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New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
27-10-2009, 11:51 AM
Post: #1
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
Two comments, inspired by the topic, rather than perhaps as direct responses to it.

1. MAAs - we're a county, working with a neighbouring unitary and two districts within our boundaries on an MAA. Some of the politicians, particularly from the two districts, have expressed the concern that this is a "back door" route to creating a larger unitary council in that area. I think the two top tier authorities response on that would be a complete and total rejection of the suggestion.

2. I have also recently heard it said that the financial challenges facing councils may achieve what legislation hasn't yet, and create more or larger unitary councils (in two tier areas, or parts of the country with several small unitaries/ mets), due to the increasing need to share services, management teams etc. I suspect that many of those involved would completely refute this, pointing out that the officer structure is an entirely separate thing from the elected council, and that the former would not influence the direction of the latter. It was an interesting thought though - a council just eventually throwing their hands up in the air and saying "Well, we've outsourced everything we could and all our managers work in next door's Town Hall. Might as well dissolve ourselves"

And there are probably two issues for scrutiny:

1. One is to scrutinise decisions on this kind of issue to ensure they are driven by the needs and will of the public, and not simply by administrative convenience.

2. The second is whether scrutiny support itself can be shared. At least one of the case studies specifically mentions audit, and I think there's a parallel with scrutiny. It might (perhaps) even help with the independence or separateness of O&S. Wouldn't necessarily make the job any easier, though, would it?
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02-11-2009, 11:45 AM
Post: #2
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
Hello,

I am interested in the second point raised by Josh:

"2. The second is whether scrutiny support itself can be shared. At least one of the case studies specifically mentions audit, and I think there's a parallel with scrutiny. It might (perhaps) even help with the independence or separateness of O&S. Wouldn't necessarily make the job any easier, though, would it?"


Would shared scrutiny support help with independence or separateness? Or would it provide less support to some members? How would this actually work in practice and who benefits - is it scrutiny members and community? And would shared scrutiny support actually achieve savings?

Sunita
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02-11-2009, 12:01 PM
Post: #3
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
There are at least two examples of shared scrutiny across two authorities - Adur/Worthing and Maidstone/Tunbridge Wells. The latter won our "Scrutiny Team of the Year" award at the annual conference in June.

Perhaps someone from one of these teams could comment to provide with a bit of an insight?
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02-11-2009, 04:33 PM
Post: #4
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
Ed,

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?

Sunita
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04-11-2009, 10:50 AM
Post: #5
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!
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05-11-2009, 09:07 AM
Post: #6
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
The IDeA report makes for interesting if slightly "rose tinted" reading, but couldn't come at a more poignant time for us, as it has just been announced that we are to enter a joint working arrangement through Pathfinder with two neighbouring, but rather different, authorities: the others being rural whilst we are urban; two authorities are also 4th Option whilst the other operates a cabinet system.

I note the IDeA report only mentions cases whereby two authorities have shared management structures and wondered if there were any cases of 3 authorities attempting this union.

I would be very interested to know how Scrutiny process works under such a cluster approach.

Thanks
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05-11-2009, 09:38 AM
Post: #7
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
Louise,

Thank you for very helpful response, this is much appreciated. I wonder if Adur and Worthing have similar experience?

Sunita
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05-11-2009, 12:54 PM
Post: #8
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
I have asked Mark to make a comment on Adur / Worthing.

I have also just spoken to an officer in Barnsley, where they are thinking about scrutiny arrangements to manage an executive joint working arrangement with two other authorities. Early stages as yet, and no prospect of shared staffing, but interesting to see that these kinds of themes are spreading.
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05-11-2009, 02:44 PM
Post: #9
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
Thank you for your interest in the Adur/Worthing Councils shared Scrutiny experience. I apologise for my slightly late entry into this discussion.

As part of the joint service arrangements at Adur and Worthing Councils I am now working as the sole Scrutiny Officer for both Councils, therefore, providing Scrutiny support to the Adur OSC and the Worthing OSC as well as the Joint OSC which has been created to deal with Joint Service Scrutiny issues. These are the formal Governance arrangements for the Scrutiny work in the Councils. Apart from my line mananger I am the only Scrutiny support for both Councils. In order to try and cut costs where possible the Scrutiny support has been cut since joint working began which is not good for the development and long term maintenance of the Scrutiny function, provides less support to backbench Members and is also not good for my well being either! Shared Scrutiny will make savings - The Adur and Worthing savings from the cuts in Scrutiny support have been utilised to provide additional support to the Cabinet!

Despite the cut in Scrutiny support I would say that both Councils are generally very enthusiatic about Scrutiny and I consider that I have 2 good sets of Members who want to move forward with Scrutiny, challenging the Cabinet where appropriate and also setting about developing effective arrangements to implement the new Scrutiny powers (CCfA/Crime and Disorder/LAA/Partnership working etc). This also does rely to a certain extent on my enthusiasm for making Scrutiny work in Adur and Worthing.

I could go on at great length about how things work in Adur and Worthing but in conclusion in response to the points that others have raised I think that Scrutiny support can be shared, however, you need to have adequate resource provided to enable you to get everything done which applies to all Scrutiny teams. It is unlikely that Adur and Worthing Councils will provide any additional support for Scrutiny at the present time and the 2 Councils may merge together.

Hope this helps in the discussion and if you would like to know more about Joint Scrutiny please do not hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Mark
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05-11-2009, 03:47 PM
Post: #10
RE: New IDeA report: shared management for local authorities
Mark Lowe Wrote:The Adur and Worthing savings from the cuts in Scrutiny support have been utilised to provide additional support to the Cabinet!

Wow....because 2 full councils-worth of officers isn't enough?!

I've had members here saying that it's incredibly difficult as a backbench member, but especially as an opposition member, because cabinet obviously gets a lot of dedicated support whereas backbenchers get at most a couple of scrutiny officers. As far as shared services go, it's always a strain for any service at first because it generally means a reduction in people, however I think because so many councillors rely specifically on scrutiny officers as their only real support, it doesn't matter how much more efficient you make the service, you'll always have a steady stream of backbench members wanting your help, ready to fill up any gaps you make in capacity! I think maybe shared management, rather than shared officer, support might be easier to cope with as that covers the 'big picture' rather than the coalface of the job - I certainly don't envy Mark!

Louise
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