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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 05/12/2006
Strong and Prosperous Communities




6
Waverley Corporate Services & Development Team
LOCAL GOVERNMENT WHITE PAPER, 26th OCTOBER 2006
“Strong and Prosperous Communities”
Implications for Waverley
A Briefing Note on the White Paper
This briefing note looks to pick out the key issues for Waverley from the White Paper published on 26th October. It will look first at the ‘developing role’ proposed for local government, before considering some of the resource implications that flow from the changes to internal mechanisms that the document outlines. Finally, the note will turn to the outline details of the ‘unitary offer’.

The Developing Role
The White Paper outlines emerging new roles for local government, characterised by:
Strengthened political leadership,
Devolution of powers to the neighbourhood level, and
A shifting emphasis to a strategic commissioning role

to ensure responsive, modern, cost-effective services that meet changing needs and expectations.

Strengthened Political Leadership at the Local Level
The reforms proposed to deliver strengthened political leadership are headlined by fundamental changes to the models of executive decision-making. The least radical of these options would involve a four-year term for the type of indirectly elected leader currently in place in Waverley, but with full executive powers and the ability to appoint cabinet members invested in them.

If the Council resolves to introduce one of the Government’s favoured options - either directly elected leader and cabinet, or even a directly elected mayor - they would be required to consult extensively but not to hold a referendum on the issue.

The drive to augment the role of ‘backbench’ councillors is encompassed by a reform of Overview and Scrutiny, which will now have the power to review decision-making in most other public organisations, and also to consider and work to address the new ‘Community Calls to Action’.

Devolution of Powers
Focusing of responsive decision making at a local level is also characterised by proposals to allocate ward Members small budgets to ‘nip’ minor local issues ‘in the bud’, and simplification of the process for creating byelaws (which will now be enforceable by fixed penalty notice).

An emergence of new political roles is accompanied by a corresponding expectation that local authorities will take the lead in empowering their communities, shrinking their own dominance of local decision-making, and acting as a champion for hard-to-reach groups.

Much of this expectation is centred on the creation of additional social capital and community capacity, with provisions to transfer ownership and administration of public assets to community and neighbourhood groups, and the simplification of processes to set up bodies such as Tenant Management Organisations.

There is also a firm commitment to the ongoing rollout of neighbourhood policing in the document, which provides a significant fillip to the ongoing role of Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships at a local level.

Town and Parish Councils are considerably strengthened by this White Paper, with the ‘Power of Wellbeing’ now extended to Quality Parishes, and the expectation that areas with Parish Plans will work these into concordat-style local charters. Indeed, the White Paper contains provision and encouragement to extend the parish concept nationwide. Principal authorities will have the ability to change the names of Parish councils to make the description more meaningful to the public in areas where they do not map to ecclesiastical boundaries.

The Strategic, Commissioning Role
It is clear in this White Paper that Local Area Agreements (and the emerging Multi-Area Agreements) are now the only game in town, with statutory provision on upper-tier councils to formulate and deliver on them, with due regard to statutory consultees that naturally include districts.

In two-tier areas, failure to engage with and understand fully the relationship between the district council (or group of district councils) and the LAA targets and commitments will equate to the marginalisation of that Council.

Local Strategic Partnerships, including district-level LSPs, are firmly enshrined as the vehicle for delivering on these priorities, and the responsibility of influencing partners to make these bodies work now lies clearly at the door of local Members – Council Leaders will have the power to approve the appointment of LSP Chairs, and cabinet Members should sit on each of the thematic subgroups below.

As expectations on councils to procure and provide services on the basis of evidenced need, and in flexible and innovative ways increases, it will become evermore necessary to separate roles as providers and commissioners of services. Strong partnership arrangements and the introduction of three-year grant settlements will give councils like Waverley the confidence to increase the LSP role as strategic commissioners. This will need to be accompanied by the creation of strong but locally defined arrangements for partnerships governance.

Resource Implications
This section of the briefing now looks at areas in which the content of the White Paper will have significant resource implications for Waverley:

Corporate Capacity to Engage with the Public
The White Paper raises a number of corporate capacity considerations. In addressing these implications, it is important to consider the role that can be played by:
Shared capacity (cross-LSP or cross-area)
Extended and improved e-government solutions

Consultation capacity is one of the main resource implications flowing from the document, which clarifies that consultation will be required by statute on a regular and ongoing basis. This capacity will be enshrined in an overarching Statement of Community Involvement owned by the LSP, with the requirement for external inspection of the LDF SCI removed.

Improved consultation will need to be supported by more robust public communication and information efforts, referred to as Systematic Intelligence. Information, especially on performance of services and related costs will be required in near real-time, and in a way that is meaningful to and supportive of decision making devolved to neighbourhoods.

