Consultation – Future of Local Councils

THE FUTURE OF

TOWN AND COMMUNITY COUNCILS

CONSULTATION DOCUMENT FOR MEMBERS

COMMENTS NEED TO BE WITH THE SECRETARY NO LATER THAN 20th August 2014

Robert Robinson FRICS AILCM
Secretary to the Association

July 2014

  

 

1.         Introduction

 

1.01    The Association represents over 35 Town and Community Councils (many being the larger ones) in Mid and North Wales.

 

1.02    The Association has (as many have) studied the various statements made bythe Williams Report and Welsh Government on the Future of Local Councils.

 

1.03    The Association at its Annual Meeting held at Connah’s Quay on 18th July 2014 decided it would be right to issue its own paper for Welsh Governmentto consider alongside other representations from representative bodies.

 

1.04    The Association has considered various statements regarding references to Town and Community Councils and their reform over the period from Januaryto July 2014.

 

The particular references of note are:

Press – 20th January 2014 : Carwyn Jones said changes to Wales’ governing structures was now “inevitable” after the Williams Commission recommended cutting the number of local authorities to as few as 10.

Williams reportSir Paul Williams’ report, published this morning, proposed  a major streamlining of Wales’ local government structure, and also called for         organisations like health boards, fire services and education authorities to be    aligned on similar geographical lines.    

The recommendations this morning gained broad cross-party support, withopposition parties calling for reforms to be brought in swiftly and efficiently –     and with minimum impact to frontline staff.

The Welsh Local Government Association has said changes on the scale of those being discussed could cost £200m to implement and see the loss of 15,000 jobs.

The report said reforms should be completed within the next three to five years.

 

Williams Report Summary Report

As regards Town and Community Councils there are two strands:

a) Firstly, town and community councils have a potentially vital role in representing community interests and providing purely local services. At   present, though, they are too numerous to do so effectively: very many ofthem suffer from extreme forms of the scale problems we described earlier. Inparticular, many suffer from very limited capacity, and the level of democraticengagement with them is very low. We therefore believe that they too should be reorganised.

We can have no view on the detailed boundaries here, Commission on  Public Service Governance and Delivery although any redrawing of ward    boundaries as part of local government merger would directly inform such  changes; and 

b) We also support programmes of formal and structured neighbourhoodmanagement, such as the highly effective system in Cardiff. This both brings together major service providers to identify and meet neighbourhood needs and engages with local people in doing so.

This model has particular potential in our larger urban areas where town and community councils are largely absent.

 

Williams Report Summary – Recommendation 27

Community and neighbourhood representation must be maintained and   enhanced.

 To achieve that: Town and community council areas should also be merged or enlarged and Local authorities and other partners should develop, adopt and implement a neighbourhood management or similar approach to engaging with citizens to identify, prioritise and address particular local issues, especially through co-production.

 

 Press – Responding to the report, the First Minister said: “I’d like to thank Sir Paul Williams and the Commission for their hard work in gathering wide-ranging evidence for this report, including from those who deliver and use public services.

 “This report addresses many issues that are critical at a time when the needfor public services is outstripping the resources available to provide them. I have always been clear that the status quo is not an option.

“People across Wales rely heavily on the vital services delivered by the public sector every day. Change is inevitable and essential so that our public services can become more efficient, effective, accessible and responsive.

 “I will now take time to consider the report in detail and respond in duecourse.”

 Press -17th March 2014 : The First Minister established the Commission onPublic Service, Governance and Delivery in April 2013.  It was tasked with examining all aspects of governance and delivery in the devolved public sector in Wales, culminating in the production of a report detailing some 62recommendations.  

 


            The report examines all aspects of public service provision in Wales underfive themes:-
                        • complexity
                        • scale and capability
                        • governance, scrutiny and delivery
                        • leadership, culture and values
                        • performance and performance management

Recognising that public services in Wales face severe and prolongedchallenges the report provides recommendations to the First Minister under the above themes to try to address the pressures and demands on public services.
The First Minister has asked the Minister for Health and Social Services to consider the recommendations as they relate to health and social servicesand any potential impact arising from the report and to provide an initial view.|

Paragraph No 17. (White Paper 8th July 2014) With regard to Townand Community Councils the Commission found the number and scale of Town and Community Councils to be problematic and they expressed concerns around their accountability, representativeness and their ability to understand and articulate local needs. They concluded the Community   Council sector is in need of reform. The Commission recognised the          importance of harnessing the voice of the citizen as a force for improvement but acknowledged the processes and practices for doing so were sporadic, inconsistent and often ineffective.

