group and its political group leader. Authorities should therefore consider how any conflicts or disputes will be resolved, perhaps through the development and agreement of a protocol.
Remuneration and contracts
It is for the authority to determine the salary payable, however, it is expected that local authorities show restraint and allow pay increases in a proportionate manner in line with wider local government pay.
The Local Government (Assistants for Political Groups) (Remuneration) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2019 sets the maximum level of potential pay that political assistants can be paid.
Under section 9(4)(b) of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 the maximum salary set by regulations is a full-time equivalent figure so it is not possible to pay an annual salary at an hourly rate for part-time hours if this would breach the maximum amount stipulated if the political assistant were to work full-time.
The contract of employment must terminate at or before the annual council meeting following the first elections after the person was appointed. However, this does not prevent the post holder being reappointed for a further term. The local authority cannot delegate any functions to an assistant, and no other authority officer can be required to work under the direction of an assistant (other than in respect of secretarial or clerical services).
Openness and transparency
Each local authority is under a duty to draw-up and regularly update a list of posts which are politically restricted and political assistants are expected to comply with the officer code of conduct of their authority.
Local authorities should consider publishing the details below as best practice:
- the total number of political assistants it employs
- the political group each assistant serves
- the number of councillors in each political group
- the number of hours per week for which each political group’s assistant is employed
Arrangements for Securing Effective Overview and Scrutiny Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This guidance is statutory guidance issued under section 38 of the Local Government Act 2000. A county or county borough council, elected mayor or an executive leader must have regard to it. It replaces previous guidance issued in 2012.
Purpose of this Guidance
The purpose of this guidance is to ensure councils have effective scrutiny arrangements and that procedures are in place to regularly review and seek to improve the effectiveness of those arrangements.
Overview and scrutiny is an essential element of the political and general governance of the council. The council and executive culture should be open to and supportive of scrutiny and scrutiny should be provided with staff and resources to enable it to effectively undertake its functions, including holding the council executive to account.
It is recognised that difficult decisions will always have to be made in relation to council finances but the overriding principle should be that investment in scrutiny also contributes to better services for local people by providing another channel for people to be involved in the decisions that affect them and driving a culture of learning and improvement across the council as whole. This principle should be considered in light of sections 39 to 41 of the Local Government and Elections Act 2021 (the 2021 Act) in terms of the duty to encourage local people to participate on decision making and prepare a strategy on encouraging participation and the duty on a principal council to keep its performance under review, including the conduct of its self and panel assessments and consulting local people as part of that duty as required by sections 89 and 90 of the 2021 Act.
Effective scrutiny of collaborative arrangements with other councils such as joint committees and corporate joint committees and cross public service partnership arrangements such as public service boards must be viewed as essential in ensuring that those arrangements are democratically accountable to local people.
Processes and Relationships
To achieve the policy intent scrutiny should not sit aside from other processes which form part of the council’s governance system. Arrangements for overview and scrutiny should be set out clearly in the council’s constitution and constitution guide required by section 37 of the Local Government Act 2000.
Scrutiny should be an integral part of the council’s self-assessment under Part 6 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 (the 2021 Act) and should also be considered when the council arranges its panel assessment.
The role scrutiny plays in involving local people to participate in decision making under section 39 of the 2021 Act should be set out in the strategy the council must prepare and consult upon in sections 40 and 41.
Scrutiny chairs should have good working relationships with each other and regularly discuss approaches to scrutiny and learn from the work of other scrutiny committees within the council and in other councils. Scrutiny chairs should also establish good working relationships with the chair of the governance and audit committee and the standards committee, as well as the chair or presiding member of the council and the chairs of other committees. They should also foster good working relationships with internal and external auditors and with regulators.
The effectiveness of scrutiny is in part dependent on mutual respect between those charged with scrutiny of the executive and the executive itself. Chairs should therefore develop constructive working relationships with the council’s executive in particular, the leader, cabinet members, chief executive and senior officials. The council’s executive are required to reciprocate this approach to constructive working under statutory guidance also issued under section 38 of the Local Government Act 2000.
All scrutiny committees should adopt the most effective ways of working to ensure they are able to fulfil their role. This may include:
- the consideration of matters as part of a multi-item committee agenda. Here, councils should ensure the number of items on a single agenda does not make it difficult for members to consider the matter in question in depth
- the consideration of matters at a single-item committee agenda. This provides more flexibility around approach, involving panels of witnesses, and potentially some public participation. One off “challenge panels” can be a proportionate and effective way to dig into a topic
- task and finish groups. “Task and finish” groups are small, informal groups of members, commissioned by a committee to investigate a topic and to report back. Task and finish groups are not subject to rules about the meeting of committees, because they are informal bodies
- the convening of a short task and finish group. A group that meets only a couple of times over a few weeks will be able to tackle a narrow, defined subject. It is likely to be possible for a review to be commissioned, and then to report back to the next meeting of the same committee
- the convening of a longer task and finish group. The “traditional” task and finish group model is for a body that meets multiple times over several month, building a comprehensive evidence base
The commissioning of task and finish groups, where it happens, should involve the agreement of a scope, setting out the terms of reference of the group and the timescale for carrying out its work.
Task and finish groups can meet either in private, or in public. When they have completed their work, task and finish groups should submit a report and recommendations to the committee that has commissioned them. This should also include some record of the proceedings of the group (including information on where, and from whom, evidence has been gathered), particularly if the group has met in private. The committee can then decide to adopt the recommendations, submitting them to the council’s executive or another body for a response.
All ways of working demand careful planning. Councils should, in programming work, consider in some detail the scope of a topic and how it should be considered so as to maximise its impact. In some cases this may involve councillors’ meetings beforehand, either in private or in public, to discuss questioning strategy, or otherwise meeting to plan scrutiny work. Resourcing arrangements for scrutiny should take into account the necessity for officer support for this planning activity.
Resourcing and Information
To be effective scrutiny must be resourced and have access to officers dedicated to supporting scrutiny committees to plan, manage and execute their work programmes. Officers not directly supporting scrutiny should be mindful that their employment is with the council and not the executive, they should therefore provide scrutiny committees with support and information in a constructive and timely manner to assist their work. This may sometimes present challenges for officers but members of scrutiny committees and members of the executive should also be mindful of these conflicts and these matters should be considered when protocols are developed governing the relationships between officers and members for inclusion in the council’s constitution.
Section 65 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 amended section 22(10) of the Local Government Act 2000 which provides Welsh Ministers with a power to make regulations which include provision for or in connection with requiring prescribed information about prescribed decisions made in connection with the discharge of functions which are the responsibility of a local authority executive to be made available to members of the public or members of the authority to include an overview and scrutiny committee of the authority or a sub-committee of such a committee. This is intended to convey the seriousness which Welsh Ministers attach to effective co-operation and information sharing between the executive and scrutiny and its place at the heart of the good and effective governance of the council.
Effective scrutiny is itself open to regular review and arrangements should be put in place for this to take place as part of the council’s self-assessment processes. Peer review is also a good way to review effectiveness and learn from the experience of other scrutineers.
Appointment of Persons to Chair Overview and Scrutiny Committees Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance made under Section 75 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure). This guidance replaces previous guidance issued under this section in relation to the appointment of persons to chair overview and scrutiny committees in 2012.
Purpose of this Guidance
To provide guidance to councils on the appointment of persons to chair overview and scrutiny committees.
Part 6 of the Measure deals with overview and scrutiny, including, from sections 66 to 75, provisions relating to the appointment of chairs of overview and scrutiny committees (scrutiny committees). The policy intent is to ensure overview and scrutiny is not dominated by the political groups on the executive of the council, and can act independently.
What the Measure requires
Local authorities must include within their standing orders arrangements for the appointment of the chairs of their scrutiny committees which are in line with the following:
Council with no political groups declared
Each scrutiny committee elects its own chair.
Council with only one declared political group
Each scrutiny committee elects its own chair.
Council has 2 political groups but only 1 scrutiny committee
The scrutiny committee elects its own chair. If, however, one of the groups (A) is represented in the council executive but the other (B) is not, that other group (B) must be left to appoint the chair.
Council with 2 or more political groups and multiple scrutiny committees
If there is more than one political group on the executive they can only be allocated as many chairs as is proportionate to their combined share of the council’s total membership. This should be rounded down if it does not equate a whole number. It is then for the political groups on the executive to decide on the distribution of the executive’s allocation of chairs between themselves.
The rest of the scrutiny chairs are the “property” of those groups not represented in the executive. If there is only one such group, they are entitled to all the remaining chairs. If there is more than one non-executive group, each gets a share of the chairs in proportion to their membership, rounding down to the nearest whole number, including zero. For example:
- number of members of council = 60
- number in executive groups(s) = 26
- number of scrutiny chairs = 5
- number for executive groups = 2
- number of chairs remaining = 3
- number of non-executive group(s) = 3
- size of non-executive group C = 16
- size of non-executive group D = 6
- size of non-executive group E = 2
- entitlement to scrutiny chairs of C = 2
- entitlement of scrutiny chairs of D = 1
- entitlement of scrutiny chairs of E = 0
Should there be any unallocated chairs following this calculation, then the chair is to be appointed by the members of that committee(s).
If all political groups in an authority are represented in the executive and the rounding down process results in unallocated chairs, any such chairs are also to be appointed by the members of those committees.
Council where political group refuses to take allocation of chairs
Where a political group declines to take its allotment of chairs, none of those chairs can be allocated to an executive group. The vacant positions are to be offered to the other political groups in proportion to their size. In the example above, if A refused their 2 chairs, the opposition groups would be entitled to appoint the chairs of 5 committees and the allocations should be C = 3, D = 1, E = 1. If C refused their 2 chairs, the other groups would be entitled to one each. If D refused its single chair that would go to E, as group C has already had its allocation rounded up to give it 2.
In a council where there is only one non-executive group and this group is declining its chairs, or in a council where there are other non-executive groups but each of them declines to take the vacant chairs, it is left to each scrutiny committee to elect its own chair from any of its membership.
Political make-up of the executive changes
If a political group leaves or joins the executive, the exercise of allocation of chairs begins again in accord with the provisions described above.
Filling casual vacancies
Should a scrutiny chair be vacated for some reason, the chair should normally be allocated to the same political group as the outgoing chair. If, however, the chair has been elected by the committee itself, then the committee should appoint the new chair.
Council wishes to operate different allocation system
A council may decide to abandon the processes outlined above, but only if it wishes to bring about an allocation of scrutiny chairs which is more favourable to the non-executive groups than would be produced by the prescribed procedures. For this to happen, a majority within each political group must support the alternative proposal, and the proposal must be approved by a resolution of the full council, with a majority of members of every political group voting in favour of the resolution.
Appointment of vice-chairs
The allocation of any committee vice-chairs is a matter for each authority to decide upon.
Welsh Ministers may make regulations in relation to the allocation of chairs and also issue directions. At the time of issuing this guidance there are no plans to do either.
The provisions of sections 66 onwards provide little room for manoeuvre. Councils’ standing orders should set a timetable for the appointment processes to be completed.
Where a situation arises where the allocation procedures outlined in this guidance appear inadequate to deal with a particular situation, councils should first consult their legal advisers for an opinion. Welsh Government officials may be contacted for advice by those legal advisers if necessary.
The spirit of the legislation is clear. It reflects a policy position in favour of scrutiny being, as far as possible, independent from the leadership of a council.
Co-opted Members of Overview and Scrutiny Committees Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance made under Section 76 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure). It relates to the co-option of persons that are not members of local authorities onto their overview and scrutiny committees in accordance with section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000. This guidance replaces previous guidance issued in 2012.
Purpose of this Guidance
The purpose of this guidance is to provide a framework for councils to consider when appointing co-opted members to overview and scrutiny committees. In particular it requires councils to have regard to how co-option could bring a wide range of different skills and increased diversity to overview and scrutiny committees.
Co-option of members to overview and scrutiny committees who are not councillors is a way to build a more diverse membership. It can provide a way to support broader public participation in local democracy and should form part of the council’s strategy on encouraging participation as required by section 40 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021.
In making arrangements for co-option, councils might:
- think about the needs of under-represented groups, and the barriers that might otherwise exist for such groups to engage with the business of the authority
- consider co-option alongside other methods of assuring public participation such as inviting people with valuable perspectives and experience to engage as witnesses or technical advisers as co-option may not always be the best way to garner the views and experience of some people
Co-opted members on committees can significantly strengthen their effectiveness by bringing different perspectives. Whilst co-option is only one method by which the views of stakeholders can help shape the work of scrutiny committees, it is considered by the Welsh Government to be an important tool in achieving ‘buy-in’ from representative groups and individuals that may otherwise be disengaged from local decision-making processes. Co-option can serve to strengthen Members’ community leadership role through the provision of alternative perspectives and the facilitation of stronger area- based networks and contacts.
The Welsh Government considers that including a broader range of specialists, community representatives and service-users in scrutiny exercises is advantageous, and that proactively engaging co-optees in scrutiny activity, enables elected members to send powerful messages about involving people and partners through their own structures and practice.
In recognition of the rich impact multi-perspective scrutiny can have in driving improvement, panels have been established to scrutinise the work of Public Service Boards whose membership span sectoral, organisational and geographic boundaries. To date these panels have included co-optees from voluntary organisations, local health boards, community health councils, police and crime panels, Natural Resources Wales, and local business forums who have been working alongside elected members to improve local services. When appointing co-optees from partner public bodies, individuals should be from a non-executive function within their organisation, where possible, to avoid any conflict of interest.
Some of the important benefits accruing from these arrangements have been the cross-transference of learning and the breaking down of organisational fragmentation in addressing ‘wicked issues’. These practices have indicated that partnership working and co-option may be seen as processes that increase local democratic input and integration across different parts of the public sector.
Deciding when to co-opt
Any appointment of co-optees should be informed by scrutiny forward work plans and what outcomes elected members are seeking to achieve as the result of planned scrutiny exercises. Councils are advised to think carefully about the use of co-option as a means to develop partner relations or improved public connections that may add significant value to the work of scrutiny committees.
In all instances where co-option is being considered, care should be taken to ensure that co-option is in fact the best way for some individuals or groups of interest to be involved in the work of scrutiny committees. Groups of interest should include protected characteristics equality groups in recognition of the value these perspectives can add to the work of local authority scrutiny committees. In some circumstances it may be more appropriate for stakeholders to act as ‘expert advisors’ of a task and finish group or to be included as an invitee at scrutiny committee meetings. For example, some vulnerable groups or service users may feel intimidated by the formality of full committee meetings and may wish to submit written or oral evidence in support of a scrutiny review. The nature of stakeholder involvement in scrutiny work will need to be established on a case by case basis.
Also, organisations who are financially supported by partner agencies may feel reluctant to challenge the performance of funding providers in a public arena. Steps should be taken to minimise the risk of co-optees experiencing conflicts of interest as a result of being involved in scrutiny work.
Identifying potential co-opted members
Councils may wish to think about employing several strategies to identify co- optees that are likely to enrich scrutiny activity.
For example, councils may wish to:
- approach town and community councils in the area to nominate representatives for co-option on to committees
- advertise in the local press
- utilise social networking sites
- approach wider ‘sectoral organisations’ such as the voluntary sector or local business forums for co-optee nomination
- invite former co-optees with specific interest or expertise, to attend scrutiny meetings in an ‘advisory capacity’ when there are relevant items on the agenda
Councils may also wish to develop an application form for groups or individuals to complete to express an interest in becoming a co-optee. Such forms could be made available from the scrutiny web pages of local authorities or advertised in the local press. Again, consideration should be given to protected characteristic equality groups.
Recruiting co-opted members
Councils will need to ensure that recruitment processes in relation to co-optees, whether this be on an individual or representational basis, are inclusive and fair so as to encourage people with a wide diversity of knowledge, skills and experience to participate in scrutiny activity.
To assist committees in recruiting co-optees it is suggested that councils consider developing outline role descriptions for co-opted members. These would help to clarify the expectations of both committees and potential co-opted members. Some councils have also found it helpful when selecting a co-opted member when more than 1 application has been received to identify competencies against which an application for a position is evaluated.
