Memorandum by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough
Council (LGA 19)|
Doncaster is at the forefront of democratic
change with the holding of Mayoral elections and the move to Mayoral
governance on 6th May 2002, we are keen to drive ahead the renewal
Within the Borough of Doncaster the statutorily
required Community Strategy is entitled the Borough Strategy.
This reflects the status of the strategy as a document owned by
the Doncaster Strategic Partnership (a mature, accredited, partnership
made up of public, voluntary and private stakeholders).
The strategy has been developed through an extensive
consultation process designed to involve all sections of the community.
A product of the extensive nature of the consultation has been
a genuine re-engagement between the Local Authority and the community,
particularly sections of the general public (a survey of 1000
adults on a citizens panel showed a 29 per cent recognition for
the Borough Strategy).
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council recognises
that the requirement for a Community Strategy was timely. Given
the existence of a mature DSP there was an opportunity to develop
the clear vision and direction brought by new political and managerial
leadership of the Council in order to develop a powerful mechanism
for articulating and implementing a vision shared between the
Council and the Borough. The result will be a target led and output
driven strategy backed by a five year Action Plan, due to be adopted
in the early summer of 2002.
Benefits of the strategy include alignment with
funding regimes such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, mainstreaming
of a Public Service Agreement and the opportunity for other plans
and strategies to be aligned in the future.
The Borough Council sees the Borough Strategy
(with its five year Action Plan) as an integral part of the hierarchy
of strategic planning, starting with the one year Best Value Performance
Plan and the three year Public Service Agreement through to the
seven 10 year Transformational Goals which comprise the long term
strategic vision for the Borough. Consequently, the Borough Strategy
becomes an essential driver for policy led budgeting. The potential
exists for other agencies to use the strategy in the same way,
although the extent to which this potential is realised will only
become apparent over the coming years.
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council is keenly
aware that the well-being power can become a power of first resort
in committing Local Authority funds. Even during the development
of the Borough Strategy this power has been utilised. For example,
it has been possible to develop a more extensive system of neighbourhood
wardens undertaking a wider diversity of duties.
This Council is, however, of the view that the
prohibition on charging for services provided under Part I of
the Local Government Act 2000 is unnecessarily restrictive. Given
proper prudential controls there should be no reason why charges
should not be imposed to the recipients of certain services. This
would enable the Local Authority to provide a greater diversity
of services under this power and enable the recycling of funds
to make those services available to greater numbers of recipients.
The restriction on charging arises from the interpretation of
the prohibition on raising revenue under Part I of the Local Government
Act 2000. This Council is of the view that whilst there may be
good reasons for interpreting Part I to prohibit the raising of
revenue through taxation or borrowing the restriction on charging
is unnecessarily restrictive.
The power under Section 150 of the Local Government
Housing Act 1989 to enable the Secretary of State to make regulations
enabling trading has not yet been exercised. This Council will
welcome the making of regulations in due course.
The power to promote well-being has the potential
to encourage, consistently with other parts of the Modernisation
Agenda, working across traditional geographical boundaries. The
Borough Strategy will encourage working relationships between
the Borough, the sub-region and the region. Care must, however,
be taken to ensure that natural cross-boarder communities (for
example the Dearne Valley which lies across the border between
Doncaster and Barnsley) has it's needs addressed by both Community
Strategies which affect it.
A key and welcome element of the modernisation
agenda is the development of Members roles as community leaders
and as ward representatives. Although the Borough Strategy will
give context and focus to the development of community leadership
capacity, the structures created by the Local Government Act 2000
are not, of themselves, sufficient to enhance both those aspects
of the duties of Members. Further and continuing efforts by Councils
and individual Members will need to be made in order to ensure
that Members are able to achieve the enhancement of their community
leadership and ward representative roles and to ensure that communities
are served to the extent that they are entitled.
The Sub-Committee may wish to note that the
Terms of Reference contained in the Notice of Enquiry refers to
the duty to promote economic, social and environmental
well-being. The provisions of Part I of the Local Government Act
2000 refer to a power.
