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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 21/03/2006
Local Government Reorganisation - Short Term Response



APPENDIX C
Waverley Borough Council

EXECUTIVE – 7TH MARCH 2006
CORPORATE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – 21ST MARCH 2006

REPORT FROM LOCAL GOVERNMENT REORGANISATION Special Interest
Group - 20TH FEBRUARY 2006


Title:
LOCAL GOVERNMENT REORGANISATION - SHORT TERM RESPONSE
[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

This report sets out the proposals from the Local Government Reorganisation SIG, agreed by the Executive at its meeting on 7th March 2006, on an interim strategy and short-term tactics on how to respond to the current debate on the future structure for Local Government in England. The position is unusual in that there are, as yet, no firm or detailed Government proposals to respond to, but, if Waverley is to exercise a community leadership role, it needs to decide how it should respond.

Environmental implications:

There are no direct environmental implications arising, but protecting Waverley's environment is a key policy for Waverley and will become a key issue in any proposals for structural change to Local Government.

Social/community implications:

Again, no immediate implications, but making a positive input to try to ensure that Local Government structures represent the interests of Waverley's communities will be a key challenge for Waverley. There are major partnership implications for Waverley’s joint working with Towns and Parishes and Surrey County Council and for working with other public and voluntary sector partners.

E-Government implications:

Any future restructuring will be based on organisations that have become far more e-enabled and this will form an important part of the Government's decision making on this.

Resource and legal implications:

There are significant immediate resource implications for staffing in preparing for any response and subsequently reacting to Government legislation. It may be that the Council needs to prepare for the possibility of commissioning consultants, either singly or jointly, and, again, this will have budgetary implications for which there is no provision at present in 2005/06 or 2006/07 budgets.

Introduction

1. The opening report on the general issue of public sector reorganisational change was considered by the Executive on 10th January. Since then, the situation has moved very quickly, but, as explained above, there is still no firm proposal for the Council to respond to. However, the Council needed to decide if it wishes to prepare for various ministerial meetings involving the Leader and Chief Executive, and also agreed a formal input to the consultation as part of the Sir Michael Lyons Review of Local Government Finance and Structures and also the proposed White Paper, which is expected in Summer 2006. The response is attached as Annexe 1.

Latest Position

The SIG met on 20th February and appointed the Leader as Chairman.

2. As explained above, the position is uncertain, fluid and fast changing. However, the best information officers have available at the moment is as follows:-

(a) City and Town Summit

A letter from the Minister of Communities and Local Government on 16th January is attached at Annexe 2, inviting Waverley to be represented on the Towns and Cities Summit for, what is described as, the Aldershot/Black Valley (presumably Blackwater Valley) City Region.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) still does not have any firm dates yet for the summit in which Waverley is involved or for the proposed webchat.

(b) Council Leaders in "Shire England"

The Leader has also received a letter from the Minister inviting her to a "County dialogue" which we assume will be based on the whole of Surrey, as part of a regional dialogue (Annexe 3 refers). The South East region, because of its size, will be split and the meeting will take place on 29th March.

(c) Briefing for Chief Executives

The Chief Executive attended a briefing by Civil Servants in London in January.

(d) Other Restructurings

The Home Office has made an announcement on proposals for Police Authorities in the northern regions, but not yet for those in the South East region. Other proposed restructurings, such as the Ambulance Service, will be reported to the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee in March. (Announcement from the Home Secretary is attached at Annexe 4).

Waverley's Position According to Government Information

3. It is not entirely clear how the Government intends to treat Waverley. It appears that at least part of the Borough is being seen as potentially part of the Aldershot/Blackwater Valley City Region, but this seems to go against earlier suggestions that the Government does not propose to cross existing County boundaries in considering proposals for new unitary Councils. Officers have researched this and it appears only to include Rushmoor and Surrey Heath Councils.

4. Otherwise, all of Waverley or the remainder of the Borough not included in the City Region, will be presumably dealt with as part of the overall Surrey County Area Review.

5. The Government’s position is evolving quickly and there was an initial presumption that a two tier system is inefficient and confusing to the public.

Previous Local Government Reviews

6. The 1974 review created Waverley from four predecessor authorities. The last time that the Local Government Commission carried out a review of Local Government in England, its final recommendations, issued in December 1994, consisted of three options:-

(a) a status quo, with the existing two tier structure of Local Government in Surrey to remain; or

(b) two unitary options based on either five or six unitary Authorities.

7. A copy of the map produced at the time for the five unitary option is attached as Annexe 5.

8. At the time, Waverley Members and officers were very involved in preparation for this review and used consultants heavily to produce detailed proposals on how County level services might be managed at a unitary level consisting largely of Waverley and Guildford Boroughs. This Council was to be known as South West Surrey.