Most significantly, perhaps, the Council will be expected to put in place support mechanisms to ensure the success of community-based ownership and engagement initiatives. This may require a reconstitution of the (funded) partnership support officer arrangements that Waverley previously operated.

But the implications do not simply cover proactive interactions of the Authority. Waverley’s ability to engage communities in the political process will be characterised by its effectiveness in reacting to the demands of its citizens, and the White Paper is explicit about the areas in which this will be focused.

Waverley will require a systematic process for dealing with petitions, in much the same way as they will need to process the new Community Calls for Action.

The Council’s capacity to deal promptly and effectively with potentially increased volumes of complaints will also come under the microscope. This increase may result from:
A simplification of the process for making a complaint (e-mails and phone calls now need to be treated as written complaints)
Increased powers for the Ombudsman to investigate where flaws are exposed in working, even where complaints are not upheld
The extension of the Ombudsman role to LSP and wider partnership working

Member Capacity
Another critical strand of this White Paper is the increased expectations being placed on Members. A prime example is the new responsibilities to examine decision-making in other public bodies, which will require enhanced Overview and Scrutiny capacity.

Community leadership developments, such as the introduction of Community Calls for Action, will need robust support packages to ensure Members are able to weed out ‘vexatious complaints’ and to assess the contribution of such calls to community cohesion. Without doubt, the new arrangements would also require a considerable extra level of committee servicing support.

A huge implication flowing from the document is the devolution of arrangements for oversight of standards and ethical conduct, which is coupled with a commitment to greater ‘clarity, simplicity, and proportionality’. In effect, this may serve to blur distinctions (e.g. amendment of rules on PPIs), and both this and an increased workload resulting from the devolution will make increased ethical standards capacity another key theme.

Partnering and New Ways of Working
The major implication in terms of the increased partnering expectations on the Authority is the ability to assess contribution to shared objectives. Waverley will be a statutory consultee in the new statutory duty for the upper-tier authority to prepare the LAA, and will need to be well equipped in terms of information to secure the agreements it needs for the people of the Borough. The further deregulation of funding streams in the LAA and a proposed increase in area-based funding opens significant opportunities that Waverley will want to approve of.

Therefore, whilst the document removes a number of statutory burdens on the Council The requirement to prepare Best Value Performance Plans is removed, along with a significant reduction in the overall number of indicators, and the replacement of CPA with a more standardised, risk-based regime of inspection (Comprehensive Area Assessment) from 2009, there is a strong case to be made for an increase in the overall level of strategic planning and proactive performance management support, analysis and inter-agency data sharing.

T-Government
The overriding consideration for future assessment of performance will be the success that localities have in identifying new and innovative ways of working, that cross the necessary boundaries and barriers (the ‘virtual unitary’ concept) to achieve efficiency and improved value, and that focus on front line as well as back office functions. This will require significant expansion of dedicated policy, partnership and joint working support at the strategic level (with a focus on business process re-engineering).

The Unitary Offer
The White Paper was accompanied by an ‘Invitation to Councils in England’ to:
Make proposals for future unitary structures
Pioneer, as pathfinders, new two-tier models

The offer states that bids for unitary status must:
1. Enhance principles outlined in the White Paper – e.g. locally focused strategic leadership, coupled with improved value for money, accountability and equity
2. Command a broad cross-section of local support
3. Be affordable (5-year payback), with change costs met from existing resources.

At best, however, these criteria seem open to liberal interpretation (e.g. the ability to demonstrate projected payback, and the caveats around local support explicitly not amounting to any kind of veto). Indeed, a cynic could argue that there are provisions within the White Paper (with a performance framework focused almost entirely on upper-tier authorities and their role in setting strategic direction) to impose the unitary agenda by stealth at some point in the future.

The wording of the offer is quite clear in inferring that Government sees unitary status as the desired end point, as two-tier areas face ‘additional challenges that can make it harder to achieve that strong leadership and clear accountability which communities need’.

Furthermore, the option of applying for unitary or two-tier pathfinder status seems to be an ‘either-or’ style choice. Para 3.53/54 (p.63) states “many local authorities are already… building strong and sustained partnerships between the councils in a county area. We believe there is the potential to go further.”

In this context, it is important to note that two-tier pathfinders would need to relate to the whole of the County area, and be supported by both the County Authority and all districts. The stated aims of such pathfinders would be:

1. Unified service delivery (with service provider boundaries inconsequential to users)
2. Stronger strategic leadership for place shaping, as outlined in the White Paper
3. Improved, less complicated accountability structures
4. Shared back office function, and integrated service delivery

The deadline for applications is 25th January 2007, with the Government reaching preliminary conclusions and finishing consultation by the summer. New unitaries would be up and running by April 2009.

Contacts

Chris Ash Anne Bott
Ext 3148 Ext 3145

Comms.exec.2006-07.243