Agenda and minutes

Strong Communities Select Committee - Thursday, 17th September, 2020 10.00 am

Venue: Remote Microsoft Teams Meeting

Contact: Democratic Services 

Note: Click here to watch livestreamed meeting 


No. Item


Declarations of Interest.


There were no declarations of interest.


Open Public Forum.


No members of the public were present.


Presentation regarding the Social Justice Strategy Review - Consultation exercise.


Officer Cath Fallon gave a presentation on the Social Justice Strategy, following a brief introduction from Councillor Sara Jones. The strategy was published two years ago as a live document which can be adapted, taking account of external factors, and ensuring it is always relevant and applicable to the most vulnerable in our society. The strategy was refreshed last summer following consultation with members, and we were due to do the same this year but the process has been extended due to the pandemic. The challenges we will undoubtedly face as a result will need to be reflected in the latest iteration.

The Social Justice Strategy is about people, place and prosperity, the aim being to put social justice at the heart of what we do, with the strategy being a broad programme of work to turn the vision into reality. We want to make a difference in the lives of local people, while working in partnership with them. We have committed to enabling connected and caring communities to support people to live independently, but also delivering on social justice, better prosperity, and reducing inequality. We want to enable better local services through supporting volunteers and social action.

This aligns with the PSB priorities to reduce inequalities between, and within, communities, as well as supporting and protecting vulnerable people, and considering our impact on the environment. Further, it aligns with the PSB objectives to provide children and young people with the best possible start in life, and responding to demographic challenges and changes. It also allows us to develop opportunities for communities and businesses to be part of an economically thriving and well-connected county.

The Community And Partnership Development team drives the Social Justice Strategy, working as a bridge between community needs and aspirations. We have concluded that area working and community development works well. Some of our area clusters have more engagement and are better attended than others, but we are working in an environment in which there are other opportunities to engage.

There have been some positive developments because of the team’s partnership work, in our youth support services network and community cohesion approaches, which have been essential, especially during the pandemic, in terms of how we engage with our BAME residents. The Community Focussed Schools Programme, working directly with schools, volunteers and parents to capture and mobilise our social capital, has also been positive.

Prior to Covid-19, we felt that we needed to promote the plan more widely, both internally and externally, but with a stronger focus on community development. ‘Be Community’ ensures we are providing the best possible support and advice to our volunteers. We are also maximising Flexible Funding to ensure that we can help when we see a real need in the community. We have found that as we have committed as an authority, town and community councils will follow. We felt it was important to look at our Partnerships and PSB, asking if our Partnership structure is too complicated, with areas of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.


Welsh Language Monitoring Report 2019/20 - Scrutiny of Performance. pdf icon PDF 121 KB

Additional documents:


Officer Alan Burkitt presented a verbal report on the Welsh Language in Monmouthshire. This is a legal requirement by the Welsh language Wales measure 2011, consisting of giving an overview of performance to the Welsh language Commissioner; we then receive a reply with the commissioner’s own assessment. The translation service is very busy; for that, many of the 176 Welsh language standards with which we have to comply consists of providing information, documentation, etc. Our service is excellent, run by Becky Davies, who allocates and records. Around 18 months ago, we calculated that we translate 1.6 million words per annum, which is considerably more than before the Welsh language standards were introduced. The take-up from staff is excellent – I very rarely see a document that has gone out without a Welsh translation. The website is fully bilingual.

Workforce planning is a requirement looking at what resources are available within departments, essentially an audit of who in those departments has Welsh language skills, from fluent down to learners. Something that Monmouthshire has done lately is that all vacancies are now ‘Welsh Language – Desirable’ – considering that we have 10,000 Welsh-speaking residents in Monmouthshire, there isn’t a job in which Welsh language skills are not desirable. The key issue is that frontline staff numbers, i.e. jobs advertised as ‘Welsh Language – Essential’, are low. This brings challenges. It is already hard to appoint to certain roles in Monmouthshire, particularly in Social Care, and we do not have a large turnover of staff. It is therefore difficult to build that critical resource. We have 34 fluent non-school based Welsh speaking staff out of approximately 2,000. There was a Quality Assurance Report meeting this week in which the commissioner identified that the number of frontline staff in some local authorities is poor. There are 34 fluent speakers in the council now, compared to 28 when I started. In 36 vacancies last year, only 1 was designated as ‘Welsh Language – Essential’.


