Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (LAG 51)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  Tameside has a population of 220,000 and a Council of 57 members, 7,500 employees and an annual net revenue budget of £300 million (2000/2001).

  1.2  The Council began modernising its political management systems and structures a number of years ago, well in advance of the publication of the Government's "Local Leadership, Local Choice". It disbanded allowances for members attendance in 1992, introduced member responsibilities outside the committee system in 1993, disbanded all sub committees in 1997 and cut committee meetings by 40 per cent in 1998.

  1.3  The Council introduced area committees, known as District Assemblies in May 1998, and Executive and Scrutiny arrangements in January 1999. It set up an independent, external Standards Bench, chaired by a barrister, to oversee issues of ethics and probity in February 1999. It has job profiles for all councillors. It has now had over two years of practical experience in experimenting with the arrangements provided for under the Local Government Act 2000.

  1.4  Based on the above experience, and extensive public consultation on the political models contained in the Act, the Council will be introducing a new constitution in May 2001, using the Leader with Cabinet model.

  1.5  The Council has been used by the Government as a case study in `New Council Constitutions : Consultation Guidelines for English Local Authorities' (DETR/LGA October 2000). It is participating in a national project on standards and ethics, being one of the first Councils to publish its own comprehensive set of policies and procedures based on Nolan principles.

  1.6  The Council is continuing to receive a substantial number of enquiries and visits from local authorities about Tameside's experience, particularly in relation to arrangements now covered by Part II of the Act. As part of sharing experience, the Council has contributed to national conferences organised by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the New Local Government Network and participated in the Best Practice Group run by the Institute of Local Government (INLOGOV), University of Birmingham.

  1.7  The Council has involved the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) and INLOGOV in reviewing aspects of the modernisation programme.

2.  TAMESIDE'S MODERNISATION PROGRAMME

  2.1  New forms of political management have been introduced over a number of years, with adjustments and new developments being based on the learning from earlier experimentation.

  2.2  In this submission, the Council has concentrated on the major aspects of the modernisation agenda ;

    (a)  experience of devolved arrangements (Section 3)

    (b)  experience of setting up scrutiny functions (Section 4)

    (c)  experience of operating an executive cabinet (Section 5)

3.  TAMESIDE'S DISTRICT ASSEMBLIES

  3.1  The Council chose to delegate executive decision making and budgets to local areas in May 1998. These responsibilities have grown each year. During 2000/2001, the eight Assemblies have responsibility for around £8 million of expenditure (around 4 per cent of the Council's net revenue budget). Town managers have been appointed to lead and co-ordinate locally devolved services.

  3.2  The District Assemblies have been fairly well received by the public and have achieved high public recognition. In the Tameside Residents Opinion Survey (MORI 1999), one year after the Assemblies were launched, 32 per cent of the public knew of their local Assembly and 40 per cent knew the name of their local councillor. A Citizens 2000 Panel Survey confirmed 50 per cent knew of them and 75 per cent thought they were a good idea.

  3.3  A secondary provision is the responsibility and delegated decision making of the elected members who through this facility have a new and positive role. District Assembly members are given a generic job profile, with an added responsibility for one of the following issues ;

    —  Community Safety.

    —  Environment.

    —  Young People.

    —  Local Liaison (with Business and Community Interests).

  3.4  Each Assembly has an advisory group made up of local residents, business people and secondary school students (Years 9-11). Residents represent local voluntary and community groups. Over 60 people are involved as Assembly advisers.

  3.5  District Assemblies now have executive responsibility for a wide range of functions that include ;

    —  Environmental improvements.

    —  Street Wardens.

    —  Highway maintenance and repairs.

    —  Parks, play areas and open space management.

    —  Street scene service.

    —  Small grants to local schools.

    —  Grants to local voluntary and community organisations and town twinning.

    —  Street cleaning.

  3.7  The following points reflect the Tameside experience ;

    (1)  area committees must not be run as committees. They have to have a new style with public involvement;

    (2)  they must be properly marketed;

    (3)  training for members, officers and advisers is critical. Feedback from advisers and school students at the end of the first year highlighted feelings of isolation and uncertainty about their role. Mentoring and support was provided. Officers have adopted new forms of written and oral presentation. Members have taken the lead on reports to the Assemblies. The role and performance of the Assembly Chair is crucial;

    (4)  there must be good communications with other parts of the Council and between Assemblies;

    Cabinet members meet relevant Assembly "portfolio" holders so that

      —  strategic policy making is informed by local perspectives; and

      —  policy is co-ordinated across Assemblies.

    The Cabinet member with responsibility for overall District Assembly co-ordination has regular meeting with Chairs and Deputies of Assemblies and town managers.