However, as a general rule it is suggested that committees should ensure co-opted members are able to:
- represent the interests of the population that receive services provided by or commissioned by public service providers
- contribute expert knowledge or skills that will lead to a rigorous and objective scrutiny of the issues under review
- live or work in the county or county borough area
Councils should have a protocol to govern co-option to scrutiny committees, to provide consistency and transparency on these issues. The protocol should form part of scrutiny’s rules of procedure.
Scrutiny Committees: number of co-opted members
In recognition of the democratic mandate of councillors it is recommended that the number of co-opted members on a scrutiny committee should not exceed a third of the total membership of the committee.
It is suggested however, that approaches to co-option be informed by an appreciation of what the co-optee will be able to contribute to the issue under consideration rather than a narrow focus on numbers of co-opted members.
Such an approach will help committees decide whether or not the participation of co-opted members remains relevant to its work priorities or whether there is need to refresh co-opted membership from time to time.
Sub-Committees: number of co-opted members
In recognition of the varied ways in which sub-committees operate, it is recommended that no limit be placed on the number of co-opted members that may participate in a sub-committee.
However, it is considered that it should be the case that co-opted members should not comprise the whole membership of the sub-committee.
Types of appointment for co-opted Members
As previously highlighted, scrutiny committees have a wide range of options available to them with regard to appointing co-opted members.
In their recruitment processes councils may specify that the appointment of a co-opted member is to be:
- for the life of the committee
- until such time as it decides to terminate the appointment
- for the purpose of a particular review or performance monitoring exercise
It is advised that successful applicants be required to sign a statement of appointment that will include terms governing appropriate conduct. Specifically, on accepting office, co-opted members should be required to declare that they will observe the Code of Conduct for Members in the particular council’s constitution which covers, among other matters, treating others with respect, not disclosing confidential information and disclosing relevant personal interests.
To ensure that co-opted members are provided with the information and skills necessary to fully participate in scrutiny activity, it is recommended that councils take steps to provide co-optees with appropriate induction training in addition to other training and developmental opportunities.
Voting rights and Code of Conduct
The Measure does not afford co-opted members of scrutiny committees with any voting rights. Consequently, they are therefore not bound by statute to comply with the Code of Conduct for Elected members as provided for by Part 3 of the Local Government Act 2000. However, co-opted members should be encouraged to abide by the principles set out in the code and conduct themselves to the highest standards of ethical behaviour. There are other statutory co-optees whose roles attract voting rights. These include: those members co-opted under the provisions of paragraph 8 to Schedule 1 to the Local Government Act 2000, the Parent Governor Representatives and Church Representatives (Wales) Regulations 2001 and the Crime and Disorder (Overview and Scrutiny) Regulations 2009. Any members co-opted under these provisions are required by law to comply with the Code of Conduct.
Call in’ Arrangements in relation to Overview and Scrutiny Committees Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This guidance is statutory guidance issued under section 38 of the Local Government Act 2000. A county or county borough council elected mayor or an executive leader must have regard to it. This guidance replaces any previous guidance issued on this matter.
Purpose of this Guidance
The purpose of this guidance is to set out matters local authorities should take in to account when making their arrangements under section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 in relation to the powers of overview and scrutiny committees to review and scrutinise decisions made, including those not yet implemented by the executive and make recommendations for those decisions to be reconsidered. The process commonly referred to as ‘call in’.
The call in process is an important part of the political governance of the council. The rules of procedure a council sets out in relation to call in should strike a balance between enabling open and transparent overview and scrutiny of decisions and preventing deliberate filibustering of the council’s operation. For these reasons, councils should ensure that clear and consistent call-in rules form a part of their constitutions.
Call-ins should not be regarded as a regular tool for scrutiny and they should not by default become a means of compensating for deficiencies elsewhere in scrutiny procedures. The more constructive approach is to put in place procedures which facilitate more, proportionate, pre-decision scrutiny.
Call-in rules should make reference to:
- the kinds of decision which will be subject to call-in. These will usually be key decisions, set out in the executive’s forward plan
- the number of councillors who need to request a call-in for it to be valid
- any other limits to call-in requests for example, a need for a decision to cover two or more electoral divisions in order to be valid
- process requirements, for example, the need to fill in a form stating reasons for the call-in, which would then be published. In general councils should ensure that call-in requests do not need to satisfy too many bureaucratic requirements, and that they ensure that call-ins can happen where politicians recognise a pressing need for a decision to be reconsidered
- the timescale, after a decision is made, within which a valid call-in request might be made and accepted
- the arrangements for organising a meeting of an overview and scrutiny committee once a valid call-in request is received
- arrangements for how such a meeting is carried out. This may include a right for a councillor or councillors requesting a call-in to set out their reasons for doing so
- the recommendations that the scrutiny committee can make. These might be to take no further action (allowing the decision to be immediately implemented) or to make recommendations to the executive that the decision should be amended, or withdrawn entirely
- arrangements for the executive to provide a response to the scrutiny committee
Call-in rules should not be designed to make call-ins essentially impossible (for example, by requiring that two members of a scrutiny committee request a call-in where political balance requires that only one member of each committee is a member of the opposition). For this reason, councils should review their call-in rules following elections to ensure that they still allow for the proportionate use of this power.
Councillor Calls for Action Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance made under Section 21A(3) of the Local Government Act 2000 (the 2000 Act). This guidance replaces previous guidance on this matter issued in 2012.
Purpose of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance issued under section 21A(3) of the 2000 Act (as amended by section 63 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (the 2011 Measure)), to which a member of an authority must have regard in considering whether to make a call for action. Councillor calls for action (CCfAs) enable local councillors and their electors to ensure a response from their council leadership to issues of local importance. CCfAs should be regarded as one of a series of tools elected members have at their disposal to resolve local issues and make a positive difference in their community.
Section 63 of the 2011 Measure amends Section 21A of the Local Government Act 2000 to enable any councillor of a principal council in Wales to refer a matter to an overview and scrutiny committee which relates to the discharge of any of the functions of the council or which affects all or part of the electoral area which the councillor represents.
This provision pre-dates the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, but reflects its principles that outcomes such as improved health, educational attainment and employment should be co-produced through the joint efforts of service users, service providers and others. CCfAs can offer a valuable form of community intelligence which can contribute to developing and delivering a shared vision for the locality. The CCfA should be understood as a means of “last resort” in a broad sense, with issues being raised at a scrutiny committee after other avenues have been explored. As such, the process should make it easier for issues that would benefit from scrutiny consideration to be identified, and for those issues which are best dealt with through other means to be signposted accordingly. It might be helpful to identify research support for members considering a CCfA to either ensure it is the appropriate course of action or to build a well evidenced case to enable effective scrutiny and consideration.
Therefore, for CCfA to act effectively as an improvement tool, discussions about how to put CCfA procedures in place should focus less on process and more on outcomes. Since it is likely that the types of issues that would make for a CCfA would be cross-cutting and multi-agency in nature, thought should be given to the types of things that may constitute a satisfactory ‘resolution’ for councillors and by extension, local communities.
Purpose and objectives of the CCfA
The CCfA provisions should be seen in the wider context of strengthening local democracy and widening participation in local decision making. They should be considered in the context of duties placed on the council in sections 39 to 41 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 relating to encouraging local people to participate in decision making.
As such, CCfA should not be regarded solely as a ‘scrutiny’ process. Instead Councils should consider it within the context of making improvements more generally to a wider range of council functions aimed at supporting participatory democratic activity. This includes support for members in their constituency roles as well as activities such as complaints, and consultation processes that capture public experience and opinion.
This guidance is not about providing authorities with a prescriptive ‘instruction manual’ as to how councils must set about putting CCfAs in practice. Instead, it provides a series of considerations and analysis to those authorities that recognise the value of identifying and acting upon the local knowledge that elected members can channel and who wish to use CCfA.
The purpose is to ensure that executive arrangements by a local authority enable any member of the council to refer to an overview and scrutiny committee a “local government matter” which falls within the committee’s remit. A referral in this way will ensure that the matter is included in the agenda and discussed at the committee. However, in making such a referral the member must have regard to any guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers.
If the overview and scrutiny committee receives a referral from a member who is not on the committee, it can choose to do any of the things that it might normally do with a new item. These include: reviewing and scrutinising decisions and actions, and making reports and recommendations.
In deciding whether to do any of these things, the committee may “have regard to” 2 particular points:
- anything that the member may have already done in relation to the matter, particularly if they have been empowered to do so by the council under section 56 of the 2011 Measure
- representations made by the elected member as to why the committee should take the matter up. If the committee decides not to take the matter up, it must explain the reasons why to the member. However, if the committee chooses to conduct some work on the issue, it must make sure that the elected member has a copy of any reports or recommendations that it makes in relation to it
Subsection (12) of section 21A of the 2000 Act defines ‘local government matter’ in relation to a member of a local authority in Wales as a matter which is not an excluded matter and which:
- relates to the discharge of any function of the authority
- affects all or part of the electoral area for which the member is elected or any person who lives or works in that area
Subsection (13) of section 21A of the 2000 Act defines what is meant by an excluded matter in subsection (12). It is described as any matter which is:
- a local crime and disorder matter within the meaning of section 19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 (local authority scrutiny of crime and disorder matters)
- a matter of any description specified in an order made by the Welsh Ministers for the purposes of this section
It can be seen that subsection (12)(b) allows for a broad range of issues that may be referred to an overview and scrutiny committee by a local authority member. As such, local authorities will need to ensure that implementation of CCfA is sufficiently responsive and wide ranging.
For example, it may be the case that a CCfA identifies a cross-cutting issue such as access to local dental services which could necessitate the scrutiny committee considering engagement with public service partners. In these instances CCfA can be used to develop closer links between councils and external partners.
When deciding upon whether or not to address an issue raised by CCfA at a scrutiny committee meeting, committees may find it helpful to use criteria for referral.
In considering how to respond to a CCfA, committees have a wide range of options available to them. They could, for example, call members and officers to attend a meeting and answer questions, instigate a review of policy, or, depending on the nature of the CCfA, make reports or recommendations to the decision making body of the relevant partner(s). Committees should think about the levels of formality that would be most appropriate in addressing issues in a way that helps facilitate positive outcomes.
Regarding how best to make use of the resources available to them, scrutiny committees should also assess how the problem may fit with existing programmes of work. CCfAs that can be considered as a complementary part of a scrutiny committee’s forward work programme should similarly themed or related topics already have been included. In these instances, taking into account the steps councillors will already have taken in trying to resolve a community issue CCfAs can be considered as providing an evidence base to inform the committee’s next steps.
The concept of resolution is arguably the issue at the centre of CCfA, i.e. ensuring that CCfA actually helps councillors to resolve intractable issues. The purpose of CCfA is to provide resolution where other techniques might not be able to do so, so the first step is to try to see if the issue has been or can be resolved through other means. This should be central to a council’s procedures for raising and addressing CCfAs. As highlighted earlier, the deployment of a CCfA should be regarded as a last resort after other avenues have proved unsatisfactory. Consequently, the successful operation of CCfA will be reliant on the effectiveness of existing mechanisms in place aimed at supporting councillors in their constituency role.
Due to the potential cross-cutting and intractable nature of the social problems likely to be raised under CCfA, it is probable that there be no ‘quick fix’ of the issue under discussion. Therefore, in order for CCfA to make any headway in addressing local issues, it is advisable that councils should seek to make processes sufficiently adjustable so not to limit openness or exploratory discussion.
In practical terms it may help if local authority procedures specified that the councillor raising an issue articulates what they would regard as a successful outcome or resolution at the beginning of the CCfA process. Such outcomes could be revised by an appropriate scrutiny committee following initial enquiry. These initial objectives could act as the indicator of success against which the progress of a CCfA could be considered.
Before a CCfA is escalated to a full scrutiny committee meeting, councillors should first consider the following options in resolving a community issue:
- informal discussions with officers or other councillors
- informal discussions with partner representatives
- referral of matters to other ‘scrutiny bodies’ or internal audit committees
- formal discussions with officers and councillors
- formal letters to Executive Members
- asking questions at Full Council
- submitting a motion to Full Council
- organising public meetings
- use of petitions
- making a complaint
- freedom of Information requests to other bodies
- communication with local MSs or MPs
- use of social media or email based campaigns
In order for the CCfA to be effective in identifying and addressing public concern, the local authority’s leadership together with senior officers within partner agencies will need to support the following principles:
- appreciation of the role scrutiny can play as a driver of service improvement and its responsiveness to the needs of people in the area
- willingness to address unsatisfactory performance and a recognition of the need to resolve problems through discussion
- transparency in decision making processes and inclusion of the scrutiny process at all stages
- understanding, and a willingness to bolster the multi-faceted ‘Community Leadership’ role undertaken by members in their communities
- appreciation of the active part that service users and the wider community play in achieving improved outcomes
Each issue attempted to be raised as a CCfA will have to be considered on its own merits. But it must be demonstrable that each issue raised as a CCfA has been given due and appropriate consideration even if it is then determined it does not meet the criteria the council has set.
Scrutiny committees often examine issues which are highly political in nature and this should not necessarily be viewed as a negative thing. Elected members can use the power of political debate to give proper consideration and analysis to controversial issues and in many cases a councillor’s local knowledge can result in significant investigatory impact in helping identify constructive ways forward.
Working with partners
Success in dealing with CCfA issues that involve partners will usually involve those partners having been a part of the initial discussions leading to CCfA being established in a local authority. If partners have been part of those discussions it follows that it is more likely that they will be willing to work with scrutiny committees to resolve local issues.
Good management of partnership relations by scrutiny committees can be beneficial for both partners and elected members. Using CCfA, Scrutiny can play an important role in linking partners up across the spectrum of local policy making. Partnership scrutiny can assist integration as well as ensuring local needs and aspirations are represented in decision making processes.
Links to community safety issues
The Police and Justice Act 2006 (the 2006 Act) provides for a CCfA mechanism to deal with community safety and crime and disorder matters. The 2006 Act requires that the designated Crime and Disorder Committee consider all crime and disorder matters including community safety CCfAs. However, it may be the case that a cross-cutting issue such as substance misuse which draws upon a wide range of agencies is raised as a CCfA and it is unclear which committee is best placed to consider it.
In these instances, councils will need to bear in mind that the most important consideration is for the issue to be discussed in its entirety rather than adopt a rigid structural approach which further fragments enquiry. It may be the case that scrutiny chairs adopt a pragmatic approach about which committee should address a CCfA which has both crime and disorder and other subject elements. For example, it might be the case that scrutiny committees invite additional scrutiny chairs to meetings where CCfAs are being considered as linked to their relevant areas of expertise.
Links with section 56 of the 2011 Measure (exercise of functions by councillors)
It might be that where councils have chosen to take advantage of the power to delegate functions under section 56, there are close links with CCfA. It could be that members exercising delegated powers will have more opportunities to resolve issues locally without having recourse to CCfA. CCfAs on particular issues may encourage councils to use section 56 to delegate powers to members to resolve those issues locally, further strengthening the council’s responsiveness in improving local services.
Overview and Scrutiny Committees: taking into account the views of the public
Status of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance issued under section 62(4) and (5) of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure). A local authority and an overview and scrutiny committee must have regard to this guidance in complying with their obligations under section 62 ‘Taking into account the views of the public’. This guidance replaces previous guidance on this matter issued in 2012.
Purpose of this Guidance
Overview and scrutiny committees as to how to comply with the requirements set out in section 62 of the Measure. This guidance relates to all overview and scrutiny committees and their sub-Committees, and to any joint overview and scrutiny committees and sub-Committees of joint overview and scrutiny committees (referred to in the legislation as “relevant overview and scrutiny committees”).
Effective scrutiny is integral to helping people feel they are able to influence what goes on in their locality. Scrutiny has an important role in stimulating connections between different individuals and groups, and channelling community intelligence into the improvement processes of the council and its partners. In this respect, the scrutiny function can be regarded as helping to both build and represent democratic capacity. Before this can happen however, people need to know about their options to make their views known when they want to.
Engaging the public more deeply in scrutiny activity may be regarded as a hallmark of healthy democracy. Better communication about local decision-making processes and greater representative participation will help ensure more direct experiences of community life inform strategic thinking and operational practice. It is also an important element of the council being able to demonstrate it is complying with the duty in section 39 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 (the 2021 Act) to encourage local people to participate in decision making. The arrangements for taking into account the views of the public in the scrutiny process should be set out in the strategy on encouraging participation required by section 40 of the 2021 Act.