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council has not
yet adopted Executive Arrangements, and will do so following a
Mayoral election on 2 May 2002. However, the Council has piloted
Overview and Scrutiny for a period in excess of two years and
has operated an interim Leader and Cabinet structure since 1 October
2001. The structure of the interim arrangement shadows, as closely
as the current law permits, Executive arrangements under the Local
Government Act 2000.
The operation of the Leader and Cabinet model
has revealed a number of issues. The Cabinet consists of the Leader
and nine other Members. Each of the Portfolio Members report that
membership of the Cabinet is effectively a full time job. The
workloads involved in a large unitary Authority are such that
Portfolio Holders have sought assistance from Lead Members, who
are not members of the Cabinet, but develop expertise in part
or all of the Portfolio Holder's area of responsibility in order
to provide support on policy development and operational issues.
The Lead Member role is not recognised in the
statutory basis for Executive Arrangements but is a common local
constitutional arrangement. This may be an issue which the Secretary
of State may wish to address in future Guidance, with a view to
giving greater clarity to such a role.
Generally, the volume and complexity of the
Regulations and Guidance has caused some concern. There is the
possibility that the modernisation objectives of openness and
clarity are being frustrated by the complexity of the regulatory
It is apparent that Executive Arrangements will
require more dedicated officer support and resources than the
previous Committee system. The interim arrangement has been extremely
useful in that the requirement for supporting resources has been
formalised and quantified in a way that was not possible previously.
The role of Ward Members is changing and developing.
The extent and nature of this change will not be ascertainable
until the change to Mayoral Executive has bedded in. The increasing
workloads of the Executive and Overview and Scrutiny Members may
run counter to the express intention of the Local Government Act
to enable Ward Members to play a greater representational and
community leader role. The take-up of new technology has increased
during the interim arrangements and will assist in rationalising
the time committed by Members to increase their efficiency.
This Council has piloted Overview and Scrutiny
for a period in excess of two years. There is, however, still
some uncertainty about the role Members and officers. The organisation
is still in an educational phase. One lesson which has become
apparent is that there is a need for a supporting infrastructure
of officers of at least Head of Service level and for substantial
administrative support. This was quickly developed in this Council
by nominating Heads of Service to support each standing or ad
hoc Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee, an arrangement which
is currently under review.
A further lesson which has been learned and
applied is the need for the Overview and Scrutiny process to be
as open as possible. Through a number of devices, including Chairs'
Overview and Scrutiny surgery, travelling meetings, encouraging
members of the public to contribute at meetings and extremely
open agendas, Overview and Scrutiny in Doncaster has avoided becoming
an inward looking vehicle for scrutinising Council business from
a Council perspective and is developing into an environment where
a wide range of stakeholders can engage in the scrutiny of decisions
and the development of policy.
One feature of Overview and Scrutiny which has
been apparent throughout the pilot and transitional period is
that it has not been used as an arena for Party Political debate.
Of three standing Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committees, all are
chaired by opposition Members and the call-in arrangements ensure
a majority of opposition Members control that procedural device.
Notwithstanding the extensive pilot of Overview
and Scrutiny, this Council in common with many others, is aware
that there is still much scope for further development of Overview
and Scrutiny before it is fully contributing to the governance
of the Borough.
The revision of Members Remuneration, required
by the Local Government Act 2000, has been an extremely instructive
exercise. The quality of applicants for membership of the Independent
Panel, elicited by public advertisement, was impressive. The members
appointed, which tended to reflect to some extent the diversity
of the community, ensured a process which was robust and challenging
for all concerned. The Independent Remuneration Panel valued the
Chair of Overview and Scrutiny, in terms of remuneration, significantly
higher than individual Cabinet Portfolio Holders.
Responding to concerns raised by Members about
apparent disparity in the commitment of Elected Members, the Independent
Remuneration Panel explored the possibility of performance related
allowances. The complexities of this issue have yet to be resolved
and Council has not yet adopted this recommendation. Remuneration
of Members will remain subject to periodic review.
