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Council discusses scrutiny

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County Hall

County Hall

AT TUESDAY’S Democratic Services Committee, Councillors discussed a number of ways to help improve scrutiny. They discussed its effectiveness, ways to improve it, adequacy of support and public engagement. Cllr Owen James said: “There needs to be a recognition of how good they think scrutiny is. What measurement facilities are there?” Mark Elliot, Head of Public Protection, responded: “It’s very hard to define success criteria; the way it was done was all about a self-assessment process, identifying examples of good practice and areas for development. There is nothing previous to this but there is nothing set in stone other than the examples we have.”

Cllr Pat Davies said: “With my committee we evaluated where we were going and what we wanted to achieve. The task and finish group was set up as was the school standards. Each committee should be able to do a self-evaluation.” Mark Elliot added: “It is important to get member engagement. The starting point would be to begin with the template that the Welsh Audit Office has come up with and trial that. Then there can be some sort of judgement as to where we are.” Cllr Rhys Sinnett said: “I support trying it out and seeing if there are any gaps.

We won’t know unless we try it out.” Cllr James added: “With regards to member engagement – this is something that you need right across the authority. If everyone is involved it will be quite a pleasant environment, at the moment we don’t have that. You can’t do one without the other.” Huw Miller, Head of Legal & Committee Services, said: “The stance you are taking so far is good. There is a need to involve all members – members of scrutiny will change. You have to consider how you notify and involve all other members.”

He continued: “All chairs will produce annual reports and they will all be put on the website. The scrutiny website is building up quite nicely. Any member can see how scrutiny works.” Cllr Pat Davies said: “Scrutiny members sit in their groups; I don’t like that and I have switched names around in the past. They shouldn’t be there to sit in political groups.” Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse said: “I can see the point of this but it depends on the size of the committee and the size of the room and the business being discussed.”

Cllr Keith Lewis added: “I would always argue caution in terms of trying to over manage the situation. We are where we are, we’ve got to sit somewhere.” Cllr Allen-Mirehouse added: “Public engagement is very important; councillors are elected to represent their interests and views. It is very important that the public know what is happening. Somebody who does not know what is going on will come to a wrong decision. We are not trying to cut the public off; we all have a responsibility to our electors.”

Cllr Sinnett said: “We have to respond to our direct electors. The question is how we get their views of a topic we are looking at. We invite external views and this would be very useful to triangulate those. We are the ones who have to make the decision.” Cllr Keith Lewis said: “I agree with everything being said but you are missing out on one fundamental tier of government. “We should also consider the roles of community councillors. There are some which are very efficient and there are some which are useless.

“There have been examples recently like the public toilets; any decision we make will affect that area. “There have been different outcomes, other communities have said they would take them on but they haven’t”. Cllr Pat Davies said: “This could be a vehicle for trying to engage better with town and community councils”. Cllr Allen-Allen-Mirehouse added: “The community councils are very keen for the council to spend money in their wards. The town and community councils do not want a certain asset removed and this is where the role of the community council comes in. “It is good for democracy, that although a councillor may not get their way, their voice has been heard”.

Huw Miller then spoke about the adequacy of scrutiny support. He said: “This is the first report of adequacy of scrutiny. When the team was set up it was pointed out that there was a gap in terms of support for scrutiny. They have done a great job in taking the authority forward in terms of the scrutiny function. We are getting there, we are not there yet.

I don’t think there is perfect scrutiny and we’ve got to do our best to try and get as close to that as we possibly can.I’m certainly of the view that the current provision of staff is sufficient but it has to be kept under continual review.” Finally, Councillors spoke about public engagement, focussing on the forms that are available on the council’s website. Members of the public are free to submit their views on any agenda item that is being discussed and they can also submit a proposal for an agenda item.

Cllr Owen James said: “This is something new you’re engaging in. It may cause an awful lot of work. I think we should let this grow organically rather than push it out there.” Cllr Rhys Sinnett added: “It is down to the committee to decide whether or not and when to add it to its work agenda. It needs to be clear that you can suggest things but it won’t automatically be discussed. There is a process that has to be gone through by a committee.”

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Masks now advised in all secondary schools

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PUPILS across Wales are now being advised to wear facemasks in all communal areas of secondary schools (including playgrounds), colleges and on transport to and from places of learning by the Welsh Government.

Although not compulsory, the new recommendations have been made by ministers to ensure a consistent approach in tackling COVID-19 across Wales.

People picking up and dropping off children are also advised to wear face coverings too to minimise the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19.

The new guidance, aimed mainly at secondary schools, which the Education Minister has described as ‘easy to follow’ was announced today and now means that the only spaces where staff and pupils can safely remove their facemasks is in the classroom.

The majority of councils already require secondary pupils and staff to wear masks in corridors and on most school transport with those rules extended to primary pupils too in some areas.

Education minister Kirsty Williams said: “It is vital that young people, parents, adults and the workforce feel confident that all measures are being taken to ensure the educational environments are as safe as possible.

“We have been clear that we will keep every policy under review and will continue to follow scientific advice. The policy we are announcing today does just that”.

The new advice has been recommended by the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group (Tag), which has been looking at the “possibility of wearing face coverings for older age groups in more circumstances, including on public and dedicated transport” and could “even include in the classroom on a risk assessed basis…. balancing benefits with harms to overall wellbeing of students.”

Tag is also looking at how feasible a mass asymptomatic testing programme in schools and colleges could be, the Welsh Government has said it is considering that approach.

Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “Face masks and coverings in communal areas could have serious consequences for Wales’ 2,500 deaf children, almost all of whom rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate.
“Socialising in corridors, break time chats and playground games are all rites of passage, but deaf young people now risk missing out because they can’t understand what others are saying. They’re also more likely to experience loneliness, isolation and bullying.
“Public health is the priority, but schools and colleges must move quickly to introduce reasonable adjustments to help deaf young people during this difficult time.”

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Two day centres to close temporarily as a precaution

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TWO north Pembrokeshire Day facilities for older people and people with learning disabilities are to close temporarily as a precaution following the rise in coronavirus cases in Ceredigion.

Bro Preseli Day Centre in Crymych and Wintern Day Centre, Goodwick, are to close temporarily from tomorrow (Tuesday, November 24).

The decision to close each site will be reviewed regularly.

It is emphasised that there have been no positive cases of Covid-19 detected at either site and the temporary closures have been put in place as a precaution.

 

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North Pembrokeshire schools remain closed

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THE SIX North Pembrokeshire schools which were closed today (Monday, November 23) as a precaution following the increased spread of coronavirus in South Ceredigion, will remain closed tomorrow (Tuesday, November 23).

The Pembrokeshire schools are:

• Ysgol Preseli
• Ysgol y Frenni
• Ysgol Llandudoch
• Ysgol Eglwyswrw
• Ysgol Cilgerran
• Ysgol Clydau.

The Pembrokeshire schools are closed as a precaution as they share services – such as transport – with the Ceredigion schools.

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