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Agenda Item No. 7

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Council Meeting: 29 September 2014

 

Report of the Leader

 

WLGA's Alternative Approach to the Williams Report

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To advise Council of the WLGA's alternative to the proposals of the Williams report on Public Services Governance and Delivery and seek view on those alternative proposals.

Recommendations

1.         That Council notes the alternative approach outlined by WLGA and makes its views known.

2.         That the WLGA be asked to set out in more detail its proposals particularly as a means of Governance for City Regions and related issues.

3.         That the WLGA be informed that the Vale of Glamorgan Council would prefer a Joint Committee approach that did not involve setting up additional organisations. 

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To seek Members' views on the WLGA's proposals.

2/3.      To inform the WLGA of the Council's view.

Background

2.         The report of the Commission on Public Services Governance and Delivery - the Williams report - was published in January 2014.  It opines that there are significant problems relating to the scale and sustainability of local authorities and proposes that the number of Councils is cut from the current 22 to between 10 and 12.  Among the new Councils would be a merged Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff Council.  A Welsh Government White Paper, Reforming Local Government, was published in July 2014 and broadly endorses the Williams report.  Welsh Government is consulting on the White Paper, with responses required by 1 October 2014.

3.         WLGA in July 2014 presented an alternative proposal.  This proposal (Appendix A), which is an initial proposition only and requires significant work to fully flesh out if Councils are so minded, involves the creation of combined authorities that would plan and deliver services at a regional level.  Representation would be from each of the Councils in the area, possibly with other stakeholders, e.g. Welsh Government.  The proposal is broadly based on the regional combined authorities in England, e.g. the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The WLGA has also prepared a response to Frequently Asked Questions and this is attached at Appendix B.

4.         Although not finalised, the proposition is that the combined authorities would be based on the current regional structures set up by WLGA.  There would be four regions - North Wales, Mid and Central Wales, South West Wales and South East Wales.  The Vale would be one of the ten Councils making up the South East Wales region.

5.         The proposal sees the combined authorities as having five roles:  

·           Supporting job creation and economic growth

·           An increase in local decision-making powers if powers are devolved from Welsh Government, e.g. City Regions

·           Strategic transport and improvements, e.g. Metro

·           Cross-boundary working with other combined authorities, e.g. on rail franchising

·           Providing resilience for a range of other functions.

Relevant Issues and Options

6.         The strategic functions of a combined authority as set out in the WLGA proposals include the City Region agenda and regional land use planning as well as transport and highway related matters.  These are matters that have already been discussed and deliberated at a regional (S E Wales) level through various forms of collaborative working.  Welsh Government is now also proposing that these matters should be delivered regionally, and a combined authority to deal with all of these related issues together with full representation from local government seems a sensible way forward and would align well with the WLGA’s approach.  This could be particularly so if it led to more functions being devolved from Welsh Government.  Indeed, it could be argued that a combined authority approach is essential in order to provide status to the work at regional level.  It could also avoid ‘silo working’ and duplication of effort from structures across individual disciplines and service areas in the absence of a combined authority approach. 

7.         The WLGA proposal enables Councils to collaborate now to create service resilience in the face of large scale budget cuts by means of a regional structure that is far easier to put in place than full reorganisation, which would detract attention from service delivery.  The lessons learned from current collaborative initiatives would stand us in good stead and would bode well for the success of the proposed arrangements.

8.         Even if Council mergers take place, there may be a requirement for a combined authority to tackle issues of regional significance such as the governance of the City Region.  That being the case, the argument is about the necessity for coordinated and focused effort to bring new investment and jobs into the region, and not about costs.  The combined authorities proposed by WLGA would have that role as part of their functions.

9.         The combined authorities could carry out certain "back office" functions – HR, payroll, accounting – for all Councils in the area.  This may result in savings (but see 15 below).

10.      Local government has been challenged to come up with an alternative to Williams and the WLGA proposal responds to that challenge.  If Councils are unwilling to accept the merger map, and the current map is not an option, then they have to take seriously a proposal under which local identity would continue even if the full range of services would not be delivered locally.     

11.      However, it could be argued that simply transferring responsibilities to a combined authority would not satisfy the arguments put forward in the Williams report for merging councils. Other services are also mentioned as being unsustainable as they are currently delivered, including Social Services. 

12.      These other large service areas (usually functions carried out by the previous County Councils) - e.g. full Highways functions, Social Services - could be transferred to the combined authorities, but this would leave the existing, individual councils with significantly diminished responsibilities. Depending on the extent of functions relinquished, they could become in effect little more than old style District Councils delivering only the most local of services. Furthermore, the delivery and planning for these functions would be further removed from local decision making than would be the case with the current proposals for merged Councils.