Section 62 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (“the Measure”) places a requirement on local authorities to make arrangements that enable all persons who live or work in the area to bring to the attention of the relevant overview and scrutiny committees their views on any matter under consideration by the committee.
Furthermore, section 62 provides that an overview and scrutiny committee must take into account any views brought to its attention in accordance with arrangements under this section.
Raising public awareness about scrutiny
To enable the public to effectively engage with overview and scrutiny committees, the Welsh Government considers people should first be informed about their council’s scrutiny function and programmes of planned work.
As such, overview and scrutiny committees are expected to make strong efforts to raise public awareness about their role and function, including how people and communities can help shape and contribute to the delivery of scrutiny committee forward work programmes (FWP). This should also be included and publicised in the council’s strategy on encouraging participation required by section 40 of the 2021 Act.
Several principal councils have already developed good quality websites which inform members of the public about the way in which decisions are made by a local authority and how people may engage in the work of overview and scrutiny committees. This should also form part of the guide to the constitution required to be published electronically and kept up to date under section 37 of the Local Government Act 2000.
There should be clear reference to overview and scrutiny on the council’s website with easy links to meeting schedules and documentation required by Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972. Local authorities should consider the list below which sets out some of the additional information that could be included on their scrutiny webpages:
- an accessible guide to the local authority’s decision-making processes
- an accessible guide to the local authority’s scrutiny function
- overview and scrutiny committee FWPs
- copies of the annual report of overview and scrutiny committees
- a list of criteria as to what would make a good scrutiny item
- forms by which members of the public can identify issues for scrutiny
- forms by which members of the public can put themselves forward to offer comments upon any item included for discussion on a relevant overview and scrutiny committee’s FWP
- forms by which members of the public may nominate themselves to attend an overview and scrutiny committee to provide evidence, information, comment or views in relation to any topic being considered by such a committee. This will include directions as to how a member of the public may submit views related to Call-Ins
- forms by which members of the public may nominate themselves to participate as a co-opted member of an overview and scrutiny committee
- details of Chairs and support staff of overview and scrutiny committees and how they may be contacted
The Welsh Government considers public engagement in scrutiny is vital in improving the design and delivery of local services from a citizen-perspective. Input from a range of stakeholders can assist in understanding the complexities that often characterise social problems and scrutiny committees can play an important role in gathering necessary intelligence.
In formulating their arrangements for taking in to account the views of the public councils must have regard to their statutory duties in relation to equalities, including the public sector socio-economic duty and the Welsh language. Arrangements must facilitate and support the ability for people and communities from all backgrounds and protected characteristics to be able to engage constructively and easily with scrutiny.
It is recommended that local authorities develop internal mechanisms to better enable all members of the public engage in scrutiny activity. Such mechanisms should take accessibility into account and may include the following:
- request that an item be placed on an agenda for consideration by an overview and scrutiny committee (providing this is of immediate relevance to a topic included on its FWP)
- submit evidence (oral or written) to a planned or ongoing scrutiny review or investigation
- participate as a co-opted Member
- submit evidence (oral or written) relating to a Call-In of an Executive decision
Arrangements may take the form of public speaking arrangements in some cases, or developing reports summarising written submissions in others. Committees should take the preferences of the member or member of the public concerned into account. It is recognised that safeguards may need to be built into processes to protect against committees being lobbied in potentially vexatious ways. Overview and scrutiny committees may still refuse public requests to include particular items on their agendas but in doing so should produce a clear rationale to account for their decision.
This rationale could link to criteria that committees will have developed in formulating their overview and scrutiny committees’ FWPs. Committees should explain why they may refuse to consider a public request for scrutiny or to exclude particular information from their investigative work.
In managing the engagement process it may help a local authority to differentiate between public contributions to scrutiny which are unsolicited, such as a councillor call for action or an external request for an item to be placed on an agenda, and those which have been actively sought by an overview and scrutiny committee in support of a planned review or investigation.
In either case, any such arrangements made by local authorities should recognise the distinct timescales that direct different forms of scrutiny activity in order that public contributions can influence committee work programmes in an appropriate and timely manner.
It is recommended that arrangements are made to give careful consideration to ensuring the credibility and applicability of public contributions to the scrutiny process. This will ensure that the work of the relevant overview and scrutiny committees is informed by accurate and relevant evidence.
In order to manage the differing ways in which members of the public may engage with the work of scrutiny it is recommended that a series of protocols be developed to assist in the consistent application of practices. The aim of the protocols will be to manage public expectations in terms of setting out how any information submitted to relevant overview and scrutiny committees will be used and detailing how and when feedback will be provided. It is recommended that local authorities develop protocols to cover the following:
- public speaking arrangements at Scrutiny Committee / Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees (JOSC) meetings (to include Call-In)
- public involvement in Sub-Committee and / or Task and Finish group meetings
- managing a request for scrutiny (including petitions)
- dealing with requests for public co-option
Publication of forward work programmes
The timely publication and regular updating of forward work programmes of overview and scrutiny committees is essential in facilitating meaningful engagement from the public in scrutiny. This should again be included in the council’s strategy on encouraging participation in decision making published under section 40 of the 2021 Act.
It is expected that scrutiny committees publish details of their annual FWP on the council’s webpages in a clearly signposted section of the website dedicated to scrutiny.
To encourage greater collaboration between local authorities in the undertaking of joint scrutiny, it is recommended that overview and scrutiny committees FWPs be published near the start of the municipal year. This will allow such committees to better co-ordinate planned activity with relevant councils and other public sector agencies.
In addition, in order to stimulate interest within existing community networks and representative groups, relevant overview and scrutiny committees should consider sending copies of their FWP to the following:
- Local voluntary sector organisations
- Police and Crime Panels
- Fire and Rescue Authorities
- Youth Councils
- National Parks
- Town and Community Councils
It is recommended that this take place at the start of the FWP period and make clear that the FWPs of overview and scrutiny committees are flexible and may change according to local priorities. In addition, local authorities may wish to consider containing information in the FWP about how members of the public may assist in developing and delivering overview and scrutiny committees’ FWPs.
Public Engagement and Call-In
In respect of decisions of a council’s executive which have been called-in the local authority may wish to develop public speaking arrangements specifically for these occasions.
Where the subject matter under consideration is not confidential or exempt, such arrangements could recognise the time-limited nature of call-ins by giving the Chair discretion to allow public speakers to provide information and also respond to information presented during the course of discussion. The Chair may be given discretion to allow for multiple representations to be made at a Call-In meeting to allow for different public perspectives to inform the Committee’s deliberations.
The Chair could also have the discretion to stop a speaker at any time in proceedings if in their view a speaker is making comments that are, or appear to be, defamatory, vexatious, discriminatory or offensive.
Engaging with the third sector
The third sector in Wales has a wealth of specialist expertise and frontline experience in a wide range of areas and can provide means of entry for often disenfranchised people into local decision making.
For that reason the Welsh Government considers the voluntary sector has an important role to play in providing input to local government overview and scrutiny. Councils should develop protocols with County Voluntary Councils as an integral part of their arrangements in complying with section 62 of the Measure. These should include consideration of co-option, regular meetings between scrutiny chairs and voluntary sector representatives and use of voluntary sector networks as a means to inform and engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the work of scrutiny.
Taking the public’s views into account
An overview and scrutiny committee must take into account any views brought to its attention. In practice this will mean developing appropriate methods by which a member of the public may engage with the scrutiny process as considered above and pro-actively managing the overview and scrutiny committee’s interface with written and oral submissions. Authorities will need to have in place methods to deal with requests for scrutiny and / or public oral or written submissions which are vexatious, discriminatory, inappropriate or unreasonable.
In the event a member of the public requests an issue for scrutiny, then it is recommended a report detailing their submission is considered at the next relevant overview and scrutiny committee meeting. Good practice would also suggest that the person who submitted the issue is invited to attend a meeting to present their views to elected members in person. However, attendance at formal overview and scrutiny committees may not be an attractive or appropriate proposition for some people and so arrangements could be made to ensure their views are nevertheless presented for consideration.
Regardless of whether or not an overview and scrutiny committee decides to further investigate a public request for scrutiny, it is recommended that the committee provide full feedback as to their decision to the person who submitted the original request, together with a rationale for the course of action adopted.
On those occasions where an overview and scrutiny committee receives a number of written submissions from the public in relation to a single topic under consideration, then it is recommended a summary report be presented to the relevant committees at the first appropriate opportunity.
Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance under section 58(4) of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure). A local authority and a joint overview & scrutiny committee must have regard to this guidance in exercising or deciding any function conferred upon it. This guidance replaces previous guidance in relation to joint overview and scrutiny committees issued under this section in 2013.
Purpose of this Guidance
The purpose of this guidance is to set out the key matters councils must take into consideration when establishing and operating joint overview and scrutiny committees (JOSCs).
The aim of section 58 of the Measure is to enable joint scrutiny of collaborative arrangements, such as corporate joint committees, and strengthen scrutiny arrangements through the promotion of collaboration and the sharing of scrutiny expertise. This could include wider public service matters. Section 66 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 amends section 58 to enable Welsh Ministers to also prescribe the circumstances when two or more principal councils must form a joint scrutiny committee.
Enabling local authorities to establish JOSCs is intended to make it easier to scrutinise the delivery of providers whose services cover more than one county, or to examine issues which cut across geographical boundaries. The provision for joint scrutiny expands the options currently available to councils in undertaking wider public service scrutiny, and provides for a more flexible way of working to secure improved outcomes. In addition, joint scrutiny can facilitate opportunities to share learning and scrutiny capacity across local authorities. The harnessing of ‘collective intelligence’ through JOSCs is intended to lead to more effective forms of governance, and higher standards of democratic accountability.
What are the benefits of Joint Scrutiny?
Where joint scrutiny exercises have taken place in Wales, participants have reported a number of benefits in having gained insight into, and knowledge from, other councils’ scrutiny arrangements.
For example, it was found that councillors have been able to view issues from a wider perspective, leading to a more thorough exploration of the topics under consideration. Furthermore, the presence of different scrutiny chairs and support from alternative scrutiny officers has provided opportunities for cross-transference of learning and exchanges of good practice. Experiences of joint scrutiny have been found to stimulate members and officers to critically review and enhance their ‘home’ council’s internal methods and ways of working, ultimately leading to a higher standard of scrutiny.
Benefits for Partners
From a partnership perspective, the benefits of a joint scrutiny approach are in bringing a fresh eye to developments at all stages of the decision-making process. JOSCs have the ability to bring forward new sources of information that decision-makers may not have considered in the development of plans, policies and strategies.
Non-executive members have a wealth of local intelligence and are well-placed to evaluate whether partnership priorities and methods of delivery are meaningful to local communities. Many councillors are linked in to a range of social networks and community groups and are able to feed views into decision making processes. Furthermore, JOSCs can help reduce duplication of accountability and reporting mechanisms by adopting a co-ordinated approach to the issue under enquiry.
Selecting the right issue for Joint Overview and Scrutiny
The effectiveness of a JOSC will be dependent on the reasons underpinning its establishment and the issue it intends to address. To secure the commitment and sustained interest of the principal councils involved, it follows that the topic chosen as the focus of a JOSC should be of relevance to all participants. The identification of a suitable topic for joint scrutiny will be dependent on effective forward work programme planning that seeks to consider issues of wider public interest, as well as those topics specific to a particular geographical area. Members and officers will need to be pro-active in exploring opportunities for joint scrutiny, checking to see whether there is compatibility in the forward work programmes of neighbouring or relevant authorities. Networking via regional and national scrutiny events, and the publication of forward work programmes will allow scrutiny practitioners to be more informed in this respect.
Some instances where a joint committee might be appropriate include:
- on-going monitoring of a joint service delivery mechanism
- on-going review of a joint statutory partnership or other collaborative arrangement such as a corporate joint committee
- investigating a topic that may require a regional response (for example, waste management or sustainable development)
- sharing scrutiny resources to investigate a similar topic of high interest or high importance to more than one authority (although not necessarily requiring a joint / multi-authority response)
Criteria for establishing a JOSC
In deciding whether or not to establish a JOSC, the following questions should be considered:
- Does the topic involve the work of a strategic partner or partnership body whose services cover more than one local authority area? For example, a JOSC may wish to focus upon the work of a transport provider, third sector organisation or a relevant social enterprise whose services cross authority boundaries.
- Does the issue or service affect residents across more than one county area or concern a particular population’s needs? A JOSC may wish to consider thematic topics such as climate change, fuel poverty, grass-fires or road safety; or it may wish to consider services connected to particular groups of interest such as young adults with physical disabilities, teenage mothers or vulnerable older people.
- What form of JOSC could reasonably be resourced? Undertaking effective joint scrutiny is dependent on participating councils engaging in the building of relationships, and putting in place systems of working and administration. In order that JOSCs can provide significant added value, care must be taken to ensure that its objectives are proportionate to its resources.
The importance of scoping and project management
Outline scoping should be undertaken to help determine whether or not to establish a JOSC. In identifying which partnership projects to progress and determining an appropriate methodology, practitioners should think carefully about whether examining a topic will result in added value or enhancement for each participant. In order to determine the likely success of joint work, it is strongly recommended that a project management approach be adopted to help ensure the objectives of joint scrutiny activity are delivered.
An informal feasibility study should be undertaken by likely participants in order that members and officers more specifically define areas of mutual interest, the type of scrutiny role intended to be undertaken, and the level of resource that could reasonably be dedicated to support a JOSC’s effective functioning. Preliminary work should also identify the likely risks associated with the scrutiny topic, and how it is intended that these be effectively managed.
Roles for Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees
Local authorities can use JOSCs in a flexible way to suit their needs. For example, councils have the option to establish JOSCs on an ad hoc basis which may be more appropriate for forms of pre-decision scrutiny or consultation exercises; or councils may decide to establish ‘standing’ JOSCs which may be more useful in monitoring services or decisions over the medium to long term.
Powers of Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees
The 2011 Measure enables Welsh Ministers to make regulations which will provide for JOSCs to have equivalent powers to other overview and scrutiny committees, as set out in existing legislation, and includes reviewing and scrutinising decisions of the Council’s executive which have not yet been implemented (‘call-in’). These regulations The Local Authorities (Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees) (Wales) Regulations 2013.
JOSCs may make reports and recommendations about any matter, other than crime and disorder matters which are covered by separate legislation and guidance under sections 19 and 20 of the Police and Justice Act 2006. This guidance does not preclude councils from working together on crime and disorder issues.
Councils should make efforts to co-ordinate their forward work programmes to avoid duplication and help ensure scrutiny activities are complementary where appropriate. JOSCs could operate in an environment where there is scrutiny of particular issues or organisations at both a joint regional level and at a local level. Clarity of roles will be important to avoid duplication.
A JOSC is only able to exercise functions in relation to matters which are identified by the appointing authorities. It is therefore important that the local authorities participating in the joint committee are clear from the outset about its roles, responsibilities and terms of reference.
Under section 58(3)(b) JOSCs also have the option of establishing sub-committees in the same way as single authority overview & scrutiny committees. It is important to note that any sub-committee would discharge only those functions conferred on them by the JOSC.
This provision will enable JOSCs to operate in a more streamlined and flexible manner in achieving the aims and objectives of the ‘parent’ JOSC.
In practice, the reporting arrangements for JOSCs will be informed by the reasons underpinning the committee’s establishment and the outcomes intended to be achieved. An important factor for JOSCs to consider when determining reporting arrangements is the need to develop constructive working relationships with the executive groups of service providers who are subject to scrutiny. Consequently, it is suggested that the chairs of JOSCs should meet regularly with an appropriate executive representative to discuss priorities, approaches and planned areas of work.
Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committees and Call-In
With regard to call-in, JOSCs should be able to recommend that an executive decision made by one of the participating councils, made but not yet implemented, be reconsidered by the person(s) that made it or arrange for that decision to be exercised by the relevant Council.
However, in order to safeguard against potential abuse, councils should consider developing procedures where an executive decision of one of the participating councils of a JOSC may only be called-in by the JOSC if it is supported by an equal proportion of the participating Councils.
