Agenda Item No. 7

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 3RD SEPTEMBER, 2018

 

REFERENCE FROM COMMUNITY LIAISON COMMITTEE: 3RD JULY, 2018

 

 

117     RESHAPING SERVICES – ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE OPERATION AND TRANSFER OF ASSETS OR SERVICES TO TOWN AND COMMUNITY COUNCILS IN THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN (REF) –

 

Cabinet had, on 2nd July, 2018, approved in principle the approach and principles for the Protocol as a basis for referral to the Community Liaison Committee and the Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee for consideration, prior to reaching a final determination.  The report provided an update on the work undertaken to date with Town and Community Councils (TCCs) in line with the Reshaping Services programme and it sought Cabinet approval for the Protocol. 

 

The Head of Service for Neighbourhood Services and Transport advised that the Council's Reshaping Services programme set out how the Council's desire to continue to operate priority services placed an increased requirement on the Council to work with others.  The Programme was well established and projects sought alternative service delivery models where appropriate to do so.  The Strategy underpinning Reshaping Services recognised the important role that the Council's partners had in achieving the Council's objectives.

 

“Town and Community Councils and Voluntary Sector”, was one of the Corporate work streams in the Reshaping Services programme.  To date many discussions had taken place between senior officers of the Council and TCC officers and elected Members concerning the possible transfer of Vale of Glamorgan Council assets and responsibilities.

 

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 placed a legal duty on public bodies to work together to improve the well-being of Wales.  It also placed specific well-being duties on certain TCCs depending on their annual turnover.  As an articulation of this Council's commitment to the Five Ways of Working introduced by the Act, Reshaping Services project teams comprised representatives from the voluntary and TCC sectors.  The regular updates provided on Reshaping Services to the Community Liaison Committee demonstrated a commitment to involving and collaborating with colleagues in this part of the public sector.

 

As part of the Reshaping Services programme, Vale of Glamorgan Council officers had been engaged with TCCs for some time, seeking to establish which services or assets they may be interested in taking on, either to supplement a reduction in service frequency or standards due to reduced budgets, or in the worst case scenario to fulfil a service in some form due to its complete withdrawal.

 

Interest had generally been from TCCs to become involved in services and functions local to their respective administrative boundaries and at a scale commensurate with their administrations and resources.  This had always been with the proviso that such services / functions should be operated at a lower overall cost to the tax payer and to at least the same standard as was currently the case.

 

The discussions undertaken to date had provided a useful learning opportunity for all concerned and as expected, different TCCs had expressed varying levels of interest in this agenda so far.  Through effective management of Council services, there had also not been a need to progress discussions relating to the wholesale withdrawal of services or the closure of assets. Whilst this demonstrated successful management of services to date, there were clearly future pressures that were likely to change this situation.  Without providing details of services or assets that were to be withdrawn or to cease, TCCs had also lacked some clarity in terms of their scope and the desired outcomes from any potential projects.  The discussions had also prompted the need to address the question of which services and assets the Vale of Glamorgan Council operated at a very “local” level (i.e. for specific local communities) and those which were strategically operated (i.e. for the benefit of the area / region / country as a whole).  This had again not provided clarity for potential partners of which services / assets the Council would be willing to progress discussions in order to fulfil the Council's Well-being Objectives and to deliver the sufficient level of financial saving that this Council would ultimately require from such arrangements.

 

All Councils required clarity as to how they should prepare to work together in the future to ensure that we grasp all opportunities to meet the needs of our citizens and communities, and the report sought to assist in this purpose by producing a Protocol or 'blueprint' for future engagement, building on the experiences to date, this Council's Corporate Plan, its Medium Term Financial Plan and the national legislative context.

 

Over the next five years, at its projected minimum financial settlement provision, the report noted that the Council should be able to resource its statutory and strategic services with all other services likely to reduce in standard / frequency, be made at least cost neutral, transferred to others (including TCCs), or cease altogether at some point during the period.

 

The Protocol was intended to provide clarity by indicating the services and types of assets which the Council would consider to be non-strategic and those that may be available for transfer or operation by others, including the broad terms of any such arrangements.

 

The categories of assets (and the associated operations) that were considered to be non-strategic included some examples as identified in paragraph 22 of the report. 

 

Where a TCC was interested in pursuing opportunities within their area, they were encouraged to contact the Council for further discussion and more information on the specific assets which fell into the non-strategic categories could then be provided which was relevant to the particular area in question.  This would enable relevant information to be provided and for informed discussions to take place.  In addition to this Protocol, Cabinet would also be considering proposals for changes to the operation of single-use sports facilities (for example bowling greens and tennis clubs) which were also being reported on the agenda.

 

Based on lessons learned from projects both within the Vale of Glamorgan and elsewhere, there were several possible forms of arrangement for the operation or transfer of services and assets to TCCs.

 

-     Community Asset Transfer – The Council had an established Community Asset Transfer (CAT) guidance and protocol which set out a process through the submission of an Expression of Interest and (where judged to be viable) a business case that was considered by the Council's CAT Working Group, Insight Board and Cabinet.  This guidance was currently under review.  TCCs may wish to consider the CAT process for asset categories listed above where a viable business case existed for operating these.

