RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
Would shared scrutiny support help with independence or separateness?
In terms of shared management or support for Scrutiny, I think theoretically it could improve its independence, however in practice it's a member-led service and it's always going to be politically charged to some extent. That said, scrutiny at Maidstone was seen as much more independent than at Tunbridge Wells, and when the partnership working started, they started working much more like Maidstone and are now seen as an independent function, so the opportunities for learning lessons and so on are huge. The other thing is that when you're dealing with a difficult issue in one council, speaking to a member of the team working in the other council can give you a very different perspective and helps you to approach the issue from a different, more objective angle.
Or would it provide less support to some members?
When we went into the partnership we lost half a post, however Tunbridge Wells gained 2 people (moving from part of a Dem Services Officer's time to 2.5 dedicated officers) so i think it depends on your existing arrangements. I think that the support offered to members is actually stronger because we learn so much from each other and you get much better solutions to problems when bouncing ideas around the bigger, cross-authority team than when we only had our little team. The issue of reducing support because of a partnership has to be dealt with carefully though - although we genuinely feel the support to scrutiny here has actually improve, some councillors are still on the fence as to the benefits because they're still concerned about losing half a person.
How would this actually work in practice and who benefits - is it scrutiny members and community?
In practice, we have a manager that splits her time between the two authorities, a senior officer on each side and an O&S officer on each side. The team meets in person around once every two months to discuss issues and so on, though we phone and email across the whole team most days, as with any other team. When work programmes are set at the start of the year, we identify any cross-over between the authorities and where appropriate, we set up joint working groups of cross-authority councillors. Where possible with all reviews, we will look to hold joint meetings to secure the best possible witnesses, as people are more likely to attend one big meeting than going to each authority separately. The benefits are for both scrutiny members and the community - scrutiny members involved in joint working groups or joint meetings have spoken very enthusiastically about how much they can learn from councillors from other authorities, whilst the joint reports we've produced have been received better than similar reports submitted by single authorities because they have the weight of two councils behind them, so the recommendations are more likely to be implemented, leading to better results for the community.
And would shared scrutiny support actually achieve savings?
The Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells partnership achieved just over £10,000 savings for Maidstone (which was the lead partner originally), which, for such a small service, was not insignificant.
My understanding is that the shared arrangments between Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells may not continue? If this is the case it would be interesting to understand why?
I'm not sure where this has come from, but I'm guessing it's because the partnership is up for review soon - the original partnership agreement was for 3 years, as with many partnership agreements, and it will have been in place for 3 years in April so members will have to decide then whether to end the partnership or renew it for another 3 years.
That was a really long post, sorry!