Whilst the above approach has been suggested to help ensure the integrity of the call-in function as it relates to JOSCs, this is ultimately a matter for councils to determine as part of their constitutional arrangements. In support of the development of such arrangements it is suggested that the number of members required to initiate a Call-In should, as a minimum, be set at half the total membership of the JOSC.
To illustrate, a worked example is set out in the following fictional scenario. Councils A, B and C wish to work together to jointly commission services. A Joint Committee is subsequently established which is comprised of the executive members of each Council. A JOSC is also established to provide governance arrangements. The membership of the JOSC is comprised of non-executive Members from the 3 Councils.
A decision is subsequently made but not implemented by the executives of councils A, B and C. However, non-executive members from Council A consider that the decision made by the three executives may disadvantage Council A’s local communities. Council A therefore wishes to call-in the decisions made by the three respective Councils.
In this instance, the JOSC could not call-in a decision made by the executive of Councils B or C unless the call-in procedure was supported by an equal number of members from Councils A, B and C.
The number of members able to call-in an executive decision of one of the participating Councils should be half of the JOSC’s entire membership. That half must include equal numbers from each participating council. In the above example, should the total membership of the JOSC be 12 (4 members from each Authority) then a call-in could only be made by 2 members from each Authority which would give 6.
In the event that a JOSC would wish to call-in an executive decision made by Councils B and C, then it is advisable that each participating council undertake each call-in separately. That is not to say that 2 call-in processes could not run in parallel, only to recognise that any re-examination of an executive decision would have to take place on an individual basis within each participating council.
Appointing a Joint Committee
In establishing a JOSC which is additional to a council’s existing scrutiny committee(s), a report setting out its role, responsibilities, terms of reference and intended outcomes to be generated by the joint exercise should be considered by each of the participating authorities appropriate scrutiny committees (or sub-committees) before being endorsed by full council.
The appropriate scrutiny committees (or sub-committees) would be those whose terms of reference are most closely aligned to the issue intended to be considered by means of a JOSC. This would help to ensure that the non-executive members of each local authority are able to participate in the decision to establish a joint committee and to ensure that a JOSC would add value and would not duplicate existing work programmes.
With regard to the remit of JOSCs it should be remembered that existing legislation relating to sections 19 and 20 of the Police and Justice Act 2006, excludes any matter which could be considered by a Crime and Disorder Committee from the work programmes of all other scrutiny committees, sub-committees and JOSCs.
Local authorities will need to give careful consideration to who they appoint to sit on JOSCs. It might be helpful in some instances to appoint members who already sit on the scrutiny committee whose terms of reference most closely match the issue to be scrutinised or the terms of reference for the proposed JOSC. However, in wishing to draw on the expertise and knowledge base of a wider pool of non-executive members this might not be the most appropriate course of action, and it will be for local authorities to decide which members should be appointed to which committee.
In order to ensure JOSCs represent fairly the interests of each local authority, an equal number of committee seats must be allocated to each of the participating councils. JOSCs are not required to be politically balanced themselves but each participating council should aim to ensure that the membership of the JOSC it puts forward reflects, as far as possible, the political balance in the council.
The representation from an authority may include co-opted members from that authority who are either statutory or who have been accorded voting rights under the Crime and Disorder (Overview and Scrutiny) Regulations 2009.
The JOSCs may also decide to co-opt members who would be in addition to the allocations from each council. With regard to co-option as it relates to a JOSC, the following conditions may help committees determine their approach to co-option:
- Where the parent council/committee has appointed co-opted members to sit on the JOSC, the number of co-opted members should not exceed the number of elected members that have been identified by the parent council/committee to sit on the JOSC.
- The JOSC should have the ability to appoint co-opted members if there are none contained within the body of the committee’s membership.
With regard to the size of JOSCs, good practice suggests that the maximum number of seats should be set at no more than 16 for effective functioning. However, this is ultimately a matter for local authorities to decide as it is dependent on the issue intended to be considered.
Chairing a Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee
The chair of a JOSC must be elected from the membership of the JOSC, and the election of the chair should take place at the first meeting of the Committee. JOSCs that are established on a long-term basis may decide to rotate chairs annually, or at some other interval, in order for each participating authority to have equal status, and to ensure that opportunities for member development are provided.
Where joint scrutiny exercises have taken place in Wales, it was found helpful to alternate the chairs amongst the participating local authorities. As such, councils may wish to give thought to allocating vice-chairs (if thought appropriate) to the members of those authorities who are next scheduled to hold the position of chair. This would allow for a measure of continuity within joint arrangements and broaden the experience of participating members.
Officer Support for JOSCs
Where a JOSC is established, it is suggested participating councils should share the costs associated with the undertaking of joint scrutiny exercises. This should cover arrangements for officer support and research, as well as administrative support and provision of meeting venues.
Each council may wish to offer different types of scrutiny officer support in respect of resourcing JOSCs. For example, some councils may wish to offer administrative support, and others research and advisory expertise. Consideration should be given to how the JOSC could most effectively achieve its scrutiny objectives and how the standard of scrutiny could be raised including through the collective learning of each authority.
In recognition that officer support for scrutiny varies across local authorities, it is likely that the scrutiny support officers of participating councils will need to liaise regularly to co-ordinate and project manage the work of JOSCs, and consider how to make best use of available resources. When deciding joint support arrangements, factors to consider include the scrutiny capacity available and how well the expertise and skill sets of officers’ link to the topic(s) identified for joint scrutiny.
Regular meetings may help to overcome any difficulties in aligning different cultures, methodologies and supporting mechanisms for scrutiny and will help facilitate transfer of skills and learning. Participating scrutiny officers and chairs should nominate a JOSC officer co-ordinator from amongst themselves to ensure a clear point of contact available for those engaged in joint activity.
It is recommended that those supporting JOSCs put in place opportunities for reflection at key stages (for example, at mid-term points) within the life cycle of scrutiny reviews. This would help ensure that participating authorities are satisfied with the support arrangements and are finding them of benefit in meeting the objectives of the JOSC. Scrutiny support arrangements may include rotating meeting venues of JOSCs among the local authorities represented on the joint committee. However, it may also be the case that the committee chooses to meet at the authority which is geographically most central to minimise travel times for those involved.
In order to function effectively, JOSCs should formulate a forward plan to identify what issues the JOSC intends to focus upon during the course of the year or duration for which it is established.
The forward plan should provide a clear rationale as to the purpose of considering a particular topic, and to the methods by which it will be investigated. Attempts should be made to develop an outcome-focused forward plan rather than one which is process-orientated.
As JOSCs may be either ad hoc or standing, care will need to be taken to ensure that its forward plan corresponds with the committee’s original purpose. For example, in the instance where several authorities may wish to form a JOSC to investigate a cross-cutting issue such as substance misuse, its forward plan should serve to act as the investigation’s project plan since the investigation should have a clearly-defined start and finish.
Where a JOSC may have been formed to consider the work of a strategic partnership, its forward plan should be driven by evidence of community need and a sound understanding of the partnership’s priorities, risks and financial pressures. In addition, the forward plans of JOSCs should be agreed in consultation with partners where possible.
JOSCs must also have regard to guidance relating to section 62 of the Measure which places a requirement on local authorities to engage with the public. The JOSC publishing its forward plan as soon as is reasonably possible in order that interested groups and individuals are able to provide comment and offer their views is integral to complying with this duty.
Appointing a sub-committee of a JOSC
JOSCs are able to appoint sub-committees. This provision extends the range of options available to a JOSC in being able to effectively investigate and make recommendations for improvement as they relate to issues of public interest or concern.
As is the case with sub-committees appointed by single authority scrutiny committees, sub-committees of a JOSC can only exercise the functions conferred upon it by the ‘parent’ JOSC. In the interests of fairness and effective working, a sub-committee of a JOSC should, where possible, consist of equal numbers of representatives from each participating authority.
Ways of working
The following section is not statutory guidance but has been included as a way of working which JOSCs may wish to consider.
Task and Finish Groups
Where elected members have been involved in task and finish groups of single authority scrutiny committees, they have reported a number of benefits from working in smaller, more structured teams. For example, members with differing levels of scrutiny experience and subject knowledge are able to gain confidence and motivation by working collaboratively with more experienced councillors and co-opted members. Similarly, task and finish group working can develop positive peer relations as a result of a members working collectively towards a common goal.
In the event that a JOSC may wish to establish a task and finish group to consider a particular issue in more depth, it is suggested that JOSCs limit the membership of a task and finish group to include any co-opted members the JOSC may wish to appoint.
Depending on the nature of issue under consideration, JOSC task and finish group investigations can either be ‘light-touch’ where recommendations can be identified at a relatively early stage and strictly time-limited, or a very intensive investigation involving a range of ‘Expert Witnesses’, site visits and the commissioning of supporting research as is currently the practice for the majority of overview and scrutiny committees.
It is often the case that task and finish groups have significant resource implications and for this reason it is suggested that a JOSC think carefully about the number of task and finish groups that can effectively be run and supported at any one time.
As a means of ensuring that a task and finish group of a JOSC fulfils its objectives, it is recommended that a project management approach be adopted. This should include developing a project brief for the task and finish group’s work, a project plan and the production of highlight reports to the parent JOSC to ensure it is kept informed of the investigation’s progress.
Democratic Services Committees Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This statutory guidance for Democratic Services Committees made under Sections 8 (1A) and 16 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure). This guidance replaces previous guidance issued on this matter in 2012.
Purpose of this Guidance
This guidance is provided to assist principal councils in the effective running of their democratic services committees.
The Measure contains provisions related to the strengthening of local democracy including the requirement for principal councils to have a democratic services committee. The purpose of the committee is to ensure those councillors outside the executive leadership have the support and resources to fulfil their duties and play a full role in the operation of the local authority.
This is critical to good governance and enabling the council to demonstrate it is effectively supporting and resourcing scrutiny as part of its duties in sections 89 and 90 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 (the 2021 Act) relating to keeping performance under review and consulting local people on performance. It is also critical to enable both scrutiny and elected members in their representational role to engage with the public thus contributing to meeting the duties set out in sections 39 to 41 of the 2021 Act in relation to encouraging local people to participate in decision making and participation strategies.
Head of Democratic Services
Each county and county borough council is required to designate one of their officers as “Head of Democratic Services” (HDS) and provide that officer with sufficient support to do their job (section 8(1) of the Measure). Section 8(1A) enables the Welsh Ministers to issue statutory guidance to councils about the exercise of their function in relation to the provision of staff, accommodation and other resources which are, in the council’s opinion, sufficient to support the HDS in discharging their functions.
The person designated as HDS must be designated by the democratic services committee (section 11(1)(a) and must not be the council’s chief executive or chief finance officer, section 8(4) as amended by section 161 of the 2021 Act which removed the prohibition on a council designating the same officer monitoring officer and head of democratic services. The same section of the 2021 Act amends section 43(2) of the Localism Act 2011 to include the head of democratic services in the definition of ‘chief officer’ for the purposes of pay policy statements.
The post of HDS is a politically restricted post within the meaning of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (section 21) and the designated officer is defined as a chief officer for the purposes of the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (Wales) Regulations 2006 as amended. In these regulations, the HDS is provided the same ‘statutory protection’ in relation to disciplinary action as the council’s chief executive, monitoring officer and chief finance officer (s151 officer). Underlining the important role they undertake in ensuring the good governance and democratic accountability of the council.
The HDS is able to delegate any of their functions to any of their staff (section 8(2)). The functions of the HDS are:
- to provide support and advice to the authority in relation to its meetings:
- to committees of the authority and the members of those committees
- to any joint committee which a local authority is responsible for organising and the members of that committee
- in relation to the functions of the authority's overview and scrutiny committee(s), to members of the authority, members of the executive and officers
- to each member of the authority in carrying out the role of member of the authority
- to promote the role of the authority's overview and scrutiny committee(s)
- to make reports and recommendations in respect of the number and grades of staff required to discharge democratic services functions and the appointment, organisation and proper management of those staff
- any other functions prescribed by the Welsh Ministers
- The function of providing advice about whether or how the authority's functions should be, or should have been, exercised, only applies to advice concerning the functions of the overview and scrutiny and democratic services committees.
- In this case, advice to a member does not include advice in connection with their role as an executive member, and does not include advice about a matter being or to be considered at a meeting (other than a meeting of an overview and scrutiny or democratic services committee).
The Measure enables Welsh Ministers to make regulations requiring local authorities to include within their standing orders provisions concerning the management of the staff provided to the HDS. For these purposes, “management of staff” does not include appointment, dismissal or disciplinary action.
Democratic Services Committees
Each council must also establish a democratic services committee (DSC) to perform the following roles:
- carry out the local authority’s function of designating the HDS
- keep under review the provision of staff, accommodation and other resources made available to the HDS, in order to ensure that it is adequate for the responsibilities of the post
- make reports to the full council in relation to these matters
Each DSC can decide how it carries out these functions.
The full council must appoint the members of the DSC, which must consist solely of councillors and cannot include more than one member of the executive or assistant to the executive. Any executive member must not be the council leader. The rules concerning allocation of seats to political groups apply to the DSC.
The council must also appoint the chair of the DSC, who must not be a member of any of the political groups represented in the executive. The exception to this is when a council has no opposition groups. In this case, any member of the DSC can be appointed as chair provided the member is not a member of the executive (section 14((1), (2) and (9)).
The DSC can appoint its own sub-committees and delegate functions to them (section 13). The DSC appoints the chair of any sub-committee (section 14(3)).
A DSC has the power to require the attendance of any members or officers of the council to answer questions and can invite anyone else it likes to do so also. If a member or officer is required to attend they must answer any questions unless the question is one which they would be entitled to refuse in a court (section 14(5) to (7).
DSC meetings and sub-committees are to be open to the public as is normal in council meetings and subject to the same regime of accessibility in general (section 14(8)). The DSC must meet at least once a year (section 15(1)) and, additionally if the full council so decides or at least a third of the members of the DSC demands a meeting (section 15(2)). There is no limit on the maximum number of meetings a DSC may hold. The onus lies on the chair to ensure that meetings are held when required (section 15(3)).
The DSC must have regard to guidance from the Welsh Ministers when exercising its functions (section 16(2)).
Any report presented to the DSC by the HDS must be considered by the DSC within 3 months. Similarly, any report made by the DSC must be considered by the full council within three months (sections 18 and 19). The procedures relating to the operation of the DSC should be included in the council’s constitution.
Functions of the DSC
Designating the Head of Democratic Services
Only the DSC or a sub-committee of the DSC can designate the HDS. How this operates in practice will vary and a DSC can decide itself how it wishes to do this. However, the expectation is there would be discussion with the chief executive and relevant member(s) of the council executive, for example, to agree whether the post should be advertised externally, in which case the procedures for appointing staff described in the council’s standing orders must be followed.
It would be a sensible arrangement for the DSC to be consulted on the advertising, interview and selection process, even though it would be the council, not the DSC, which would appoint as the employing body. The appointment could, however, be made subject to the DSC subsequently designating the selected person as HDS.
The person designated as HDS is not prevented from performing other roles within the authority. Just as the chief executive will have other duties to perform outside their statutory role, so too could the HDS. However, local authorities should take care to ensure that any other duties do not conflict with their HDS role and the DSC will need to be satisfied that the person designated has sufficient time to conduct his/her functions despite any other roles they may have.
Making recommendations on the adequacy of the provision of staff, accommodation and other resources
It is the function of the DSC to consider, and make recommendations as to, the adequacy of the provision of staff, accommodation and other resources for the exercise of the functions which fall to the HDS. The functions known in many local authorities as members’ services, committee services and overview and scrutiny support would fall within the HDS responsibilities.
The HDS must present a report to the DSC describing what they feel to be a reasonable level of support for democratic services functions. The DSC, however, cannot make the final decision on these matters. It must submit its own report to the full council, arguing the case for necessary resource. It may well be that full council will modify or reject the DSC’s report, in which case it could be advisable for the DSC to consider alternative proposals, which may involve a period of negotiation involving the HDS, Chief Finance Officer and the appropriate executive member.
