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Agenda Item No.

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 27TH APRIL, 2015

 

REFERENCE FROM VOLUNTARY SECTOR JOINT LIAISON COMMITTEE: 23RD MARCH, 2015

 

“1050 WHITE PAPER “REFORMING LOCAL GOVERNMENT: POWER TO LOCAL PEOPLE” (REF) –

 

The Committee was provided with a report which had been referred from Cabinet at their meeting on 23rd February 2015.  At the Cabinet meeting approval was sought to circulate the White Paper “Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People” to stakeholders for their comments in advance of the Council’s formal response to Welsh Government.

 

The White Paper "Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People" was Welsh Government's statement of intent about the future of local government in Wales and was made available to view in the Members’ room and via the following link. http://wales.gov.uk/docs/dsjlg/consultation/150203-power-to-local-people-full-en.pdf

 

The White Paper set out Welsh Government's proposals for making changes in the following fields:  local democracy, the roles and remuneration of Elected Members and senior officers, community governance and Community Councils, community rights, corporate improvement, service performance, scrutiny, audit, inspection and regulation and finance.

 

Welsh Government published the White Paper on 3rd February 2015; responses were required by 28th April, 2015.  In order for the Council to give as informed a response as possible, wide circulation of the White Paper locally was proposed.  The White Paper would be referred for comments to Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources), Democratic Services Committee, Standards Committee, Audit Committee, Community Liaison Committee, Voluntary Sector Joint Liaison Committee and the Vale of Glamorgan Local Service Board.

 

Cabinet had resolved –

 

“(1) That the White Paper “Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People” be circulated to the Council's stakeholders, including Elected Members, for their comments as outlined in paragraph 3 of the report.

 

(2) That the comments received were considered in formulating the Council's response to the White Paper “Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People”.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1&2) To ensure that the Council's formal response on the White “Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People” Paper to Welsh Government was informed by comments from Elected Members and local stakeholders.”   

 

The Head of Performance and Development informed the Committee that the paper had been referred to a number of internal forums and that the voluntary and third sectors would be submitting their own response to Welsh Government.  The Council’s formal response to the White Paper would be formulated in readiness for determination at the Cabinet meeting of 27th April 2015.  A huge number of issues were to be considered as part of the consultation on this Paper, however, it was suggested that the Committee focused on Section 5 of the Paper, Power to Local Communities. 

 

The White Paper stated that the Welsh Government’s vision for Local Authorities was that they would become activist Councils, taking action to support and improve the wellbeing and resilience of their communities.  To this end, Community Bodies would be given a range of rights which would enable them to become more involved in local services and take responsibility for community assets.

 

In terms of Community Participation, it was proposed that if a Community Body envisaged that they could improve a service, they would be able to make a request to the Local Authority setting out their proposals and that Local Authorities would be required to take these requests seriously.

 

The Paper also proposed that Community Bodies should be able to start the process of asset transfer through a request to their Local Authority, whereas currently it must be initiated by the Local Authority.  Furthermore, the Paper proposed that Communities may also wish to become involved in private ownership, for example the local village pub or shop, and that they would have the right to first refusal when these properties came up for sale. 

 

Community Bodies would be required to meet certain standards with regard their organisation and would be required to have appropriate standards of governance and financial management.

 

The Head of Performance and Development stated that there was a great deal of alignment between the proposals within this section of the White Paper and what was already being progressed in the Council’s Reshaping Services Programme and the Council would endorse partnerships between itself and not for profit organisations. 

 

A Committee Member was concerned at the criticism levelled at the leadership in Local Authorities, which they felt to be insulting.  They expressed the view that Welsh Government had encouraged voluntary mergers, yet had rejected all the expressions of interest that had been submitted, wasting a lot of time in these Authorities.  In addition, the Paper was light on guidance for Local Authorities.

 

Ms. Connor, Executive Director of the VCVS, expressed concern in relation to the uncertainty involved with the proposals contained within the Williams Report and stated that in Conwy and Denbighshire, Third Sector organisations had merged, at great cost, due to the recommendations within the Report; however, subsequently the expression of interest for a voluntary merger between these Councils had been rejected. In light of this, she expressed the view that Third Sector organisations within the Vale of Glamorgan would be not make any decisions in relation to the proposals until further down the line, in case there were any changes.

 

Ms. Connor stated that a list of community assets in the Vale of Glamorgan would be helpful as it would assist organisations with expressions of interest in the transfer of assets or services and help to gauge the level of interest across the county.

 

Ms. Connor expressed the view that it would be difficult to ascertain whether a Community Body would be able to improve a service when the costs involved were unknown.  The Third Sector wanted to improve services, however they had significant efficiency savings to meet, therefore they required the full picture, which could hopefully be ascertained via the work carried out as part of the Reshaping Services Programme.

 

In response, the Head of Performance and Development advised that many of the principles within the White Paper were aligned with the Reshaping Services Programme and this Programme would continue regardless and be progressed through various Committees, including the Voluntary Sector Community Liaison and the Community Liaison Committee.

 

A Committee Member expressed the view that one of the main objectives for all involved was greater activism and engagement in the communities, however stated that diversity was an issue within Councils and the Council needed to find a way to increase diversity in elected representatives, yet was unsure whether the White Paper was the right way to go about this.  In addition, one of the main issues and challenges involved in the process of getting organisations more involved in service delivery was capacity building which was essential and was of the view that there was a gap between the strategy and implementation of these proposals. 

 

This Committee Member also informed the Committee that the Creative Rural Communities team had given a superb demonstration of the leader approach, and talked about a local action group, the Vale Market Action Group, which had taken forward a proposal to Cabinet for the Cowbridge Cattle Market.  The Member expressed the view that there were some brilliant ideas in the communities and it was the role of Councils and voluntary bodies to stand beside each other and develop skills in order to help build capacity. 

 

A Committee Member expressed the view that more information was required in regards to the Area Boards mentioned within the White Paper, as certain Town and Community Councils may not have sufficient resources to establish these. 

In response, the Head of Performance and Development stated that a great deal of concern had been expressed in the Community Liaison Committee about Area Boards and it was felt that there was no clarity in regard to their role and funding.

 

A Committee Member endorsed the comments expressed by the Committee in relation to the White Paper and stated that it contained little of substance, with no mandate and was contradictory in parts.  Furthermore, the Expression of Interest for voluntary merger submitted by the Council which had subsequently been rejected had wasted a lot of officer time

 

In response to a question from a Committee Member, Ms. Connor, expressed the view that in order to enable organisations to develop a project they would need time to gather expertise and complete feasibility studies.  Furthermore, it would take a long time, if this was to be done for all projects, time which was not available.  A lot was expected of Third Sector organisations and the Vale of Glamorgan Council which involved capacity building, however this took time.  It was a real challenge; however a large amount of money needed to be saved yet resources would need to be invested in order to build capacity. 

 

Following consideration and discussion of the report, it was subsequently

 

AGREED – T H A T Cabinet be informed of the comments and views of the Voluntary Sector Joint Liaison Committee as detailed above.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To inform Cabinet of the Committee’s views in order that a response to the White Paper “Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People” could be forwarded to the Minister."