Sir Michael Lyons' Review

9. This initially concentrated on funding Local Government and finance, but he has now decided, and the Government has agreed, that issues of structure and the role of Local Government also need consideration before he can come up with financial proposals. The Council is invited to make a submission by 13th March and a draft will follow – Annexe 1 refers. The SIG discussed the options for leadership in Councils and felt that there was scope within Executive arrangements for clearer leadership by the Executive and enhanced delegation. It asked officers to investigate the leadership and constitutional arrangements in Woking and Guildford to see what similarities existed and might be built on.

Current Proposals for Surrey County Area (See map at Annexe 6)

10. There are no firm proposals currently that have been published or policy positions taken by Councils on the issue of restructuring, as far as officers know. However, informal positions have been evolving as follows:-

(a) Surrey County Council Level

It is assumed from a letter that was leaked from the ODPM that Surrey was part of the lobby by the South East Region county level authorities who put forward a case to the Minister for whole county unitary authorities. No formal contact has been received from Surrey County Council to this effect. The County Council is currently heavily involved in its Business Delivery Review which may have implications for area structures for County services. The SIG felt strongly that Surrey should be invited to present its current position and thinking to Waverley Members and suggested either a presentation to the SIG or a meeting of both Council Leaders and Chief Executives.

(b) Borough Council Level

(i) East Surrey Area

Whilst there has been no formal proposal for a unitary Council, Mole Valley and Tandridge District Councils and Reigate and Banstead Borough Council have agreed a concordat or protocol which commits them to joint working wherever possible and achieving efficiency savings. This was not intended to prepare for local government review. This grouping would leave Epsom and Ewell in a very difficult isolated geographical position, should it develop further and it is understood that the Councils in that area may now be reconsidering and looking at a four Council grouping to include Epsom and Ewell. This area is also affected by the City Region proposal for Crawley (or greater Gatwick) region.

(ii) Rest of Surrey

There are no firm proposals put forward as far as officers know for any of the Councils in the remainder of Surrey. It is understood that Councils, which again might be either within or on the edge of the Aldershot/Blackwater Valley area, are considering the potential for this to become a unitary Council, but there are no firm proposals. Officers and the Leader have, however, held preliminary meetings, as agreed by the Executive, to explore the position with Guildford Borough Council and Woking Borough Council. There are also rumours that Surrey County Council may propose a two unitary solution which could divide the County in several ways.

Case for Changes

11. It is difficult at the moment to understand entirely the Government's attitude to change, or what type of change it would support, in the absence of a White or Green Paper. However, the officers have carried out the following initial explorations, on the basis that the Government is looking for better community identity, better strategic capacity and resilience in unitary Councils and evidence of understanding for the need for a neighbourhood level below the unitary level:-

(a) Joint Working Audit

A list of Existing Areas for Joint Working with Guildford Borough Council is attached at Annexe 7 and is being worked on for Woking Borough Council. The SIG proposed developing this joint working because of its benefits for efficiency and savings as well as possible future value as a foundation if restructuring does happen.

(b) Proposals for Joint Working

Officers are investigating the possibility of accessing funds available from the Government Office for the South East (GOSE) for capacity building for proposals on joint working on waste management, which seem to be aimed at encouraging joint working by Councils in advance of any formal restructuring.

(c) Developing a View of Future Role of Local Government

This is covered to an extent in the report on a response to the Sir Michael Lyons' Review. The Government’s own thinking on this is still developing but the themes of economy of scale, strategic capacity and community empowerment seem to be emerging as the guiding principles. Reconciling these is difficult and the SIG acknowledged the tension between the benefits of economy of scale which large unitaries offered, and the need for democratic engagement and community empowerment.

(d) Developing Community Identity

Officers are working with their opposite numbers in Woking and Guildford identifying possibilities for improved community working and organisational synergy and identifying areas where joint capacity can be developed. Officers are also analysing potential similarities between Community Strategies for the three Councils.

(e) Opinion Formers

Officers are starting to develop proposals for working with partners and opinion formers to seek support for any option the Council might choose to support.

(f) Public Opinion

The Community in Waverley seems generally unaware of the debate and there is no pressure at present to review structures. Sir Michael Lyons has encouraged Councils to stimulate a dialogue within their communities but, to date, there is no evidence in Waverley of a desire for change to structures.

Options for Unitary Authorities

12. As explained above, it is too early to understand totally the Government's thinking, but the options which appear to be likely are as follows:-

(i) County-wide Surrey unitary or a two unitary proposal; the SIG recognised that the culture of this/these organisation(s) should be set by Surrey.

(ii) part of Waverley or all of Waverley being included in the Aldershot/Blackwater Valley City Region; or this would bring together a mix of all or parts of Surrey and Hampshire Boroughs and County services.