In considering the DSC’s recommendations the council should take into account the contribution the work of the HDS and the DSC make to the good governance and effective democratic accountability of the council, including the contribution this work makes to the council meeting its duties in sections 39 to 41 of the 2021 Act relating to the duty to encourage local people to participate in decision making and its strategy on public participation and its contribution to sections 89 and 90 of the 2021 Act to keep its performance under review and consult with local people on performance. Ensuring all members are adequately supported and trained, that scrutiny is adequately resourced and committees have access to high quality analysis and information is a cost of effective democracy. It is noted councils will have competing pressures for resources, including for essential front line and statutory services, careful consideration of cumulative impacts of resourcing erosion or reductions in relation to democratic services should therefore be part of considerations on the DSC Committee’s report.
The final decision on resources will rest with full council but the Measure places the responsibility on the authority itself to ensure that the HDS is provided with sufficient staff, accommodation and other resources as are, in the council’s opinion, sufficient to allow the HDSs functions to be discharged (section 8(1)(b)) and it must therefore fully explain any decision not in keeping with the recommendations of the DSC. See guidance on Research Support and Services for Councillors Statutory Guidance (Part 2, 3.0).
Governance and Audit Committees Statutory Guidance
Status of this Guidance
This is statutory guidance under section 85 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure). It replaces any previous guidance issued under this section.
Purpose of this Guidance
The purpose of this guidance is to set out the key matters councils must take into consideration when establishing and operating governance and audit committees.
Councils must establish a Governance and Audit Committee. The committee has the following functions (s81, Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011):
- review and scrutinise the authority's financial affairs
- make reports and recommendations in relation to the authority's financial affairs
- review and assess the risk management, internal control, performance assessment and corporate governance arrangements of the authority
- make reports and recommendations to the authority on the adequacy and effectiveness of those arrangements
- review and assess the authority's ability to handle complaints effectively
- make reports and recommendations in relation to the authority's ability to handle complaints effectively
- oversee the authority's internal and external audit arrangements
- review the financial statements prepared by the authority
The Welsh Government’s view is that well-functioning governance and audit committees are critical to the effective governance of councils. They should be viewed positively by all council members as part of the improvement and governance system. They also have an important role to play in improving strategic planning and facilitating both scrutiny and constructive challenge within the structures of a council.
In addition to these statutory functions, a council can confer other functions on the committee which it deems suitable for it. Each governance and audit committee can decide how it wants to carry out its functions, but in doing so it must have regard to this guidance.
Detailed guidance on the operation of governance and audit committees has been produced by Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). In deciding how the Governance and Audit Committee will operate and how it will transact its key tasks, councils and committees themselves should consider the intersection between the formal role of this committee and the role of other bodies – in particular, the Democratic Services Committee (in respect of corporate governance) and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee(s) (in respect of financial oversight and review of strategic risks).
The full council must have regard to this guidance when determining membership. Two thirds of the members of the committee are to be members of the council and one third must be a lay members. Only one member of the executive or assistant to the executive may sit on the committee, and that person must not be the leader (s82, Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011).
The chair of the committee is to be decided upon by the committee members themselves. However, the chair must be a lay member. The committee must also appoint a deputy chair who must not be a member of the council’s executive or an assistant to the executive (section 81, subsections 5A, 5B and 5C of the Measure). All committee members, including lay members, have the right to vote on any issue considered by the committee. Lay members are therefore required by statute to comply with the council’s code of conduct made under Part 3 of the Local Government Act 2000 and uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct.
The rules within section 15 et seq of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 apply to governance and audit committees. The authority must however decide how many non-councillors should be appointed to the committee, and all members of the committee should display independence of thinking and unbiased attitudes, and must recognise and understand the value of the governance and audit function.
All new members will need to be provided with induction training. Although it is to be hoped that appointed councillors would have some relevant expertise, this cannot be guaranteed. What will be important, though, is to try and ensure that members do not have any other responsibilities which might conflict with their role on the governance and audit committee. That might be particularly the case in the choice of any executive member or assistant to the executive on the committee.
It may also mean that the members should not have too many other commitments, in general such as membership of other committees because of the significant commitment which being a member of the governance and audit committee implies. All members should receive adequate training and development.
The governance and audit committee should try and ensure it appoints a member as chair who will be strong and experienced enough to lead the questioning which the committee will have to perform.
Whatever recruitment method is employed, lay members should be independent from the council and have no business connection with it, although knowledge of how local government functions would be a definite advantage. In appointing lay members whose political allegiances are well known, local authorities should consider if this compromises the independence and perception of independence from the council a lay member should demonstrate. Councils should follow a public recruitment exercise, similar to that used to appoint members of standards committees, to recruit their lay members. It is recommended that a lay member should not be appointed for more than 2 full terms of a local authority.
Meetings and proceedings
As a committee of the council, the governance and audit committee is subject to normal arrangements of openness. Meetings should be held in public, agendas and reports should be published and available for inspection. The exception to this is where “exempt items” are being considered, which are chiefly matters which involve discussions concerning named individuals or commercial in confidence matters.
Any officer or member called to attend the governance and audit committee meeting must do so. They must answer any questions asked of them save ones which they could refuse to answer if they were in court. The committee can invite other persons to attend before it, but anyone else so invited to attend is under no compulsion to do so.
The committee must meet at least once a year and must also meet if the full council so decides, or if at least a third of the committee’s members require that a meeting be held. Beyond these stipulations, the committee can meet whenever it determines.
The Welsh Government suggests councils consider appropriate publications by relevant professional bodies such as CIPFA when establishing and reviewing their procedures for governance and audit committees.
Functions of a Governance and Audit committee
Reviewing the authority’s financial affairs
Section 151 of the Local Government Act 1972 requires local authorities to make arrangements for the proper administration of its financial affairs. Putting in place the governance and audit committee and providing it with the duty to keep the authority’s financial affairs under review must be viewed as assisting in the fulfilment of this requirement.
This is an area which is given close attention by the authority’s external auditors and ties in with the duty of the governance and audit committee to oversee the arrangements for internal and external audit, and also the need to monitor the internal control and risk management arrangements made by the authority.
Local authorities should make their own arrangements, in their constitution, to provide for clear demarcation between the role of the governance and audit committee and that of a relevant scrutiny committee. The governance and audit committee role should be more to seek assurance that the budgetary control systems (as an internal control) of the council are working, rather than the actual scrutiny of spend. This may serve as acceptable demarcation between the role of the governance and audit committee and that of an overview and scrutiny committee.
Risk management, internal control, performance assessment and corporate governance arrangements of the authority
The attention to this matter should raise the profile of risk management as a necessary control tool within the authority as a whole. By providing regular review, the governance and audit committee forms a significant part of the authority’s corporate governance system.
The authority should have a clear ‘Statement of Purpose’ for its governance and audit committee, ensuring the committee has a prime role in ensuring effective corporate governance is central to the organisation’s procedures. As such, the governance and audit committee should review the Annual Governance Statement and Corporate Governance Strategy.
An Annual Governance Statement is a document which sets out a council’s arrangements for decision-making and governance. The AGS is the product of a review of council governance carried out by senior officers. There is no obligation on Welsh councils to prepare an Annual Governance Statement. As there is no legal obligation to produce an Annual Governance Statement, Welsh Government is not providing statutory guidance on this matter. However, councils will note the presence of the local government accounting standards. Councils could consider how the AGS can be used as a tool for broader corporate improvement; it can be used to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in the governance framework and, as part of an annual action plan, take forward agreed changes accordingly.
An effective and high profile governance and audit committee is critical to engendering public confidence that the authority has a solid approach to its financial and organisational propriety.
The governance and audit committee will need to report on the adequacy of the authority’s risk management and internal control arrangements, and comment on their effectiveness. It will also follow up on risks identified by internal and external auditors and require reports as to action taken in response. This means the council must ensure the governance and audit committee is briefed on the contents and recommendations contained in auditor’s reports and has access to them. It should also have access to reports from regulators where these have identified risks, failures in internal control or the corporate governance systems of the council. It would be good practice for all reports from auditors and regulators to be shared with the governance and audit committee as a matter of course.
In addition to these existing duties, the 2021 Act added a new duty to this group of duties which requires the governance and audit committee to review and assess and make reports of the effectiveness of the arrangements the council has put in place for the performance assessments it is required to complete under section 91 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 in order to fulfil its duty to keep performance under review in section 89 of the 2021 Act. This is not intended to be a repeat of the performance assessment itself but consideration, for example, of the rigour and comprehensive nature of the process. Neither is it intended to duplicate the role of overview and scrutiny committees in holding the council’s executive to account in relation to the performance management of the council’s services.
The council must make a draft of its self-assessment report (and panel assessment report when published) available to its governance and audit committee. The committee must review the draft reports and may make recommendations for changes to the conclusions or action the council intends to take. If the council does not make a change recommended by the governance and audit committee, it must set out in the final self-assessment report (or response to a panel assessment report) the recommendation and the reasons why the council did not make the change.
Review and assess the authority’s ability to handle complaints effectively
The way in which an organisation manages its internal and external complaints process for service and organisational complaints (consideration of the complaints process for complaints made under the members’ code of conduct is not a function of the Governance and Audit Committee) is an integral part of its corporate governance systems. It is vital that people, communities and other stakeholders have trust and confidence their complaints will be treated with due respect and gravity. It is also important that staff and others internal to the organisation have trust and confidence internal complaints are treated with similar respect.
The role of the governance and audit committee is not to consider whether individual complaints have been dealt with appropriately but to consider the effectiveness of the complaints process. For example, is the process accessible to everybody in the community, is the council giving proper consideration to its statutory duties in relation to equalities and Welsh language when handling complaints, is there internal learning built into the complaints process to improve systems and services going forward. The Welsh Government expectation is that councils provide the PSOW with an assessment of the arrangements in place for handling complaints and the effectiveness of its approach as part of its regular communication with the PSOW.
Internal and external auditors
An effective governance and audit committee should provide the authority’s chief finance officer with advice which can serve to bolster the work of internal and external auditors. The committee can ensure that audit reports are kept in the authority’s mind, so timing of meetings might be planned so as to effectively follow-up auditors’ recommendations.
The governance and audit committee will expect to input into the planning of internal audit priorities, approving the annual programme of audits and ensuring the internal auditors have the necessary resources to conduct their work effectively. They will want to meet with the Head of Internal Audit and receive their annual report.
The governance and audit committee should also receive the reports from the external auditors and follow up their recommendations during the year. The committee should have a role in agreeing the authority’s response to the auditor’s letters or reports as well as being able to meet with the external auditor.
In addition, the governance and audit committee should receive and consider reports from any regulators or inspectors. In respect of these, the authority will need to ensure there is no unnecessary duplication between the governance and audit committee and any overview and scrutiny committee in considering such reports.
Before their approval by the authority, the governance and audit committee should consider and comment on the authority’s certified draft financial statements. They will want to see to what extent the statements take cognisance of audit reports during the year, and changes in accounting policy and internal control mechanisms. The Committee should also review the external audit statement and also seek assurance on the management of the council’s financial affairs. Any concerns should be reported to the Council.
Governance and audit committees may approve the financial statements themselves where local authorities have delegated that power to them under regulation 10 of the Accounts and Audit Regulations (Wales) 2014 (as amended).
Governance and Audit Committee reports and recommendations
Reports and recommendations by the governance and audit committee should be considered by full council in particular, as well as the executive. The processes for these considerations should be set out in the council’s constitution.
Guidance on multi-location meetings
Status of this guidance
This is statutory guidance issued under section 47 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 (the 2021 Act).
The overall purpose of the Welsh Government in amending the law to give relevant authorities powers and freedoms to convene meetings in this way is to achieve greater accessibility and improved public participation in local government. These powers are closely connected with the new requirement for principal councils to broadcast (by audio and/or video) certain meetings.
Multi-location meetings offer authorities the potential to update and transform the way they do business. It provides opportunities for authorities to become more flexible and efficient and also raise their profile in the local community and to bring their work directly into people’s homes. Public access to multi-location meetings is likely to be significantly higher than the level of audiences of formal meetings when all were held physically, attendance levels during the pandemic bear this out. This heightened public awareness and involvement is to be welcomed, and further encouraged. In particular, authorities will need to think directly about the needs of the public as they design their arrangements and policies for multi-location meetings. While these meetings are still “meetings in public” rather than “public meetings” by and large the public will be able to observe but not participate they provide a crucial opportunity for accountability and transparency, and an accessible shop window for many public bodies.
This guidance is for principal councils, National Park Authorities, Fire and Rescue Authorities, and Port Health Authorities. This guidance does not cover the arrangement by other public bodies of their own formal meetings, or the organisation by public bodies (including councils) of public meetings or any other gathering. It also does not include the convening of formal meetings by corporate joint committees (CJCs) or community councils, which are covered in separate guidance.
This guidance is intended for:
- participants in meetings convened by the authorities listed above
- officers providing support to formal meetings in these authorities
- officers with adjacent responsibilities for example, those responsible for drafting and clearing reports, attending meetings to present reports to members and officers with supervisory responsibilities on governance matters
- anyone with an interest in the way in which the business of these authorities is conducted
Generally speaking the requirements for all relevant authorities is similar, although differences do exist especially relating to the convening of multi-location meetings of local authority executives.
Relevant authorities are required to “have regard to” the guidance. Where authorities are under an existing statutory obligation to carry out an act the guidance says that they “must” do something; where there is no such obligation but the guidance presents a suggestion on a possible course of action, the guidance says that a council “can” or “may” do something.
How this guidance was developed
This guidance was developed between February and April 2021. It was drafted by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny, Cardiff University and Public Governance Wales, who were commissioned by Welsh Government to speak to people with a stake and interest in this area and to develop the text as a result of these conversations.
This guidance will be reviewed periodically.
Definitions of words used in this guidance
Generally, the words used in this guidance have the same meaning as they do in the 2021 Act.
A “relevant authority” is an organisation which is required to put in place arrangements for multi-location meetings. This covers principal councils, Fire and Rescue Authorities, National Parks Authorities and Port Health Authorities. It also includes joint committees of these bodies. The obligations of corporate joint committees (CJCs) and of community and town councils are covered in separate guidance.
A “meeting” is a formal meeting of a relevant authority convened in accordance with whatever the legal requirements are for such meetings. Formal meetings are usually those where formal decisions can be made; these meetings may need to be held in public and that notice is published beforehand that they are being held. This is not always the case as some meetings, or parts of meetings, are held in private due to confidentiality or exempt issues being discussed. When we talk about these meetings being “convened”, we mean the process involved in organising the meeting and setting and distributing an agenda and reports.
A “multi-location meeting” is a meeting of a relevant authority whose participants are not all in the same physical place. In some places these are colloquially described as “remote” meetings. The 2021 Act does not refer to these meetings as “remote”, but that they are attended by “persons who are not in the same place”.
At least 1 participant may be joining the meeting by remote means. For example, this includes meetings of the type described below:
- meetings of a committee where all participants are in the same physical location except one individual who joins from another location, with a physical public gallery being provided
- meetings of a committee where a roughly equal number of members are present in a physical space and joining through remote means; those joining through remote means may include the Chair
- meetings of a committee where all members are joining through remote means but nonetheless a physical public gallery has been made available in authority premises
- meetings of a committee taking place wholly through remote means where no physical arrangements have been made
Some have described the kinds of meetings described above as “hybrid meetings”. This guidance and Section 47 of the 2021 Act makes no distinction between meetings where some participants join by remote means and those where all participants do so, but meeting arrangements will need to account for the practical differences that different forms of meetings will take, and make plans accordingly.
The definition of “Joining a meeting by remote means” is being in a different physical location to that of other participants, and participating through an online meeting platform. Where participants are present in a committee room or other physical space which is publicised (through a formal notice) as being the location of the meeting, those participants are present physically.
A “participant” of a multi-location meeting is a person who takes an active part in that meeting. They might be a member, a person giving evidence to a committee as a witness, an appellant or claimant on a regulatory matter, someone presenting a petition, or taking part formally in another way.
An “observer” of a multi-location meeting is a member of an audience, or otherwise spectating, a multi-location meeting. They might be in the same room that a meeting is taking place or they might be observing by remote means.
“Meeting arrangements” are the rules and procedures that relevant authorities adopt to act on their statutory requirements relating to multi-location meetings, and to act on the recommendations in this guidance. This guidance suggests that these arrangements will form part of relevant authorities’ constitutions, where they are required.