 

1.05    The Association accepts the need for Town and Community Council reform and wishes to embrace it and aid taking any initiative forward.

 

1.06    The Association also notes the proposed White Paper to be issued in the autumn of 2014 on the reform of Town and Community Councils.

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2.         Budgets and Services

 

2.1       Principle authority budgets

The Association recognises that budgets are tight for principle authorities and that they have to make budget cuts and that a re-organisation is essential.  The Association does not wish to enter the debate about why such the budgets are out of control but wishes to focus on future delivery of services at both Principle and Local Council levels.

 

2.2       Consultation with communities

The service cuts by Principle Authorities has been unplanned and random with little or no consultation with the Town and Community Councils who represent their communities which will be affected.  Where the Principle Authority has tried to consult it has been presented in such a complicated way the public have little chance of understanding it all.  In one case a consultation was held with Officers stating that ‘no decisions had been made’ yet two days later one of the services was altered which was the subject of the consultation. This gave the public little faith in being listed to at all.

 

2.3       Service delivery

The service delivery of the Principle Authorities is changing rapidly. For Town and Community Councils to plan and take on services being devolved they need a full picture of all the services which are to be cut, reduced or devolved.  Without a full list no Town and Community Council can plan and assess its own priorities for its own Community.  The Association is not aware of any Principle Authority that has provided such a list or plan, even when asked.  Without this services will be lost without need and without proper consideration being given to their sustainability.

 

2.4       Programme of reduction in expenditure

The programme of cuts by Principle Authorities is upon us over the next few years, the programme for the reform of Local Town and Community Council is not due until a few years later.  This creates a problem when Local Councils are trying to save local services. At present a lot of the Town and Community Councils in Wales cover to smaller area to be able to take over much in the way of services, if they were combined with others they would have a better chance.

 

2.5       Random and unplanned

The Principle Authorities appear in many cases to have a random approach to the service cuts they face.  The services they wish to devolve are often offered to Town and Community Councils with little back up information and on such a tight timescale that being able to fund such services is almost impossible.  This is not a professional approach to the reforms needed in service delivery.

 

2.6       Lack of caring – social price

The concern of many of our Members is that the Social Price of some of the cuts being made has not been taken into account.  In one case where a Day Centre is to close (if not taken over by the Local Council) when asked what happens to the people there if it closes the answer was just a ‘shrug of the shoulders’.  Not an appropriate way to address the cuts.

 

2.7       The problem with staffing

The issue of devolution of services and TUPE arrangements comes into focus when looking at taking over services where Principle Authority Staff are to be considered for transfer as well.  The Local Government Pension Scheme has been unaffordable for Principle Authorities for decades.  Town and Community Councils will not be able to fund services on the contracts many of the Principle Authority Staff enjoy.  There needs to be a proper adjustment so that when Town and Community Councils take over staff there is the ability to renegotiate before a final decision on taking over a service can be confirmed.

 

3.         The issues

 

3.1       Services

The services which are being cut and which Town and Community Councils are being asked to take over vary from area to area.  However, in a lot of cases the services now being the subject of discussion include libraries, day centres etc. In these cases unless the Local Councils work together the service can not be saved on the funding offered by the Principle Authority (often 25% to 33% of the cost).  The legal problem is that one Town or Community Council can not fund another Town or Community Council’s area.

 

3.2       Size of Councils

The major issue with budget cuts and the devolving of services to Town and Community Councils is their size to ensure sustainability, their precept levels compared to adjoining Town and Community Councils and their staffing capability to deliver such services.

The need for the combining, enlarging or clustering of Councils is essential if services are to be delivered efficiently and properly.  Due to the issues raised in 2.4 above this issue needs to be addressed with all speed.

 

3.3       Town and Community Councils

The Association suggests that due to complexity of the number of existing Town and Community Councils, their cultures, abilities and viewpoints that it would be wise to get the Principle Authorities to engage and get the Town and Community Councils themselves to agree who should go with who.  In this way the enlargement of areas stands a better chance of working.