(iii) a grouping including Waverley within the existing Surrey County boundaries with other Borough Councils, and the logical grouping at the moment seems to be of Waverley, Guildford Borough and Woking Borough.

13. The SIG felt that all options should be kept open at this initial stage and that the Council should not select a preferred option until the Government’s thinking was clearer. The SIG also felt that an improved status quo with enhanced joint working should be considered an option.

Benefits to services and the community

(i) Three Tier Local Government

The SIG acknowledged that the two tier system generally caused difficulties for Government which generally drafted legislation with metropolitan or unitary Councils in mind. The SIG also accepted that divisions of responsibilities for services were not clear to the community. However, the SIG felt that the case should be made that in shire areas such as Waverley, the active three tier system could be made to work and offered benefits in terms of democratic representation, community identity and empowerment.

(ii) Cost of restructuring

The SIG discussed the direct costs of any restructuring and the indirect effects of disruption to services. Experience of the 1974 reorganisation had shown that transferring information, merging different organisational cultures and preparing for a seamless transition with no disruption to services would be major tasks that in some cases were still not totally completed 30 years later.

(iii) Benefit to the Community

The SIG felt it was important to be able to convince the community that the costs of any restructuring would be outweighed by the benefits. The SIG was convinced of the benefits of joint working but given that it felt the three tier system worked well, it felt the key factor to be evaluated was the extra benefit to be gained by a structural reorganisation rather than a much increased level of joint working and co-operation between Councils.

Resource Implications

14. There could be very significant staffing time implications in preparing for various meetings with Ministers and responding to the White Paper. Initially, Chief Officer Group has been working on steering the preparatory work and members may wish an Inter-Departmental Officer Working Group to be set up. The additional workload could be considerable and the SIG recognised that there is very little capacity at the moment for this volume of extra work. The SIG proposed that officers keep an active watching brief but that no specific new resources be applied to this work.

15. An alternative would be to supplement existing staffing inputs by using consultants, but, as explained above, there is no budgetary provision, either in this financial year or next, for this. Consultants might initially work on developing community identity proposals and opportunities for joint working and synergy and also possibly deal with public relations and a lobbying role. The SIG did not want to commission any work immediately but suggested that, as the situation became clearer, consultants be invited to make presentations to the SIG so that it would be prepared to make an appointment at the appropriate time and Waverley would be able to select its preferred consultant, as the demand for consultants would almost certainly increase as the review process moved on.

Working with Partners

16. As explained above, there is a range of opportunities for working with partners. In particular, Waverley is unusual within Surrey in being totally parished. Part of Guildford Borough is parished, but Woking Borough is currently two tier only.

17. The SIG agreed that it is important that, when Waverley agrees a position, it is pointed out that Waverley has a very active three-tier system of Local Government and that it involves Town and Parish Councils in providing services at the most appropriate level.

18. The SIG considered co-opting a representative of Town and Parish Councils on to the SIG. A meeting of all Towns and Parishes is being held on 15th March, along with a meeting of the LSP, but felt that at present it was more important to keep all Towns and Parishes briefed and to enable them to have an input to the drafting of the proposed White Paper on Local Government Restructuring.

Conclusion

19. Having considered the various questions raised in the report, the Executive agreed to direct officers that the outline of the policy that the Council should follow is as set out below, that:-

(i) limited officer time should be devoted to responding to the various Government initiatives; no new resources be allocated and no consultants commissioned, but preparations be made to enable the Council to appoint consultants at an opportune time;

(ii) the Executive does not support any of the broad options outlined in paragraph 12 initially but to keep all options open, including an enhanced status quo, and to direct officer resources and authorise the Leader accordingly;

(iii) whichever of the options is adopted, Waverley would want to support strongly the case of Town and Parish Councils to be the appropriate structures for the neighbourhood level envisaged by the Government, rather than the Government devising and imposing any new additional structures;

(iv) the officers should involve Town and Parish Councils by frequent briefings and consultative meetings at this stage;

(v) the Chief Executive should invite Surrey County Council, as soon as possible, to brief members on the County Council position;

(vi) the Executive, in the interim, encourages officers to develop Joint Working Initiatives;

(vii) Annexe 1 setting out the response to the Lyons Review be endorsed; and


(viii) the SIG be asked to review the proposals on the inclusion of any part of the Borough in the proposed Blackwater Valley City region and to recommend the next meeting of the Executive on this to enable a recommendation to be made to the Council.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the report be received.


Background Papers (CEx)

Letters from the Minister of Communities and Local Government of 16th January and 2nd February 2006.



CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Robin Pellow Telephone: 01483 523222
E-mail: rpellow@waverley.gov.uk




comms/o&s1/2005-06/056