13.      The argument for local government reorganisation in 1996 was to avoid duplication between authorities and to add clarity for users of public services.  It could be argued that the combined authority model, if widened to include a large range of strategic decision making functions, would see a return to the issues prevalent prior to 1996.  Such an approach would see a split between strategic decision making and policy formulation and local decision making and accountability.  By way of examples, strategic planning policy relating to land use and key allocations would be set at a regional/combined authority level whilst small scale, local decision making would remain at a local level.  Likewise, key decisions relating to strategic highways and infrastructure would be taken at a regional level, with smaller scale decisions relating to local transport infrastructure remaining at a local level. There is a risk in this scenario that the public become confused as to where responsibility for decisions lies and duplication of activity creeps in due to the often blurred distinction as to what constitutes a strategic decision and what operational.

14.      The proposal for South East Wales involving ten authorities may be a good fit for City Region issues, but could create a lot of complexity if it was also responsible for other services such as Social Care. The combined authority would currently cover three Local Health Boards and part of a fourth. It would also include two of the Education improvement consortia.

15.      It is mentioned in 9 above that the combined authorities could carry out certain support functions for all the Councils in its area.  Although this may result in savings, it would involve significant capital investment and may either increase complexity or force standardisation and remove local influence on policies and processes, e.g. terms and conditions of staff, organisation of financial information.  It should be noted that the Williams Commission view was that collaborative delivery of transactional support services should be pursued even with merged authorities.

16.      There is a problem that political accountability would become more confused rather than clearer as the local electorate could still hold local politicians to account for services delivered by the combined authorities but they may individually have little influence on the actions of the whole combined authority. The more services delivered by the combined authority the more of an issue this becomes.  The examples relating to land use planning and highways are a good example of this point, where local decisions would need to have regard to strategic policies set at a more remote, regional level.

17.      Although the WLGA point out that their proposal is not merely creating more organisations and a two tier system, at first sight it looks as if this is indeed the case. It also has to be borne in mind that the move to a combined authority model would not in itself reduce the number of organisations, which was an aim of the Williams Commission.  To the contrary, the number of organisations would increase with the introduction of a regional tier of working.

18.      However, a counter argument is that it is likely that new structures would need to be set up for the city region and related issues anyway – see paragraph 6 above. In this case, it is clearly appropriate and necessary that local government is at the centre of such working arrangements, given its role in delivering services and implementing policy. 

19.      As it is still in the concept stage it is too early for costings to be carried out. However, it is difficult to see where significant savings could be made. There should be savings in the senior management structures of the existing Councils as the salaries and numbers of managers were reduced, but some of this would be offset by an increase in similar posts in the combined authorities.  It could also be more difficult (and painful) to carry out this downgrading of existing posts and management structures than the process involved in merging existing Councils into a new Council.

20.      As stated earlier in the report the proposal is not finalised and there is an opportunity for Councils to influence and clarify which functions could transfer and the form of governance that could operate. For example, functions to be transferred could be limited to those of strategic regional significance.

21.      The financial implications of the proposal need to be fully explored.  Local government has properly criticised the Williams Commission proposals for lack of a proper business case and would not want to fall into the same trap.

22.      The WLGA has indicated that should sufficient support be forthcoming from Councils for the concept, further work would be commissioned to ensure a credible alternative proposal. This could encompass whether it is necessary to create a tier of separate organisations or whether other options are available, e.g. establishing a regional joint committee. A Joint Committee could avoid the need for the creation of an additional organisation with individual councils responsible for service and project delivery. In this scenario some Councils could possibly act as "lead" authorities, delivering services and projects on behalf of others.  This, in my opinion, would be the preferred and better option and would not be open to criticism from Welsh Government for creating another tier of government.  Williams is predicated on decreasing the number of authorities and the WLGA’s suggestion could be seen to do the opposite, whereas the Joint Committee structure would not increase the number of authorities , but promote partnership and collaboration between existing authorities.   

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

23.      There are no direct financial implications arising from this report.  If the proposals meet with support from Councils however then considerable work will need to be undertaken in conjunction with WLGA to flesh out the resources implications.  

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

24.      There are no direct sustainability and climate change implications arising from this report. 

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

25.      There are no direct legal implications arising from this report.  If the proposals meet with support from Councils the legal implications would need careful examination. 

Crime and Disorder Implications

26.      There are no specific crime and disorder implications associated with this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

27.      One of the key aspects of sustainable development is ensuring a strong, healthy and just society and the proposed legislation will place an increased focus on all aspects of sustainable development.

Corporate/Service Objectives

28.      The Council's stated values are delivering good services, transparency, engagement and empowerment.  Its response to the WLGA should be coloured and informed by those values'

Policy Framework and Budget

29.      This is a matter where full Council's views are sought.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

30.      This is a matter for the whole of the Council and therefore no ward member consultation has been undertaken.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

31.      Corporate Resources

Background Papers

Williams Commission report, January 2014

Welsh Government White Paper Reforming Local Government, July 2014

WLGA paper An Alternative Approach to the Williams Report, July 2014

 

Contact Officer

Huw Isaac - Head of Performance and Development

01446 709760

 

Officers Consulted

Corporate Management Team

 

Responsible Officer:

Sian Davies - Managing Director

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