Background to multi-location meetings
Arrangements were first made in legislation to allow for “remote meetings” in section 4 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.
At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, the Welsh Government produced the Local Authorities (Coronavirus) (Meetings) (Wales) Regulations 2020. These established a framework within which all relevant authorities convened meetings by remote means throughout 2020 and part of 2021. Experience operating meetings under these Regulations has provided relevant authorities with significant expertise in understanding and managing multi-location meetings, now they have been placed on a new statutory footing. The provisions in the 2021 Act can be seen as an evolution of these prior arrangements.
The benefits of multi-location meetings
Councils, and other relevant authorities, convened meetings by remote means throughout much of 2020 and 2021. While meeting this way proved challenging in the context of the global coronavirus pandemic, it has also resulted in a number of benefits.
- Enhancing and supporting local democracy. Having the flexibility to convene meetings in this way will reduce the barriers that might previously have been in place for explaining and demonstrating how relevant authorities do business.
- Working more productively. When participants come together by remote means, they have often been able to get more done. Multi-location meetings have also resulted in a dramatic reduction in the amount of paper needed and produced. The move to an approach which sees the production of formal notices and other material as being “online by default” will make it easier for councils to innovate around the use of formal meeting material.
- Making it easier for the public to attend meetings. Although experiences have been mixed, public attendance has been higher for multi-location meetings than for meetings in person. Some relevant authorities, in particular, found both before and during the pandemic that multi-location meetings have made it possible to include external participants actively, ensuring that committees can benefit from a greater range of views. Relevant authorities have reported that members of the public think that multi-location meetings are much less intimidating than those held in person, and that they have the potential to encourage more people to stand for public office. For some though, multi-location meetings will also present challenges for example, those with poor broadband connections or disabled people, or those unable to access meetings over the internet for other reasons.
- Making relevant authorities more resilient and sustainable in how they carry out their work. The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 requires relevant authorities to think about, and act on, long term needs in the way that policy is developed and made. Multi-location meetings reduce the carbon footprint of physical meetings (although digital activity is not of course carbon-neutral). They can also help relevant authorities to reduce the risk of future unexpected events such as extreme weather which could in future present a challenge to in-person meetings. Issues of sustainability are explored in more detail below.
- Making the use of the Welsh language easier. Relevant authorities’ experience during 2020 has been that the simultaneous translation on platforms such as Zoom has reduced some of the practical difficulties which some authorities have experienced around facilitating bilingualism in public meetings.
- Reducing the need for travel. For more rural relevant authorities and for relevant authorities covering large geographical areas and for joint bodies, significant time and cost savings for councillors, officers and other participants have arisen. In turn, this makes it easier for participants to take part if they have professional and caring commitments potentially removing some significant barriers to standing for public office.
- Better support for members from diverse backgrounds, including support that recognises the social model of disability. Just as barriers are being removed to public participation, multi-location meetings have made it easier for care providers, or disabled people, or people with other protected characteristics, to engage on an equal footing. In some cases, participants have found the formality of physical meetings to be off putting, and multi-location meetings have removed this factor. Of course, this raises broader issues around the way that relevant authorities work generally, and the extent to which they welcome participation and involvement from a wide range of people. These are not matters which will be resolved through multi-location meetings alone, but such meetings could be a tool that will, in due course, help a wider range of people to take an active role in local democracy.
- Better behaviours. Although experiences have been mixed, on the whole meeting management and the behaviours of participants have both improved. It has been easier for Chairs of meetings to understand who wants to make a contribution, although it is harder to read body language. Disruption of meetings by political argument (for example) seems to have been less of a theme as well.
Physical meetings should not be seen as representing the “gold standard” with multi-location meetings being second best. Physical meetings may be convenient and effective for those most familiar with and comfortable with how they work but they may also be inaccessible and impractical to many. All meetings that meet the required communication and quorate arrangements have equal status under the law.
For some, there have been drawbacks to multi-location meetings. In particular, people have had worries about the need for more council officers to support them. In time, ongoing experience is likely to improve this and reduce the amount of resource required to support them.
What this guidance covers
This guidance focuses particularly on arrangements for the convening of formal meetings held by relevant authorities under the 2021 Act , and the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Decisions, Documents and Meetings) (Wales) Regulations 2001 as amended by the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Decisions, Documents and Meetings) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.
Guidance for principal councils on broadcasting these meetings, where required in law, is being provided separately.
Together, this legislation updates arrangements for the management of these meetings and enhances transparency and public access.
This guidance also engages with other enactments relating to this issue, as well as with the wider local democratic context within which the Act sits.
This guidance focuses particularly on arrangements for the convening and broadcast of formal local authority meetings. Provisions relating to local authority meetings are included in various pieces of legislation, including but not limited to:
- The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021
- The Local Government Act 2000
- The Local Government Act 1972
- The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Decisions, Documents and Meetings) (Wales) Regulations 2001 as amended by the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Decisions, Documents and Meetings) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.The National Park Authorities (Wales) Order 1995
- The North Wales Fire Services (Combination Scheme) Order 1995
- The Mid and West Wales Fire Services (Combination Scheme) Order 1995
- The South Wales Fire Services (Combination Scheme) Order 1995
Chapter 4 of Part 3 of the 2021 Act covers meetings convened by relevant authorities, as well as by certain other bodies and organisations. In respect of principal councils, community and town councils, National Parks Authorities, Fire and Rescue Authorities and Port Health Authorities, it covers:
- electronic broadcasts of meetings: Principal councils must make arrangements for broadcasting certain meetings live, and ensuring that broadcasts are available electronically afterwards. A failure to comply with this requirement does not necessarily make proceedings invalid (s46). Separate Regulations and guidance are being prepared on this matter
- attendance at meetings: relevant authorities must make arrangements for “multi-location” meetings, at which participants can speak to and be heard by each other. Where meetings must be broadcast participants must also be able to see each other (s47)
- notice of meetings, and publication of agendas: relevant authorities must publish certain information, including notices of meetings, electronically, and electronic information relating to meetings must remain available in this format for 6 years following the date of the meeting (Part 1 of Schedule 4 to the 2021 Act, amending the Local Government Act 1972). Relevant authorities must also put in place facilities for the public who would otherwise not be able to do so, to access meeting documents
Arrangements for the broadcast of meetings (physical or multi-location) held by relevant authorities is explored in separate Regulations and came into force in May 2022 and separate guidance will apply. However, relevant authorities are likely to need to consider the requirement to broadcast alongside the need to make provision for multi-location meetings. This is the reason for suggesting that meeting arrangements take account of both requirements.
Relevant authorities will need to think about and agree independently the details of their own arrangements for multi-location meetings. In doing so, they should be guided by the following general principles.
All of the below relate to legal obligations. In developing meeting arrangements, relevant authorities will need to explicitly assure themselves that these principles are understood, taken into account and acted on, possibly through being the subject of specific discussion at meetings to ensure standing orders are amended by Democratic Services Committees or other bodies in relevant authorities.
Of paramount importance are the needs of local democracy. Local people need to have confidence that relevant authorities have systems in place that meet their needs this might be about observing meetings, participating in them, and using this to hold to account a meeting’s participants for what they see and do. Relevant authorities’ approach to multi-location meetings has to be seen as part of the wider support and commitment to local democracy. The other principles described below need to be considered in light of this.
Formal meetings of relevant authorities will be spaces in which democratic debate and decision-making happen. It is fundamental that these meetings are held in public (subject to the specific exceptions available), and that the public are able to access and engage with them. Relevant authorities will need to think about wider legal requirements around transparency, and accessibility, and what that means for the way that they carry out meetings. These meetings allow public and media involvement as observers whether they are held in person or virtually.
(Local Government Act 1972, s100 et seq., Schedule 12 and 12A and related legislation).
Democratic systems need to be organised and arranged to account for barriers that members of the public might experience. Multi-location meetings have the potential to enhance and improve access for participants. This will not happen automatically however, and meeting arrangements will need to be specifically designed to help this to happen.
Relevant authorities’ meeting arrangements will need to have regard for the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, including ensuring that accessibility is considered in the context of the social model of disability, and for ensuring that the impact of its decisions on democratic arrangements are understood from these perspectives.
In line with the Nolan Principles, multi-location meetings, as with any other public meeting, should demonstrate high standards of conduct.
Multi-location meetings have in many places led to changes in conduct, and an improvement in behaviours. Meeting arrangements can account for the need to entrench more positive behaviours particularly where these meetings involve a number of people together in a single physical location, where different dynamics may arise.
Relevant authorities will also need to have regard to the Model Code of Conduct (and to local codes of conduct, and standards arrangements) in how they develop their meeting arrangements.
Use of English and Welsh Languages
Adherence to legal requirements relating to the use of the English and Welsh languages is a legal requirement. It is a fundamental element of the obligations attached to public bodies in Wales separate legislation and guidance exists. In order to maximise accessibility relevant authorities may wish to consider subtitling in English and/or Welsh, and translation into other languages depending on need for example, BSL.
Arrangements must ensure that English and Welsh are treated equally and support and promote the Welsh Language. The use of the Welsh language can be provided for in multi-location meetings and normalised in a wide range of settings in ways which might historically have proven challenging for physical meetings. Relevant authorities will also need to take account of their individual Welsh language standards.
Local authorities are democratic institutions. Decisions about local democracy and the best approaches to promote and encourage engagement in local democratic systems are best made at a local level. Relevant authorities’ approaches to meeting arrangements should therefore be aligned with the way that they approach public participation in particular, their plans for ensuring that they meet their public participation obligations which came into force in May 2022. An understanding of the specific needs of a wide range of local people is a part of this.
In agreeing arrangements for meetings, relevant authorities must give regard to the well-being goals and ways of working set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Many of the improvements which could be brought about by multi-location meetings innovation around the transaction or meetings, reductions in the use of paper, enhanced public accessibility and so on will serve the objective of making local democratic systems more sustainable.
However, relevant authorities will still need to ensure that the 2015 Act’s principles are actively embedded in arrangements for meetings. Digitisation has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of local democratic systems, but only where cloud services and server storage is procured from carbon neutral provide digital services are not carbon neutral by default. The reduction in travel will also add to the reduction in the carbon footprint.
This section sets out the things that relevant authorities must do in relation to multi-location meetings.
These provisions are set out to help ensure legal compliance. In all respects it will be for a relevant authority’s Monitoring Officer to determine exactly how the authority will ensure this compliance. The expectation is that relevant authorities will want to use these requirements as a starting point from which to innovate and experiment with different arrangements for facilitating multi-location meetings, in the context of the wider needs of local democracy.
The 2021 Act requires that “arrangements” be made by principal councils for both the broadcasting of meetings, and the convening of meetings involving participants in multiple locations. These “meeting arrangements” will need to be written in such a way that integrates a relevant authority’s approach to multi-location arrangements to its wider compliance with the legislative framework for formal meetings, including the new requirements for the audio and (in certain circumstances) video broadcasting of such meetings.
Although, there is a requirement for principal councils to broadcast certain meetings which was commenced in May 2022, many principal councils were already broadcasting a number of their meetings, we therefore suggest these arrangements form an integrated part of an authority’s Constitution. For principal councils such arrangements might be subject to oversight from the Democratic Services Committee.
The reason for integrating these arrangements into a constitutional document is that they set out how the authority is run, and will need to be integrated in some form into the rules of procedure of committees and other formal bodies.
Relevant authorities will need to develop these arrangements for themselves, there is no single set of rules setting out what arrangements should look like in detail. This guidance sets out a framework within which relevant authorities can explore their options and decide what is right for them and the communities they serve.
This section sets out things to which relevant authorities must give regard, but which do not form part of the legislative framework.
Welsh Government considers these considerations to be matters of good practice. Some specific solutions are suggested but relevant authorities should consider local circumstances in deciding what approaches are ultimately adopted, in a process which should be led by those involved in participating in meetings, and supporting those meetings’ operation always informed by the needs and expectations of the public. While meeting arrangements should fit local preferences and circumstances, there should be a clear process for considering the issues highlighted below. For local authorities the Democratic Services Committee is expected to lead this process.
Sitting alongside the core requirements of the “meeting arrangements” the legally mandated arrangements that relevant authorities must make for multi-location meetings can be a wider multi-location meetings policy, which will also reflect the general principles while setting out more detailed procedures to ensure that multi-location meetings work efficiently, effectively and accountably. Keeping such a policy distinct from the legal “meeting arrangements” is important because it will make it clear to those involved where processes are put in place because of legal requirements, and where local decisions have been made about the operation of multi-location meetings.
Relevant authorities can take whatever process they choose in designing and adopting this policy, but those responsible for leadership on governance matters, and participants in multi-location meetings, will need to be satisfied that these arrangements take into account the general principles. In particular, the meetings policy will be the document to refer to the role of the public in the operation of formal meetings, and to ensure their needs and expectations are understood and treated as paramount.
Because of the public-facing nature of this work relevant authorities may consider it necessary to adopt a provisional policy, and for those within that authority and outside it (in particular, the public) to develop and refine it over time. Reviewing the policy (and of the meeting arrangements themselves) as they operate will offer the best opportunity to reflect and refine.
Where a relevant authority determines that they wish to draft such a policy it should be led by a committee of the authority with a responsibility for governance, supported by a relevant officer. This might be that authority’s Monitoring Officer. Where the authority is a principal council, the decision would be made by the cabinet and the officer taking leadership might properly be the Head of Democratic Services.
The exact contents of a policy will be agreed at local level. The experience of relevant authorities in the past however suggests that it should include:
- how to decide which meetings will have physical provision made for them, and which will be conducted wholly through remote means, taking different taking different approaches for meetings
- which online meeting platform or platforms which will be used, multi-location meeting platforms
- how formal notices will be issued, and the publication of agendas and minutes, notices, agendas, reports and providing for exempt matters
- how exempt matters will be dealt with
- meeting attendance, including deciding where a member is “present”
- how participants who sit as part of committees or bodies subject to the 2021 Act will be able to access and participate in the meeting (including support and advice on technology, behavioural and conduct issues), support during meetings
- how observers (including the public and the press) will be able to access the meeting, and how they may actively participate in the meeting where needed, supporting observers
- facilitating broadcast by members of the public, supporting broadcast by members of the public. Broadcast by the authority itself may also be required, and is covered by separate guidance
- chairing of meetings
- the taking of votes
- training and peer support to ensure that participants are able to take part
It is important to ensure that participants and observers have access to easy to understand information which explains how they can and should engage in multi-location meetings this documentation can be part of the multi-location meetings policy but should also be available separately, and may constitute a simple explanation of some of those arrangements for the casual reader. It is particularly important the relevant authorities highlight and publicise their multi-location meeting arrangements and policy to make it as easy as possible for the public to engage.
Some relevant authorities may decide that all meetings will be conducted through remote means by default. Relevant authorities may wish to adopt different approaches for different bodies, and for different circumstances.
A multi-location meetings policy may make provision that different kinds of meeting be convened, by default, with all participants joining through remote means, or with some arrangement being made for people to attend and participate and observe in person. Policies should recognise that the 2021 Act requires participants to be able to join meetings through remote means for all formal meetings. It will not be permitted for relevant authorities to decide that all meetings will be held entirely physically.
The needs of local democracy, and the needs of the public in engaging with multi-location meetings, are a paramount consideration in deciding where and when meetings will be convened partially or wholly by remote means. The overriding intention of the 2021 Act on this issue is to help the public to be able to access and engage with local democratic systems. The convenience of participants and the efficient operation of relevant authorities themselves is important but the needs of the public will come first when these decisions are being made.
Relevant authorities may want to make particular plans for multi-location meetings where a number of participants are in the same physical space, while others join through remote means. Similarly, provisions might need to be made for allowing people to observe in person, or through remote means, or both.