The changing roles of Elected Members (and of
officers) has led to an increasing emphasis on training. Delivery
of training within Doncaster has utilised outside non-traditional
sources including mentoring, the IDeA and partnerships with other
Local Authorities. Time resources are the biggest problem in accessing
training. A solution to the training issue has been to begin a
systematic identification of training needs on the part of Members
leading to tailored training packages and a consideration of personal
development passport. This Council believes that this is to the
benefit of Elected Members and to the employers of those Elected
Members in employment.
The officers and Members of Doncaster Metropolitan
Borough Council have achieved significant successes in adapting
their methods of working during the interim Leader and Cabinet
structure. The interim arrangement broke down traditional barriers
and, for example, the adoption of cross-cutting portfolios by
Cabinet Members has required changes in organisational approach
and in personal relationships.
It is anticipated that further substantial changes
in both structures and working relationships will be required
by the adoption of a Mayoral system. The Guidance recognises the
need to anticipate and plan for constructive tensions between
the Mayor, the Council and Overview and Scrutiny. This Council
has developed open and constructive relationships during the preparatory
period and looks forward with confidence to meeting this challenge.
This Council has had a Standards Committee since
1999. This has had a robust structure, comprising a majority of
co-opted members and being chaired by a well respected local clergyman.
The Standards Committee is a powerful tool with
responsibility for monitoring, among other things, the recording
of gifts and hospitality by officers and Members and the "whistle
blowing" policy. The Committee has had responsibility for
determining complaints against Members since 2000.
It is apparent from the experience within the
Council that robust structures and competent and motivated Members
of a Standards Committee are not, of themselves, sufficient to
deliver high ethical standards. This has required the engagement
and commitment of the entire Council and/or Elected Members.
Given the difficult task faced by Members of
the Standards Committee, particularly but not exclusively co-optees,
external support is welcomed. This Council believes that the interface
between the local Standards Committee and the Standards Board
for England and Wales (which is very substantial given the residual
self-regulatory role) will be to the mutual benefit of both processes.
Similarly, the requirement for Parish and Principal Councils to
collaborate on the promotion of high ethical standards in Parish
Councils has the potential to be to the benefit of both parties.
This Council has not, yet, adopted the National
Code of Members Conduct, but unreservedly welcomes it as a useful
addition to the local drive for high standards.
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council is firmly
of the view that the Local Government Act 2000 may save significant
contribution to reengaging local communities in the democratic
The Council's Transformational Goals adopted
by the Borough include the following:
"The Borough is experiencing vigorous democratic
renewal and community engagement in civic and civil society. Not
just from increases in turnout at elections but also by a significant
growth and involvement in decision making at all levels".
Community engagement encouraged through Borough
wide consultation on appropriate democratic Models and in the
conducting of a Referendum on the adoption of an elected Mayor
have contributed significantly to this aim. The Council also welcomed
provisions in the Act to decide itself whether or not innovative
electoral methods eg all postal voting, was appropriate at particular
This Council would encourage the Urban Affairs
Sub-Committee to accept the conclusion that the democratic process
is much wider than the arrangements, eg postal voting on demand
or for rolling registration. All of the responses set out above
form part of our renewal agenda and this Council is of the belief
that that process of community engagement and increased confidence
in local democracy through the promotion of ethical standards
have as much to offer in achieving democratic renewal as those
parts which deal exclusively with voter turnout.
Currently seven Local Authorities are proceeding
with the change to Mayoral governance. It would be beneficial
at an early stage to hold a Mayoral Conference and Doncaster Metropolitan
Borough Council would be more than happy to act as host.
For this Council, as for many others, the consequences
of, and opportunities afforded by, the Local Government Act 2000
are still being explored. Generally the Act has been both a powerful
driver for and useful instrument in delivering structural change.
The magnitude of that structural change will require several years
for the consequent cultural and operational changes to manifest
themselves in their entirety.