We have received no official complaints, which is obviously positive. We have only ever had 1 complaint, against which we successfully challenged. There are some complaints, however – I often receive emails pointing me towards various issues, which we address immediately.

As well as recruitment, a big issue is that we aren’t proactive with the services we offer. If someone requests something, we then try to provide it, rather than offering things through the medium of Welsh in the first instance. The commissioner, as part of his report, conducts a ‘mystery shopper’ activity in which receptionists etc. are addressed in Welsh and if there isn’t an effective response, it is concluded that the organisation in lacking in its skills. This is something we need to look at seriously for a future review. The good news is that I think everything else in place here, including the enthusiasm and support of officers. Fortunately, the attitude in Monmouthshire is that if something needs to be done, it will be done properly; this is  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.


Burials - Member investigation - verbal feedback.


Councillor Val Smith presented a verbal report (full written form to be emailed to members later). The report highlighted numerous points, in order to raise the question of whether Monmouthshire County Council could provide a total bereavement service for residents. Councils are well placed to make a strong business case; Kettering Borough Council and Wigan Council serve as successful examples. Funerals are often a ‘crisis’ purchase for families, and funeral ‘poverty’ is increasing: people are unable to meet the costs involved, borrowing (including payday loans) and taking on debt to do so. The Cardiff Bereavement Service is another example of a successful programme helping communities to deal with this difficult time.

The report also considered the lack of standards for conduct or training in becoming a funeral director, and the increasing problem of space for burials, along with innovative companies such as ‘Recompose’ in the USA, which are changing the process of dealing with bodies. The report also drew attention to the disparity between councils of the cost of funerals and burials, and the sharp increase of prices overall in the last decade. An additional problem is that of death notifications, with families needing to notify numerous agencies on the death of a loved one; the government’s ‘Tell Us Once’ initiative is making excellent progress on this front. As a council, we need to look at whether we can do a better job in making funeral organisation as easy and stress-free as possible, and see this as a useful initiative.


Chair’s Summary:

Thank you to Councillor Smith for this report. This subject is of course important to everyone, as we will all face these concerns in our lives, perhaps on many occasions. The variety of available options is surprising – composting, etc. Donation to science is another important option. The variation in costs is also surprising. Councillor Easson wished to make the following point about Dewstow Cemetery in Caldicot, which has been very successful: it was a Finalist for Best Kept Cemetery 2016 at the Good Funeral Awards, and has a Green Flag. The cost of opening a plot is half the price of anywhere else in Monmouthshire. The local authority in Caldicot has managed the cemetery since 1962 and is nearly full. Negotiations have taken place to buy a plot of land above the cemetery for extra burials in the coming years. It is therefore a strong example of good practice.


To confirm the following minutes:


Strong Communities Select Committee dated 12th March 2020. pdf icon PDF 441 KB


The minutes of the meeting held on the 12th March 2020 were confirmed as an accurate record.


Joint Meeting - Economy and Development Select and Strong Communities Select Committees dated 21st July 2020 (to follow).


The minutes of the meeting held on the 21st July 2020 were confirmed as an accurate record.


Strong Communities Select Committee Forward Work Programme. pdf icon PDF 498 KB


The Work Programme has been updated since the agenda was dispatched. One addition is the Members’ Seminar next week on Waste & Recycling, followed on 28th September by a Special Scrutiny Committee on changes to Waste & Recycling prior to a Cabinet decision on 7th October. The way in which we can receive public submissions, given that we are not meeting in the chamber, is currently being discussed. There is also a special Joint meeting on 19th October regarding Budget Recovery plans. All Scrutiny members will be invited. There will be the need to organise a special joint meeting with Economy & Development Select in late October to look at the car parking review.

The meeting on 12th November will consider public protection and the Covid response, and the registration and Covid response. The final meeting of the year on 17th December will look at Strategic Equality plans and public toilets, scrutinising the process on implementing a strategy, before updating Welsh Government.



Cabinet & Council Forward Work Programme. pdf icon PDF 164 KB


Next Meeting: Thursday 12th November 2020.