There is no requirement for each meeting to be held in the same way every time it meets. For example, a council could decide to hold some full council meetings entirely remotely and others as multi-location meetings with a number of councillors (or most councillors) present in a chamber. In determining which meetings may be held wholly through remote meetings and for which physical arrangements might be made available, relevant authorities might consider:
- the general circumstances of participants. Participants’ needs and preferences may change over time, and policies should have the flexibility to allow for arrangements to change where this happens. For example, councillors in a local authority may decide that full Council should take place predominantly physically or predominantly through remote means but in doing so they might ensure that the policy remains flexible enough to change this approach if participants’ views change
- the subject matter, and number of participants attending, certain meetings. This may relate to the general matters usually under discussion at a given committee (or other body) rather than the specific agenda for an individual meeting
- the need to ensure that meetings are fully accessible to both active participants and to observers. Accessibility may under certain circumstances require physical provision
- connected to this, consideration of whether physical provision for a public gallery, or for the attendance of certain participants, is necessary if the majority of a meeting’s participants are joining through remote means. This is discussed in more detail in supporting observers (including the public) to access and participate in the meeting
The overriding requirement is to consider the needs of the public, both as observers and participants.
Relevant authorities may have concerns about equality of access and participation in multi-location meetings where some participants are in the same physical space. On considering the risks and other circumstances they may determine that, by default, meetings can take place either wholly by remote means, or that, where a number of participants express a preference for a meeting being held physically, that support should be given to all participants to attend physically. However it is worth reiterating that relevant authorities will not be able to require that all participants attend physically under these circumstances.
Where a relevant authority decides that physical arrangements will be made for certain meetings or classes of meetings, a multi-location meetings policy will need to determine what those arrangements will be. They may include:
- the availability of a meeting room which is publicly accessible, along with the provision of a physical public gallery (and press gallery)
- making arrangements for participants who attend physically to be seen by those joining from other locations (a requirement under the Act), which will require planning where multiple participants wish to attend physically and where camera facilities in a room may be less than ideal for this purpose
- the availability of professional support in the room, or through remote means. This may be IT support or governance/clerking support
- the streaming of broadcast footage from the meeting to those present through the use of one or more display screens (and the use of audio equipment)
Even where all participants join a meeting from another location a relevant authority may still wish to provide a physical space for members of the public to watch proceedings and to participate. This is covered in supporting observers (including the public) to access and participate in the meeting.
Accessibility and involvement
Some participants may wish to join meetings from another location regularly – because they have working or caring responsibilities which make attending meetings in person difficult. Some participants may have a preference for physical meetings. Participants may have personal protected characteristics, or circumstances, which limit their ability to participate online, and/or which requires that certain accommodations be made for physical presence. The same needs are likely to apply to observers. Particular care will be needed to be taken to take account of the needs of one-off participants, especially if they are members of the public rather than employed officers of the authority or regular meeting participants who are (for example) elected councillors.
Multi-location meetings where some or most participants are present in a single location can pose challenges around accessibility and involvement. Those present in a committee room will need to be able to participate on the same footing as those participating in other locations. This may be difficult where certain participants may be able to hear, but not see, other participants. For these kinds of meetings, there is a risk that those not physically present in a room play less of a part in discussion. These people may end up being “forgotten” by those who are physically present. For a Chair, following the visual cues of those in the same room, and those joining from other locations, is likely to be a challenge. This will need to be thought about, particularly where the Chair themselves is joining a meeting from another location.
Multi-location meetings require additional technology and this has implications for an authority's capacity to procure and use this technology effectively. Finding and using the right platform is an important part of making meetings accessible and transparent, and the business of relevant authorities more accountable to the public.
This guidance does not recommend any specific product. Relevant authorities have made, and will make, their own arrangements in line with their IT and procurement policies. It may be, for example, that relevant authorities wish to explore joint procurement opportunities. It will be useful for relevant authorities procuring to understand how the market for these products evolved, and the need to keep in touch with other relevant authorities to exchange experiences.
Specifically, any product, or combination of products, should provide:
- the ability for participants to be able to see and hear each other, and the facility for outbound and inbound video and audio to be switched on and off either by a participant themselves or potentially also for a meeting organiser
- the ability for participants to be named / labelled so that others can easily identify them
- the ability for participants and observers to be able to join via mobile, or tablet, without losing significant functionality
- the ability to provide for simultaneous translation. Relevant authorities should ensure that they use a meeting platform which provides for simultaneous translation and that members are comfortable with its use. Principal councils will need to decide whether to broadcast a feed in English, in Welsh, or in both
- the ability to both record and broadcast the meeting and for participants and observers to know when recording and broadcasting is taking place
- the ability to caption or subtitle, either live (which may be partially or fully automated) or through editing after the meeting has taken place;
- a “chat” facility (the use of which we discuss in support during meetings, visible only to meeting participants, and which can be turned off by the meeting organiser if necessary
- sufficient security measures to ensure that the meeting cannot be accessed by unauthorised persons, and to ensure that unauthorised persons can be ejected from the meeting where necessary
- a user interface which is intuitive and easily understood
Other factors will include:
- where and how meetings will be broadcast for example, on the council’s own website or on Facebook Live or YouTube, or in some other way (covered in separate guidance). It is not recommended that principal councils effect the broadcast requirement by granting public access to online meeting platforms themselves. Broadcast arrangements are dealt with in separate guidance, but again, the needs of the public as observers will be especially important
- arrangements where joint meetings are held between relevant authorities which, by default, use different platforms
- arrangements for when difficulties with technology emerge, or other circumstances might make it impossible to broadcast a meeting (set out in supporting participants to be able to take an active part in the meeting
- provision for electronic voting
Relevant authorities may wish to consult participants and observers to ensure that IT arrangements work for them, and that the technology means that multi-location meetings are as accessible as they could be.
Alongside multi-location meetings, relevant authorities will need to continue to issue notice of the convening of meetings, and make arrangements for the publication of agendas and reports, online. There are both issues and opportunities associated with this.
Transparency around the work programmes of bodies covered by these rules. Agendas and papers are usually expected to be published 3 clear working days in advance of meetings (and the detail of notice requirements are covered in more detail in the section below), but relevant authorities may wish to consider how the interests of transparency and accessibility can be served by earlier notification of proposed agenda items through more accessible and visible work programmes and through attention being given to the visibility and accuracy of a schedule of forthcoming decisions (which in the case of a principal council executive will be the Forward Plan)
Arrangements to ensure that those viewing a broadcast can be easily signposted to the agenda, reports and (in the case of recorded meetings) the minutes, and to any relevant background documentation.
Full detail of notice requirements for meetings (and other formal requirements for the publication of agendas, reports and minutes) can now be found:
- for local authority executives, at the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Decisions, Documents and Meetings) (Wales) Regulations 2001 as amended by the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Decisions, Documents and Meetings) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2021
- for other meetings of relevant authorities, amendments made to Part 5A and schedule 12 of the Local Government Act 1972
The principal object of these amendments to the existing legal framework is to remove the requirement for the production of hard copy paperwork relating to formal meetings (except for a couple of specific purposes), and to require relevant authorities to make formal information available electronically, on their website.
The new arrangements can be summarised as follows.
Notice of meetings
Public notice of all meetings must be published on the relevant authority’s website at least three clear days before the meeting (at the time it is convened, if it is convened at shorter notice)
Notice must include details of how to access the meeting if it is being held by remote means only, and the place in which the meeting is held if it is partly or wholly taking place physically.
Notice requirements also apply where a formal meeting is taking place which is not open to the public. Here, notification is required of the time of the meeting, the fact that it is being held by remote means, and that it is not open to the public
Usually notice of meetings would be provided on an authority’s website; relevant authorities may also make arrangements for notifications to be sent to members, and interested people via subscription, automatically on the uploading of agenda papers. Authorities may also make use of social media to highlight the publication of notice (although notification on social media will not constitute notice for the purposes of the Regulations).
Agendas and reports
The agenda and reports for public meetings (including late reports) must be published on the website of the authority.
Paper agendas do need to be made available to members of the public attending meetings held partly physically.
For principal councils only; recording of decisions by the executive collectively or individually, as well as the recording of business carried out in other meetings of principal councils. This requires that the names of who attended the meeting be recorded alongside apologies, declarations of interest and decisions made. This must be published within 7 working days of the meeting taking place. In the interests of clarity this does not require that a member’s or members’ signatures are required to be recorded (as has been the case previously). The information referred to above must be published on relevant authorities’ websites.
Background papers relating to meetings of relevant authorities must now be proactively published on a website, not merely be available (although, exceptionally, if it is impractical to do this, they must be open for public inspection). This is an important change; it involves the automatic placement in the public domain of specified documents which may previously have only been, in practice, published on application. Councils will therefore need to think carefully about how background papers are identified, produced and prepared for publication.
The transaction of paperless business generally. Multi-location meetings are likely to be paperless. Regulations now specify that formal information relating to meetings be published on an authority’s website, with the requirement of hard copy material being on public deposit having been removed.
There may be people who cannot access the information published electronically; principal councils must put in place facilities for members of the public who would not otherwise be able to do so, to access the documents.
Bodies covered by the legislation will need to be able to consider exempt matters in private. Exempt matters are things which a relevant authority is allowed not to publish because they are confidential. This may be for a range of reasons, which are set out in schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972. Agendas with exempt items on the agenda are often divided into a Part I held in public and a Part II held in private.
A separate call on the online platform, separate from the call used for broadcast, should be set up for those participating in a meeting by remote means. This reduces the risk that exempt material may be inadvertently made public through being broadcast. The original, public, call can be left open and can continue to broadcast (with an appropriate slide to notify viewers that the committee or body is in private session), so the Chair and other participants can return to formally close the meeting, or further business. This will allow relevant authorities to make clear to observers what is happening, and why.
Information provided to participants covering exempt matters should be dealt with in the same way as it would be for physical meetings. Bearing in mind that information will now be managed electronically by default under the notice and agenda arrangements highlighted above, relevant authorities may want to ensure that more prominent warnings be placed on exempt material, or whether a different colour can be applied to the background of such material to reflect the fact that, in hard copy, exempt material is usually printed on different colour paper for this reason. In doing so, relevant authorities will need to think about the accessibility needs of participants (around colour contrasts, for example).
Innovation in how agendas and paperwork are produced and presented
The removal of the general requirement to provide information in hard copy by default invites the possibility for more innovation and creativity. This is not innovation for its own sake, but innovation designed to better engage the public in the work of relevant authorities. Local people will be able to follow and track the way that discussions are had, and decisions made, entirely online. The removal of hard copy notices will allow relevant authorities to experiment with the use of technology to make navigating the decision-making process, in particular, easier.
Relevant authorities may wish to consider how information might be made more accessible through creative use of committee content management systems to present information differently for example, by moving away from the production of “agenda report packs” as a single PDF and towards the use of more accessible files, and file formats, which help both councillors, other meeting participants and members of the public to engage in formal business. This may include thinking about the way that minutes are drafted and presented, providing links to the substantive reports discussed, and also with the relevant section of the recording or broadcast of the meeting.
Hard copy archiving
Relevant authorities should however consider the needs of archiving. It is common practice that councils (and other relevant authorities) retain and bind, or otherwise store for historical purposes, hard copies of the records of formal proceedings of the authority. There is an obligation that formal information be retained for a period of 6 years although it is considered good practice to do so in perpetuity.
Archiving is likely to be possible and necessary for electronic documentation agendas, reports, minutes, background papers and other information important for researchers, historians or others to understand how decisions have come to be made. Relevant authorities will need to think about how they build systems to make sure that material produced predominantly, or entirely, electronically will be archived.
Multi-location meetings provide additional challenges in terms of meeting attendance. It is important for the integrity of voting procedures and attendance records that expectations and procedures are clear.
Meeting arrangements and/or the meetings policy should make clear when a participant is considered to be “present”. There are a variety of circumstances in which this might become an issue for example, in the taking of votes. Meeting arrangements may not engage with the detail of these issues (and others) because not all circumstances can be anticipated in advance. Local determination is important here.
Instead, the Monitoring Officer and/or governance officer in attendance at a meeting should be able to use agreed principles to provide a Chair with consistent advice over whether a participant should or should not be regarded as “present”.
This is particularly important for the taking of votes but is also relevant for participation in meetings more generally. It is likely also to have salience if the need to determine if a member has been present at a meeting is relevant for the purpose of determining whether they have attended a council meeting in the past six months (s85, Local Government Act 1972).
Particular circumstances might include:
- connection problems: the connection may drop, making it difficult for some participants to follow debate and discussion. It may also disrupt a broadcast feed. A loss of connection may not be immediately apparent to others present. Certain committees or bodies may resolve matters through a general expression of consent rather than a roll call vote, meaning that some participants may lose the opportunity to express disagreement under these circumstances
- participants in meetings joining by remote means by video may seek to disable video to stabilise their connection or because they have been temporarily interrupted by events at their location it may be unclear whether some participants are present or not. Relevant authorities will need to think about whether the requirement to be both seen and heard, for most meetings, allows for brief, temporary interruption like this
- where a participant is in the “waiting room” on an online platform. Here, participants will probably not be considered “present” as they cannot be seen and heard by others, cannot see and hear others (other than through a broadcast stream) and can play no active part in the meeting. The same may apply to participants who are only watching the broadcast feed as an observer
This list is provided as an illustration; individual authorities will need to make the decisions on these points that are right for them, and which they are confident both meet the needs of the law and the needs and expectations of local people in how local democracy is transacted.
Relevant authorities may decide that an officer could check to ensure ongoing presence at a meeting by requiring members to confirm their presence in the meeting chat at the beginning of each substantive item, as we suggested in support during meetings. This could also provide a way to check presence in advance of a vote, as we suggest in the taking of votes.
The withdrawal of members with a prejudicial interest
Where a participant has declared a prejudicial interest in an item they will be required to leave the meeting for the duration of the relevant item. The nature of an interest and whether or not it is prejudicial will be for an authority and its Monitoring Officer to decide.
For a physical meeting it is usual practice for a participant declaring such an interest to leave the room entirely while discussion is underway, as the mere act of ongoing presence of that individual could be seen as influencing the authority’s action.
Where a participant is joining by remote means, and has declared a prejudicial interest, they should leave or be removed for the duration of consideration of that item. Other participants should however be aware that the participant will be able to observe the broadcast of the meeting while outside. Relevant authorities may seek to include in their policies and meeting arrangements a requirement that participants with prejudicial interests undertake not to observe a broadcast for the reasons set out above, although we note that there is no definitive way to police this requirement and it may be seen as overly restrictive.
Once the matter has been concluded the clerk or support officer to the committee should immediately notify the relevant participant so that they can re-join the meeting, and the meeting should not continue until they have re-joined (otherwise they should be marked as not present for any further items).
Support and advice will usually need to be provided to the participants of multi-location meetings, usually relating to matters of procedure. Participants (especially the Chair of the meeting) will need to find an appropriate way to seek and obtain this advice to ensure the smooth running of the meeting.
Online platforms used by relevant authorities to convene multi-location meetings will usually have a chat function. The chat function will provide a useful way for advice to be shared and the business of the meeting to be managed, but its use can be open to misunderstanding.
Meeting policies should explain how this function will be used and the status in terms of meeting records. Some relevant authorities may think it sensible to ban use of the chat function outright, either in all meetings or in some, specified, meetings.
Pros of chat functions
Allows advice to be given by governance officers without disrupting the meeting.
Allows the Chair to “cue up” and acknowledge requests by committee members to contribute without disrupting the flow of questioning.
Allows members to generally express assent or agreement with another participant, or with a proposal to resolve a given issue, in a manner which gives the Chair confidence to proceed (although the fact that consent has been given in this way would need to be verbally acknowledged by the Chair in the interests of transparency).
Allows the Chair or clerk to check whether a particular member is still “present”, as we outline in the taking of votes.
Cons of chat functions
Can be seen as undermining the transparency of the meeting.
Can risk participants becoming distracted.
Risk that participants use the chat for personal communication, and that this communication becomes inadvertently visible to other participants and to the public.
Risk that chat will involve conversation about the matters under discussion without that discussion being visible to others, or recorded properly. Multi-location meetings policies may need to decide on the status of material recorded in the chat, and whether it can be used by the clerk to assist in the preparation of minutes.
Risk that the chat becomes a place for general chit-chat
The chat function will usually need to be limited to participants and the governance officer but participants should treat conversations in chat as if they are happening in public.
Participants may decide to use WhatsApp or other messaging platforms to communicate over the course of the meeting. These platforms are not in the control of the authority; care should be taken in how they are used. For example, in the case of principal councils, if used within a political group, certain uses of WhatsApp could be seen as coming into conflict with the ban on the use of political management (whipping) at scrutiny committees.
