Critical examination of one identified or emerging risk - transition to the Sixth Senedd
- Meeting of Senedd Commission Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, Friday, 18 June 2021 10.00 (Item 9.)
- View the background to item 9.
9.1 The Chair invited Siwan to introduce this item, and welcomed Sulafa Thomas, Head of Commission and Members’ Support to the meeting. Siwan reminded the Committee that the risk had been added to the Corporate Risk Register to reflect the potential impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainties around the date of the election, the dissolution period and transition to the Sixth Senedd. She advised that the risk would now be closed with residual risks around ongoing delivery and transition being managed at a service level.
9.2 Siwan described how effective engagement with bodies including the Commission, Business Committee and the Remuneration Board had informed scenario planning and decisions and guidance around the election period and dissolution. Updated guidance was issued to Members and staff in a co-ordinated and timely manner.
9.3 Siwan outlined how the various strands of work had been delivered. This ranged from planning for dissolution; communications around the election, particularly for 16 and 17 year olds voting for the first time; providing guidance to non-returning Members and induction for new and returning Members; and supporting early Senedd business. In terms of governance, Siwan added that early planning, the establishment of scenario planning and working groups and a dedicated project co-ordinator had been key factors in successful delivery. She added that existing governance structures had been utilised to carry out risk assessments for activities such as oath-taking which had been carried out in person and virtually according to the preferences of Members.
9.4 Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, arrangements to support early business were successful. This included a plenary meeting on 12 May to appoint a Presiding Officer, Deputy Presiding Officer and nominate the First Minister, as well as support for Members to employ staff and kit out offices. There had also been 100% turnout for Members’ induction. The majority of feedback from Members had been very positive and some immediate improvements had been made in response to issues identified.
9.5 The work around transition to the Sixth Senedd was ongoing in terms of the appointment of office holders, the formation of new Senedd Committees and plans for the Royal opening. Siwan offered to share closure reports, which would include details of lessons learned, with the Committee in due course. These would take account of a proposed review by the Electoral Commission.
9.6 In response to a question from the Chair about planning for a potential recall of the Senedd and its Committees during the election period, Siwan outlined how officials had worked with the Business Committee, the Commission and the Welsh Government to establish clear criteria for this eventuality. It was clear that the only circumstances in which this would become necessary were for matters relating to Covid and any delay to the election date. Clarity was also provided on rules around the use of staff and resources in such circumstances. Siwan explained that some officials had been on standby over the election period should a recall have become necessary.
9.7 The Chair and Committee members congratulated officials on their success, particularly under challenging circumstances. When asked if anything could have been done differently, Siwan suggested that planning could possibly have started earlier on some technical issues such as archiving Committee material. She also acknowledged that early and frequent communication with Members and their staff, particularly around dissolution guidance was critical when changes were happening at such pace. In response to questions about gathering feedback, she added that Manon had met with departing Members which would be used to inform lessons learned.
9.8 Arwyn provided details of research commissioned by an external marketing agency which had reported that targets on media reach around the elections had exceeded targets. He also explained that officials had been working with Cardiff University on a Welsh Elections study to ensure there was appropriate research into the views of voters, such as reasons for voting, including for 16 and 17 year-olds. He also noted the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on plans to encourage young people to vote. He outlined how the research would provide a rich source of information and offered to share reports with the Committee. Aled informed the Committee of a study also being carried out by Ofcom into coverage on network news during the pandemic which would be of interest to the Senedd Commission.
9.9 In response to a question from Ann around comparisons with elections in Scotland, Arwyn advised that, whilst there were differences in the weighting around young voters, some comparisons should be possible once pre and post-election questionnaires had been analysed.
9.10 The Chair asked for an oral update on the transition to the Sixth Senedd at the autumn meeting.
Action: Clerking team to add an agenda item on lessons learned from the transition to the Sixth Senedd to the agenda for the autumn meeting.