  

3.4       Reserves

The Town and Community Councils are required by Audit to have approx 1 years expenditure as a level of reserves.  Many Town and Community Councils have this in place.  However, when taking on extra services not only does the Local Council have to find the money to run them but also to find the money to boost reserves to support such services. The Principle Councils have built up their reserves to support these services (which are now to be removed) but are not passing those appropriate reserves over to the Local Councils.

This is a real issue to Local Councils taking such items a public toilets, tourist information offices, Day Centres and more substantial services.

 

3.5       A larger area with many centres

The issue of larger areas being administered by Town and Community Councils having many smaller centres within it is the focus given.  At the present time the Clerk focuses on one main centre in each community, this will change.  There is an argument that the smaller Council Clerks should remain to administer each localised centre so that focus is not lost.

 

3.6       Experience

One of the real issues is the level of experience of existing Clerks. Many were employed to prepare and deliver agenda, minutes and some accounts with a few letters. Nothing more, under any new arrangement the Clerks will need to be more Professional and able to Manage the services that are devolved to them

 

3.7       Support by County Councils

When Town and Community Councils take over services from Principle Authorities it is clear that the information needed for the Local Councils to consider such transfer is either not available or not in enough detail or with clarity.  It is almost as if the Principle Authority is looking ‘to pull a fast one’.

 

3.8       Consistency

Some of our Members found inconsistency in the information being given out by Principle Councils. For example being told that the public toilets will close on a date, thus encouraging the Town or Community Council to take over the service after which they find the other public toilets in the Principle Councils area are still open months later. This disadvantages Local Councils compared with others.

 

3.9       Funding

The funding for devolved services to Local Councils does not come down from the Principle Authorities, they are just expecting Local Councils to fund it from their own precept.  However with Principle Authority Precepts going up and with services being cut we are in essence seeing increased taxation of 20% or more.

It is essential that if Local Councils are going to be able to take on Local Services that funding streams are found to support them.  In the  Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 it allows for Welsh Government to fund Local Councils direct and the Association would urge that this is brought forward with all speed. (see recommendation on funding)

 

3.10    Understanding

The final issue of note is that many smaller Town or Community Councils do not appear to have grasped that things are going to change. Many still think the Principle Authority will provide all the services and that they will pay for any devolved services.  Comments such as ‘the County Council does that’,  ‘the County Council can’t cut that service’ or ‘that is not fair’ comes to fore regularly.

 

4.         A way forward

The Association wishes to put forward the following recommendations for consideration by the parties making the decisions with regard to the reform of Town and Community Councils:

 

4.1       Overall

The Association is of the view that time is of the essence in the current climate and that whatever reform of Town and Community Councils takes place it should be swift.

 

4.2       Timescales

The Association is pleased that a White Paper is due to come out in the autumn on the reform of Local Councils and would support the early implementation of Reform as soon as practically possible.

 

4.3       Funding

The Association recommends that the Welsh Government should introduce a formula whereby Local Councils receive some direct funding from the Government so that local residents can make decisions on what services they wish to retain.

 

4.4       Local Councils and their size

The Association recommends that Town and Community Councils should be given clear guidance on combining at an early stage to enable them to take over services which would otherwise be lost due to the sizes of the Local Councils.

 

4.5       Councillors

The Association recommends that Councils are clustered ready for combining at an early stage with Councils (until the next election) working together.  By the next election a review of boundaries needs to be completed in time to allow the elections to accommodate changes to the number of Councillors.

 

4.6       Staffing

The Association recommends that any staff who come with a devolved service should be on contracts which Town and Community Councils can afford. If they can not afford the terms and conditions of a particular employee they should not have to take on such responsibility if they do not wish to.

 

4.7       Reform of Town and Community Councils

The Association is fully supportive of a reform of Town and Community Councils and would recommend that guidance is issued and that discussions should take place as soon as possible via the Principle Authorities with their Communities.  This can be done via workshops for the Town and Community Councils to attend to give clarity to how it would all work.

 

4.8       Programme of delivery of legislation and guidance

The Association, for all the reasons given in this presentation, are of the view that the review of Town and Community Councils needs to be completed with all speed and if possible well before the next elections in 2017.

 

This is possible as the County Council boundaries are not changed, only combined under the White Paper of 8th July thus not changing the layout of Town and Community Councils.

 

The concern of the Association is that if such actions are not taken services will be lost forever as many of the existing Town and Community Councils are not able to take on services due to their size.

 

 R A Robinson FRICS AILCM

July 2014