Officer support arrangements
Different meetings will require different kinds of support from governance officers, and others. In the short term, as relevant authorities adapt to multi-location meetings (and, in particular, adapt to meetings where some may join through remote means and some physically) it may be necessary to think about the need for additional support. In due course, familiarity and confidence with new systems (and training and development for both officers and participants) will reduce this need.
Multi-location meeting policies will need to specify the kind, and level, of support necessary for specific meetings, and the circumstances where support can be provided by remote means and where officers might need to be physically present.
Supporting participants to be able to take an active part in the meeting
Meetings viewed live and available to view later maybe watched by a large audience and carefully scrutinised by the public including via social media. It is important that these meetings demonstrate good governance and high standards of conduct.
Meeting policies will need to take account of the need for good conduct and high standards of behaviour. These policies will need to be drafted to closely align with other constitutional provisions on these matters, such as the Code of Conduct.
Principles of good conduct apply to meetings of any kind. However, there will be some issues that are especially relevant for multi-location meetings.
The issues below are especially important:
- people being clear about their roles and the roles that others are playing, either as participants or observers. We cover more on this in the section below;
- recognising that meeting remotely (and where some, but not all, participants are remote attendees) requires a different approach to the agenda and to behaviour than a meeting in person
- the need to think carefully about and plan for how everyone involved in the meeting will be able to actively contribute
- having a clear focus on the actual outcome of the meeting
Participants are likely to understand that formal meetings can often be “performative” people in a formal meeting behave differently from the way that they would otherwise behave, even if there is no audience. People’s physical presence in the same space has a significant impact on behaviour. Behaviour which might seem normal when everyone is in the council chamber, heckling, applause, the raising of points of order and so on, may feel odd and unusual when all or most people are joining through remote means. Participants in multi-location meetings during 2020 have talked about the “atmosphere” of multi-location meetings being different.
Behaviours in different types of meetings are likely to differ. Decision-making committees will look and feel different to audit or oversight committees, which will feel different from a principal council’s planning and licensing committees. Understanding these differing behaviours will help to inform how multi-location meeting policies are developed, and how they connect to policies around conduct and standards.
This is not just about conduct and behaviour in the narrow sense of the word, but about a shift in mindset about how much work it is possible to do in a multi-location meeting, and how multi-location meetings might help us to plan and carry out work differently.
Research carried out by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny in 2020, and further evidence carried out in preparation for the production of this guidance, highlights the need for a shift in mindset associated with meetings where people join from multiple locations.
- It may be necessary to plan to do less. Meetings where some or all participants join through remote means can run as smoothly as in-person meetings, but not everyone is equally familiar with and comfortable with what remains a new way of working. Planning work programmes accordingly will be important.
- Invest in preparation. Later in this guidance we highlight how Chairs may need to carry out planning to understand better what other participants might want to get out of a meeting. This is probably a good habit for all meetings, but will be especially relevant for multi-location ones.
Behaviour, and expectations, around meetings and how business is carried out in those meetings are crucially important in making those meetings effective. Participants in multi-location meetings and others involved in managing and supporting these meetings will have become adept at organising such meetings during the pandemic. The drafting of meeting arrangements and policies provides an opportunity to reflect on how an understanding of behavioural factors needs to be woven into these systems as they reach maturity.
Positive behaviours are also about confidence, which will come from participants being properly supported to play an active and productive role in the meetings in which they are due to take part. Relevant authorities will already have a sense of the support needs of meeting participants, but establishing permanent arrangements for multi-location meetings provides an opportunity to revisit those existing assumptions.
Some of the relevant issues are listed below. These are reproduced, in an amended form, from WLGA guidance issued in early 2020.
- Ensuring that participants have access to appropriate equipment. As a default a desktop PC or laptop with access to a stable broadband connection will be the best way to engage. Participants will need a camera (if they don’t have a laptop with an integrated camera) and ideally should use headphones to avoid background noise. Relevant authorities should provide participants who are members of the authority with appropriate equipment if they do not have access to it;
- ensuring that participants can troubleshoot basic technical problems before or during a meeting, ensuring that they know how to mute and unmute themselves, to activate and disable video, to check their internet connection and so on. There may also be a need to ensure that ICT staff or others are on hand to deal with more serious technical issues
- ensuring that participants know how to use the raise, and lower, hand feature, as well as etiquette around muting and unmuting when speaking the “raise hand” feature may not be usable for those joining on mobile or on a tablet and alternatives may therefore need to be available
- use of the chat function, WhatsApp or other messaging platforms. This is covered in more detail in support during meetings
- ensuring that names displayed are consistent and accurate, with the role of the individual clearly identified: e.g. “Cllr John Williams Committee Member" instead of “John’s iPhone” or “jw10881”
- ensuring that equipment being used has enough charge or is plugged into the mains
- ensuring that participants can view papers easily (we discussed the preparation and presentation of paperwork in more detail in notices, agendas, reports and providing for exempt matters; this may include (for example) advice being given to participants on the window snapping function on a Windows device
- the need for participants to check the environment around them before joining a meeting checking lighting (recognising the daytime lighting conditions may change over the course of a meeting), background (ensuring that backgrounds are relatively neutral and do not involve the inadvertent display of personal information, the council may provide a corporate background or participants may choose to blur their background) and any visual distractions or noise, with mobiles and onscreen notifications set to silent
- the need to check personal appearance, formal attire is probably not required but members should probably wear the kind of clothing they would wear if physically present at a meeting
- arrangements for preparation, joining the meeting 15 minutes before it is due to start and checking audio and video arrangements
- participants assuming that, for a meeting that is planned to be broadcast, the meeting is being recorded and broadcast for the total time they are on the call
Supporting observers (including the public) to access and participate in the meeting
While the potential for bigger audiences provides new opportunities for participation, multi-location meetings must ensure arrangements are made for the public to participate via questions and presentations, for example. The presentation of multi-location meetings should also take into account public presence as an audience in new ways.
The broadcast of meetings will make them more accessible generally but councils will still need to think of the needs of both observers and participants. This may include:
- the physical layout of rooms, which will be affected by the requirements around visibility of those joining through remote means
- how participants joining through remote means will be displayed on a screen or screens in a physical location
Ensuring that observers (including the public) feel welcome
Councils have found over the course of 2020 that the universal use of multi-location meetings has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people viewing meetings.
Generally speaking meetings of relevant authorities will be meetings taking place in public rather than “public meetings”. Members of the public will not have an automatic right to address committees or other bodies although provision may be made in the constitution for them to do so, in which case observers can become participants.
There will be instances where those people who would otherwise be observers will need to join a meeting as an active participant. This may include:
- those presenting petitions or deputations
- those asking public questions
- people giving evidence (for example, to scrutiny committees)
- applicants on regulatory matters (planning and licensing)
- parties to quasi-judicial matters
Where individuals are members of the public the Chair or an officer will need to make arrangements to ensure that they can join to participate and that they are supported in doing so.
Meeting policies may need to make particular provision for this.
Making sure that members of the public feel supported when participating through remote means
At a physical meeting, an officer might have an opportunity to speak quietly to a person beforehand to allay any nerves, and to ensure that a person is satisfied with the experience after they have contributed. In a multi-location meeting these “soft” opportunities for conversation and reassurance may not naturally exist. Individuals may find themselves, joining from their own home, on a public call with 50 strangers, being expected to contribute coherently, and then removed from the call without ceremony when the item reaches its conclusion. Clearly, this is not ideal. Relevant authorities may wish to explore how members of the public joining meetings in this way can be best supported.
Formal meetings which are also public meetings
It is common for some types of authorities to convene formal meetings which are designed to actively involve the public in proceedings.
These meetings might legally be formal meetings but they may have a different character and atmosphere. Relevant authorities should not avoid holding these kinds of meetings because they think that managing them as multi-location meetings will be complex. This also goes for meetings held in places in the community other than an authority’s normal premises, where the presence of technology for broadcast and display may not be immediately present.
Meeting arrangements may make particular reference to and provision for these kinds of meetings.
Providing for protest and dissent
Relevant authorities may also need to consider how opportunities for public protest and dissent might be provided for in multi-location meetings.
Protest can be inconvenient (and disruptive), but it also reflects a vital public right. Where relevant authorities propose to carry out business by way of multi-location meetings as the norm, and particularly where little to no business for certain bodies may be carried out in person, this feature of the local democratic landscape could be at risk; meeting arrangements should take account of this factor. It will not be appropriate for an authority to decide that it will convene a meeting entirely remotely (with no business being carried out in person) if the principal reason for doing so is because it will eliminate the risk of embarrassment to the authority of a visible, public protest in the vicinity of the meeting.
It is, however, proper for a council to decide that it will convene all meetings so that they can only be accessed through remote means, as long as the accessibility and equality implications of this decision are understood, and as long as the discretion of the authority to make exceptions to these arrangements in particular cases is not fettered.
We noted in taking different approaches for meetings the need to make physical arrangements for certain meetings, even those where most participants may be joining through remote means. This may also provide the opportunity for public protest, which could take place in a public gallery, and made visible to those participating through remote means.
This would allow for a protest to be streamed into a meeting otherwise taking place in multiple locations, and could ensure that people protesting in this way feel that their voice has been heard.
Supporting broadcast by members of the public
Members of the public or the press may wish to film for immediate or future broadcast some or all of a meeting.
In the case of multi-location meetings where most or all participants are in the same location, this may involve the separate recording of a broadcast stream for editing and broadcast later.
For meetings where some or all participants attend physically, with physical arrangements made for observers, members of the public and members of the press may wish to use their own equipment for recording and broadcast.
Relevant authorities may wish to engage with the local press, and to invite views from the public, as to how their meeting arrangements and policies should take account of the requirement to provide access for this purpose. The way that this works is likely to be different from how councils may have supported this activity when meetings were “all-physical”. This may involve:
- ensuring that the layout of a room is designed to support video recording (by providing a space from which people might film proceedings without visual obstruction, for example)
- ensuring that amplification arrangements in a committee room allow proceedings to be adequately recorded by an external microphone, or providing a way for members of the public carrying out recording to take the broadcast audio feed, where relevant
- arrangements for shots of the room which include members of the public and others in the audience. Committee meetings occur in public and those attending do not have an automatic expectation of privacy or the right to object to recording, but there may be circumstances in which councils want to think about how they will ensure that those carrying out recording are focusing on the formal proceedings
- authorities will have to comply with UK data protection legislation and their own data protection policies in relation to the processing of any recording of meetings that are made. Data protection can be a complex area of law, and it is recommended that the authority consults its data protection officer to ensure compliance
- arrangements for video and audio recording of the recorder’s own narrative and of two-way interviews with participants within the committee room; members of the press in particular may want to film interviews, pieces to camera and establishing shots of the space in which the meeting takes place, and arrangements should be in place to support this before and after the meeting, and to ensure that those attending are aware that this may be happening
This is not an exhaustive list.
Chairing a multi-location meeting is very different to chairing a face-to-face meeting. Chairs will need to be supported to carry out their role in specific ways. The job of the Chair will be a particular challenge where a meeting is being carried out in a physical space with only some participants joining through remote means.
The following general principles for chairing meetings in this context are reproduced and amended, from WLGA guidance issued in spring 2020, and incorporate guidance produced by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny for both English and Welsh councils at the same time.
Chairs have a particular responsibility to prepare for the meeting, probably in a more planned and directed way than might be necessary for a physical meeting. This may involve the Chair consulting with officers, and other committee members, to determine:
- what the meeting is about, and the possible purpose and outcomes for every item on that meeting’s agenda
- what information and paperwork will need to be made available in order for these outcomes to be delivered
- where councillors or other meeting participants will want to contribute and where and how public participation might need to be facilitated
- where these people might need particular support in order to participate in the way that they want
Chairs will also need to engage with all participants (which may include external witnesses and members of the public or others with a role to play) to ensure that their role and means of involvement are well understood. This is covered in more detail in supporting observers (including the public) to access and participate in the meeting.
- think about the accessibility of the meeting to the public, and whether there are any things they can do that will ensure that public observers are welcomed and that business is explained in a way that is understandable, including the operation of the multi-location meeting itself
- ensure that they are prepared for the meeting in a logistical sense by being aware of which members and other participants may be joining by remote means. If the Chair themselves is joining by remote means while some other participants are present in a committee room particular steps will need to be taken to prepare, which are set out in taking different approaches for meetings
- ensure before the start of the meeting that everyone is able to access the meeting, and that everyone is able to both see and hear each other (where the law requires it for specific meetings) or hear each other (for other formal meetings)
- provide a reminder of meeting arrangements and policies, particularly relating to conduct and behaviour, including some of the material set out in supporting participants to be able to take an active part in the meeting. This may (depending on the meeting) involve advice on voting arrangements
- at the beginning of the meeting, introduce themselves, the committee, officers present and other participants to ensure that those watching or listening to a broadcast are aware who is who
- to avoid people speaking over each other or long silences, ask each member in turn for their contribution to an item, based on an understanding of what members wish to contribute (as we explore further in supporting participants to be able to take an active part in the meeting
- check occasionally through the meeting that no one has been ‘lost’ due to technical issues, and provide support to councillors experiencing challenges in this Chairs may need the support of support officers
- pay more attention than usual to framing the meeting with reminders of the purpose of each agenda item and summarising decisions and actions for each item and again at the end of the meeting
- check at the end of each agenda item that all members are content that they have been able to contribute, and ensure that agreed voting arrangements are followed where relevant
The “balance” between individuals in a room, and those joining by remote means, will have a significant effect on how business will be transacted. This links back to the points we made in the earlier section on conduct and behaviour. Chairs and their support officers are likely to need to know ahead of time which members to attend physically and which may join by remote means. For meetings with a mix of arrangements, particularly if the Chair themselves will be joining by remote means, planning is likely to be necessary. This may include:
- understanding the motivations and objectives of individual participants on specific agendas items, and having a sense of what they may want to say and ask
- identifying how a support officer or other member may bring their attention to a member wishing to make a comment through remote means or in the committee room (it will otherwise be challenging for a Chair to maintain awareness of those in the room as well as those joining remotely)
- planning debate to be themed or otherwise structured rather than inviting comments generally, to ensure that all participants have an opportunity to contribute
- briefing witnesses on expectations
- ensuring that reports reflect the above sets of circumstances
This kind of planning will benefit any meeting, not just those with a mix of in-person and remote attendance.
Multi-location meetings provide additional challenges in terms of capturing votes. Chosen options will depend on the chosen platform and local preferences.
Participants in a formal meeting may decide to do something through general consent, or through a recorded vote. Immediately before the vote the Chair will need to determine that all members of the body continue to be “present”, as we set out in meeting attendance.
There are a number of different options when it comes to recording votes:
- a verbal roll call of those participants entitled to vote (“voters”). Particularly for full Councils, this process has been found to be the most rigorous but can be very time consuming, especially if amendments to motions are put to the vote
- using the ‘raise hand’ function, although this is subject to misinterpretation and human error
- responses via the chat
- dedicated voting software incorporated into the platform
The authority will want to ensure that:
- all voters have the same opportunity to vote
- all voters vote through the same process. In some council chambers, facilities for the taking and recording of votes may be present, but those joining through remote means may not be able to participate in the use of this in-situ technology. Relevant authorities with this technology will need to think carefully about whether, and how, such facilities might extend into the remote space, or how systems used for remote voting might extend into the physical space
- a suitable record of the vote is captured by the appropriate officer and is confirmed in a way that is understandable to those observing the meeting
Bodies reaching resolutions without a vote
It is common that committees or other bodies may resolve to take certain action without a vote being recorded. In person, the Chair is able to get a sense of whether consensus exists by looking around the room. Those present have the opportunity to object and to press for a vote, depending on the authority’s standing orders.
Where participants are joining through remote means (and particularly where some members join through remote means and some are present physically) the Chair will need to take special care to ensure that consent is present to move on without a vote.
Training, peer support and good practice sharing
The arrangements for multi-location meetings will continue to evolve. This makes it particularly important to ensure that councillors and officers have access to good quality training, peer support and good practice sharing.
Those participating in multi-location meetings and those expecting to participate should be offered initial, and top-up, training, development and support to ensure an understanding of these issues. This is not the same as training to support the technical use of ICT equipment.