Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

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 agenda.


  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 framework.

  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 processes.

  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 elections.

  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.

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Prepared 22 April 2002