    (5)  public interest is sustained if they are real decision making bodies, not just a consultative forum;

    (6)  new forms of political and officer management systems are required;

    This will vary according to authority and the level of activity devolved to area committees. Changes to systems need to be planned as part of any overall programme to establish area committees;

    (7)  a phased development is likely to be more successful, with recognition that adjustments may need to be made in the light of experience.

    Consultation on planning applications and school governor appointments did not work at the Assembly level and were changed after a year's experience. This may have implications for those authorities introducing area committees as part of a new constitution.

4.  TAMESIDE'S SCRUTINY FUNCTION

  4.1  Tameside set up its three Scrutiny Panels in January 1999. In setting up the scrutiny function, it drew heavily on the parliamentary select committee model. Both the Rt Hon Robert Sheldon MP and Andrew Bennett MP helped members and officers at the formative stages, with initial training and role play benefiting from their knowledge and experience. A visit to a select committee took place.

  4.2  As with any such fundamental change, progress has been determined by the enthusiasm, commitment and understanding of those involved. At the time of the IDeA review in February 2000, the Council had been operating a scrutiny function for just a year. They commented

    "in many way the council is ahead of the game nationally"

  4.3  The Council has committed increasing resource and effort to develop the scrutiny function. It has responded to the IDeA peer review by commissioning Dr Stephanie Snape, INLOGOV, to undertake a scrutiny evaluation. Her role as a "critical friend" has been invaluable in identifying key issues, inhibitors and areas for improvement and development. She has provided a series of reports that have helped shape a programme for scrutiny development.

  4.4  The Council has also drawn on the North West Employers Organisation to carry out further member training and development on scrutiny. This has complemented a larger programme of member development, including the member capability programme organised in conjunction with consultants HayGroup Ltd. Tameside's approach to member development was "highly commended" in the Local Government Chronicle Awards 2000. At the time of this statement, the Council is again a finalist in this category for the 2001 LGC Awards.

  4.5  A confusion of roles can create political tensions and uncertainty, particularly when arrangements are in shadow form. Political groups are obliged to adjust and deal with issues about their internal organisation and decision-making.

  4.6  Public interest and involvement in scrutiny can be very limited. The Council has recognised this as an issue to be addressed through improved marketing. Many of those attending the Council's road shows on a new constitution commented on the importance of "holding the executive to account". Yet few of them knew of the potential to be involved in submitting evidence or attending scrutiny panel meetings. The Council has launched a series of advertisements in local newspapers and developed the scrutiny pages on its award winning web site. The public must be encouraged to send in their ideas for scrutiny and comment on those topics that have been selected.

  4.7  There would be benefit in co-ordinated marketing, potentially on a county or sub regional basis, in order to be cost effective and make the maximum benefit of advertising in media such as radio and television.

  4.8  Clear protocols help ensure the scrutiny function is well defined and able to operate to an agreed set of parameters.

  4.9  The INLOGOV scrutiny evaluation (June-December 2000) identifies key areas for improvement. In recognising achievements, it considers there is a substantial agenda to be tackled in making scrutiny more effective. The Council is seeking to learn from its experience to date and the change agenda identified by INLOGOV.

5.  TAMESIDE'S EXECUTIVE FUNCTION

  5.1  The Executive, known as the Cabinet, consists of the Leader, First Deputy and eight Deputies, each with a portfolio of operations carrying delegated responsibility. Details of the portfolios, known as warrants of office, can be found on the Council's website.

  5.2  The Cabinet was introduced in January 1999 and the Council made two year appointments of Cabinet members in May 1999 in order to give the new system continuity and stability.

  5.3  The Cabinet meets every three weeks and the record of its meetings—the Cabinet diary—is distributed to all Members of the Council.

  5.4  The Cabinet is supported by a number of members, known as Cabinet Secretaries, who take on specific tasks or research issues for Cabinet Deputies. The Cabinet also has the benefit of an Aide-de-Camp and a Head of Heritage, who have specific responsibilities.

  5.5  These arrangements have worked very well.

6.  DIFFICULTIES OF IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ACT

  6.1  There are distinct risks that the regulations governing "key decisions", forward plans and the status of meetings will lead to bureaucracy and not create the clear and straightforward processes they are intended to promote. We will rise to the challenge of explaining in plain language to the public (and our own employees) all these matters, but we consider the regulations to be overcomplicated and overblown.

  6.2  Effective governance depends on councillors taking on new roles and being willing to do so. We have put in place a substantial member training and personal development programme for all councillors to deliver this. Members are expected to attend and develop new skills. Can and will this effort be replicated in other authorities?



 
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