Annual Governance Statement Progress Report - Values and Behaviours
To consider the progress report.
Nikki Craig provided the Panel with an update on the Annual Governance Statement, specifically on values and behaviours. She explained that there had been a refresh of the appraisal system and there had been a focus on raising the profile of the whistleblowing process. Over 400 staff from across RBWM had been through the Crucial Conversations programme and training was starting to be rolled out to line managers on the new appraisal system. The whistleblowing policy was available on the staff SharePoint and internal intranet, while it was also advertised regularly in the ‘Borough Bulletin’ email sent to all staff to raise awareness.
The Chairman asked how Members could improve their ability to show the RBWM values and if there was any training available.
Nikki Craig said that the question on Members received the biggest response of ‘neither agree nor disagree’ in the survey. In terms of training, the Crucial Conversations programme was being provided to staff and Nikki Craig was happy to take this offline and look to see if something could be provided for Members too.
The Chairman believed that if elected Members were to be judged by staff then they should at least be provided with an opportunity to fix and improve the score from the survey.
Councillor L Jones pointed out that it was not clear how much interaction staff had with Members and that this question should have been included in the survey so that the context was clear.
Nikki Craig agreed that the wording could be reviewed for the future, for example a two-step question could be used which asked staff if they interacted with Members, with the second part asking about the interaction.
Councillor Werner warned officers to be careful of changing the wording of questions like this as it risked disguising the problem. Officers were often residents and would see things like how Members behaved in public council meetings and posts on social media. Members needed to accept there was a problem before any training would be beneficial.
The Chairman said that social media was a separate issue, but it was important for all Members to understand what the RBWM values were. Training could be focussed around these values and how to abide by them.
Adele Taylor explained that for some staff it was through personal interaction while for others it was through council meetings or other indirect methods. More information was needed but things were moving in the right direction. Officers were looking at the results of the staff survey and were seeing if there was more that could be done.
Councillor Werner believed that it was an urgent requirement that Members needed to get to grips with.
Councillor Haseler asked if several questions about Members were included on the survey or if it was just the single question. He asked if the survey could be broken down into more detail.
Nikki Craig said that she was happy to send round a copy of the survey questions and answers to the Panel.
ACTION – Nikki Craig to circulate survey questions and results to the Panel.
Councillor Haseler asked if there were any plans to create a survey for Members on their interactions with officers and contractors across the council.
Nikki Craig said that she would put the suggestion forward to see if its something the council should look to do. The largest response from the staff survey on the Members interaction question was ‘neither agree nor disagree’ which showed that most staff had very little interaction with Members.
Councillor Sharpe said that this was a good piece of work and showed a promising direction of travel, particularly as it was being carried out in a difficult time. He had concerns over the response for interaction with Members but the general direction was good. Councillor Sharpe asked what other councils did with staff surveys and if their results were similar.
Nikki Craig said that she had regular catch ups with the other Berkshire Heads of Human Resources. Lots of organisations had done regular surveys on things like staff wellbeing and happiness. The RBWM results were not too dissimilar to other local authorities and the engagement level had been good.
Councillor Werner asked how other local authorities compared on the issue of interaction with Members.
Nikki Craig said that she was happy to ask and report back to the Panel. Each local authority did not necessarily ask the same questions, with a significant number of the questions in the RBWM survey based around the new values.
ACTION – Nikki Craig to ask other Berkshire local authorities for their survey results on interactions with elected Members and report back to the Panel.
Councillor Rayner passed on her thanks to Nikki Craig and her team for the report. She believed that this showed that RBWM took its staff seriously and listened to their views. The increase in response rate showed that staff thought the survey was worthwhile. It was important to note that during the pandemic, Members would have had less direct interaction with staff.
Councillor Hilton, Lead Member for Finance and Ascot, noted that interactions between staff had not improved despite the majority of staff taking part in the Crucial Conversations programme. It was important to understand the context when considering the survey results.
Nikki Craig explained that the new values were being launched in 2020 when staff were working in different ways due to the pandemic. There was a small downward response to internal staff interactions but officers wanted to improve the overall figure.
Councillor Baldwin said that he was not surprised about the Member behaviour being reflected in the survey staff. However, elected Members were temporary, depending on elections, but the leadership at the top of the council was more permanent. Councillor Baldwin therefore believed it was important to focus on the question in the survey around staff confidence in the Corporate Leadership Team at the council rather than the interactions staff had with Members.
Councillor Werner believed that this needed urgent action and asked if it was possible for Cabinet to investigate.
Adele Taylor said that the Annual Governance Statement would be going to the Audit and Governance Committee, so a recommendation could be made to them.
The Chairman agreed that this would be appropriate.
Councillor Rayner suggested that the Panel could ask for a breakdown of the Members showing the values question which would give further clarity to the situation and ask for it to be considered by the Audit and Governance Committee.
Councillor Sharpe was not sure what action the Panel wanted to take. He suggested that asking for further information would be a better approach.
Councillor L Jones disagreed with Councillor Sharpe and explained that the Panel did not need further information, the action would be for officers to go away and investigate the issues around Member interactions before reporting back to the Panel, if required. The Panel believed that there was an issue and they would like this to be addressed by officers in the upcoming Annual Governance Statement.
Emma Duncan, Deputy Director of Law & Strategy and Monitoring Officer, said that officers were aware that this was an issue. The Centre for Governance and Public Scrutiny had recently published a piece of work on governance failure and risk with one of the key focusses being around officer and Member relationships. There would be some self-assessment work done by officers and Members as part of the actions coming out of the Annual Governance Statement. This would generate some understanding of the key issues and allow officers to investigate them. There could be an opportunity for the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Panel to engage in some work around this.
The Chairman asked for confirmation on where the Annual Governance Statement would be considered and that work on this issue would continue in the background alongside the Action Plan.
Emma Duncan explained that the Annual Governance Statement was produced by officers on behalf of the Leader of the Council and the Managing Director. Within the statement there would be an action plan, with some of the actions being referred to the Panel. A change of culture was only possible by listening and making changes in several different places.
Councillor Stimson, Lead Member for Climate Change, Sustainability, Parks and Countryside, said that she had studied cultural behaviour and that the council needed to be careful when finding out what people had said. The most important thing was that staff were responding to the survey and making their views known.
Nikki Craig confirmed that the survey was anonymous and was only broken down at a service level.
Emma Duncan clarified for the Panel that they could agree to note the report and recommend to the Audit and Governance Committee that issues around behaviours were picked up through the action plan, with the Panel being updated on the progress at future meetings.
The recommendation was proposed by the Chairman, seconded by Councillor Sharpe and:
RESOLVED UNANIMOUSLY: That the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Panel noted the report and recommended to the Audit and Governance Committee that issues around behaviours were picked up through the Annual Governance Statement Action Plan. The Panel would then be updated on any future progress.