 

-     “Soft-CAT” or pilot.  There was also the possibility of TCCs working on a “soft-CAT” or pilot basis, whereby the TCC could operate the service / asset on a service level agreement basis for a period of time (for example, two years) initially to enable risks to be managed and to develop learning and understanding.  These forms of arrangement would be developed on the basis of a “light touch” business case, produced collaboratively.  The TCC would assume the responsibility for operating the service / asset on the basis of an agreed service level.  This might lead to a formal CAT application in time for assets or a more permanent arrangement regarding service delivery.  It was proposed that this "soft-CAT" option would be reflected in the updated Corporate CAT guidance which would be reported to Cabinet later this summer.

 

Committee was further informed that any transfer or operation of services or assets should be at a lower overall cost to the public, there may also be employment implications associated with any proposals, for example, the potential transfer of staff to another organisation.  These would be identified and managed in accordance with the Council's local arrangements and any relevant legislative duties on a case by case basis.

 

In the first instance during consideration of the report, a Member queried the accuracy of the detail referring to the community centre listed as Glyndwr Avenue, Penarth suggesting that this was incorrect.  The Head of Service agreed to look into this and report back to Members. 

 

A number of questions were raised with specific reference to the Council’s determination of what it considered to be a strategic asset and a local asset.  A Member also referred to the fact that it would have been more advantageous for further consultation to have been undertaken on the report prior to it being presented to the Committee.

 

In response, the officer advised that the consultation being undertaken at the Committee meeting was indeed part of the consultation process and a copy of the report had been forwarded under the Urgent Decision procedure as approved by Cabinet on 2nd July to all TCCs in order that they could consider the report during their meetings in July prior to reporting back to Cabinet in September.  The officer also referred to the fact that based on experience of the Council’s work with TCCs, they had considered how they interpreted local or strategic but reminded all present that if they had any issues they could respond during the consultation with any comments.

 

Committee was further advised that the list of assets detailed in the report was also not exhaustive but provided a basis to work on.  A TCC representative also advised of the importance for TCCs to have as much information as possible which had not been provided in detail in the past.  The Head of Service, in response, advised that a number of discussions were currently taking place with individual TCCs and the report had been prepared in response to a number of queries that had been raised.

 

A number of representatives of TCCs at the meeting raised concern regarding the potential issue of double taxation.  In response the Head of Service advised that should a service not be undertaken by the Vale of Glamorgan, then there should be no double taxation issue, and by way of an example for instance if the Vale Council agreed to undertake only four grass cuts a year out of eight, other TCCs could actually take on the other four themselves, so it would not be double taxation per se.  The key was the overall cost of the service and, in particular, that it should not be any greater than the current cost.  The Head of Service urged all TCCs to consider whether there was anything they could do differently in their areas which could be done cheaper.  The Library Service was noted as an example of a service that was currently being run by communities. 

 

In referring to the report, the Head of Service also advised that it was clear that the Council needed to keep assets that were strategically important to the Vale as these needed to be managed in a consistent way and could also have extra income opportunities for the Vale to pay for other services the Vale provided. 

 

The Member for Llangan stated that in his view, although the methodology was appropriate, more dialogue needed to take place between TCCs and the Vale. 

 

Some Members commented that it was important to understand that a number of TCCs were happy to take on services but that the Vale of Glamorgan Council should be generous and reasonable but get on with the matter.  A query was also raised in relation to the reference to the Well-being of Future Generations Act and how the implications would impact on future generations, with a further request for details in relation to what assets the Council considered to be strategic and local to be provided.  In commenting further they stated their disappointment that there were only 12 TCCs represented at the Community Liaison Committee. 

 

The representative of Llangan Community Council asked the Council to also consider instead of making a list of tangible assets, to look at services that were of concern to all, for example road signs as these in his view needed considerable maintenance throughout the Vale of Glamorgan. However, it was noted that this was a statutory service and as such the responsibility of the Vale. 

 

Councillor Cuddy, the TCC Representative on the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Reshaping Services Board, then provided a short presentation reviewing the work that had been undertaken to date.  He referred to the paragraph in the Green Paper of Welsh Government’s proposals to provide the catalyst to create a new kind of local government in Wales delivering alongside stronger TCCs, providing a sustainable model for local public services and democracy.  The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act also brought the challenge of working together.  The Independent Panel Review Report on the role of TCCs was anticipated later in the year and would be reported to all TCCs when available.  He acknowledged that the Vale had sustained services and assets at a level that was better than some other unitary Authorities, although in his view, the report before the Committee in his view focused on finance as opposed to the detail for reshaping services.  There was also a need to ensure value added by local delivery.  He referred in the main to the services being limited to the Visible Services Directorate and welcomed the revision to the Community Asset Transfer Guidance and the soft-CAT approach.  He too wished the Local Authority was clearer in relation to the strategic and local implications and that TCCs should be made aware of improvement requirements, the commitments that they may be taking on and that it was about taking on an asset rather than a liability.  Local Councils should also be made fully aware of the limitations should they enter into any service level agreements and consideration given to the length of lease / impact on grant applications.

 

A number of Councils already managed some of the services listed in the schedule and this was already reflected in their precepts.  In conclusion, he stated that TCCs should seek advised from One Voice Wales, Welsh Government and continue to attend Clerks networks.  It was important to look for opportunities for reshaping services for local benefit rather than business as usual in the face of the Well-being of Future Generations Act and in the spirit of partnership to interrogate costings, revenue forecasts and consider ways for overcoming barriers. 

 

In conclusion  the Head of Service advised that from her perspective, she considered that the debate had raised a number of issues, in particular TCCs were asking for the definition of strategic and local, a comprehensive list of facilities and costs.

It was subsequently

 

AGREED – T H A T the comments considered at the meeting be referred to Cabinet for its information and consideration.