A Guide to Area Forums in Coventry. Purpose. The purpose of these notes is to inform you of the role of Area Forums as part of Coventry City Council’s political management arrangements and their relationship with Area Co-ordination and local service delivery. What are Area Forums? Area Forums are an important and very influential part of Coventry’s political management arrangements. They strengthen the role of Ward Councillors in Coventry by giving them direct access to the Cabinet (decision making) and Scrutiny aspects of the work of the Council and help Ward Councillors to advocate on behalf of people living in the area. There are six of them and they relate to the six Area Co-ordination areas that cover the City as outlined below: Area Wards North East Area 4 Henley, Longford, Wyken South East Area Lower Stoke, Binley & Willenhall, Upper Stoke Phoenix Area St Michael’s, Cheylesmore South West Area Woodlands, Westwood, Wainbody, Earlsdon North West Area Radford, Sherbourne, Whoberley, Bablake North Area Foleshill, Holbrooks The Forums are cross-party in nature and support the City Council policies that drive Area Co-ordination and the regeneration of priority neighbourhoods. They are public meetings which are supported by the Council’s Committee Teams and their lead Support Officers from the Council are the Area Co- ordinator (particularly in relation to the Area Plan and interagency service delivery) and the relevant Strategic Director for the area (particularly in relation to ensuring that we identify and address those instances where specific problems in an area raise issues that involve matters of policy, resources, processes or organisational development.) They can raise issues on behalf of neighbourhoods that the Council can consider when developing, improving and delivering its policies and services. Their job is to: i.) Encourage local democracy and a better understanding of how Area Co-ordination works locally ii.) Give advice and support to the Area Co-ordinator in preparing and delivering the Area Plan iii.) Scrutinise or monitor the Area Plan to make sure it is delivered in the best possible way iv.) Scrutinise or monitor local services (whether delivered by the Council or one or more of its partners) to make sure that they are delivered in the best possible way. v.) Ask for reviews to be conducted on local services whether delivered by the Council or one or more of its partners vi.) Give advice and information on any reviews of services that are taking place vii.) Give advice and information to the Council as it develops its policies and priorities. viii.) Comment upon any local petitions referred to them by Cabinet members. ix.) Provide leadership to local communities and encourage people to help make their neighbourhoods better and more pleasant places to live by: a) working with local people to identify key needs and issues b) being a key focus for local consultation c) reporting local views and opinions to the Council and its partner organisations The main focus of the work of the Area Forums are Coventry’s Priority Neighbourhoods i.e. those communities that are most in need of support and regeneration although they will spend some of their time supporting issues raised by Ward Councillors and existing residents groups in the wider, more affluent areas. Much of the work in these areas will be done, not by staff based within the Area Co-ordination offices but by staff from the Council and its partners adopting the Area Coordination approach and working with Elected Members. The role of the Area Co-ordinator and his/her team in these wider areas is to: a.) Help residents and Ward Councillors identify solutions to complex problems b.) Identify key contacts within the Council and its partner organisations who can take the matter forward c.) Support these staff in working together to solve the problem and improve their service delivery. Who are the members of the Area Forums? The Elected representatives of the Wards within the area (the Ward Councillors) are members of the Area Forum plus one member of the Cabinet of the Council. The Chair of the Forum must be a Ward Councillor but must not be a Cabinet member as this may produce a conflict of interest for the Chair i.e. the Chair would sometimes be scrutinising policies that s/he had developed. Neither can the Chair be a Chair or Vice Chair of a Scrutiny Committee for the same reason. The Elected members of each Area Forum can co-opt or choose a number of local active citizens who are involved through Area Co-ordination in their communities to help and advise them on local issues and services. What is the quorum for an Area Forum? An Area Forum is quorate if one Elected Member representing each Ward in the area is present. How are the local citizens chosen to sit on the Area Forums and how many should there be? There are no hard and fast rules about how to do this but there is one issue that Members need to be aware of. If a co-optee is an employee of the Local Authority, s/he should declare an interest in any item of business that may produce a conflict of interest with regard to their employment. This may also be relevant to co-optees who are in other forms of employment or are, for example, members of voluntary or community groups that may be linked with an item on a Forum agenda. The following is some broad advice : a) In general, it is important to signal through the numbers of people involved, the support given to them and the language that is used in Forum meetings that Members intend to treat their co-optees involvement seriously and value their contribution. b) Residents may not always be able to attend the meetings and involving a slightly larger number than is usual will make sure that the Forum always has advice on hand in the meetings. c) The Forum must select a majority of co-optees from residents who are active within Area Co-ordination and who come from the priority neighbourhoods. This is for three reasons: i.) If residents are already working through Area Co- ordination they can be provided with support outside the Forum meetings as an ongoing part of the neighbourhood- based work. ii.) Area Co-ordination is primarily concerned with Coventry’s Priority Neighbourhoods. Residents from these neighbourhoods experience more difficulty in making their voice heard because they are often coping with high levels of crime, unemployment and generally have a poorer quality of life than people living in the more affluent areas. If the Area Forum does not hear their voice, Coventry will be less successful in raising the quality of life in these neighbourhoods. iii.) Residents from the more affluent areas can still voice their concerns through their Ward Councillors outside the Forum and Area Co-ordination will support Members in addressing these concerns by encouraging Services and Partner organisations to work together to address these concerns. d) Ask your Area Co-ordinator to collect the names of those residents who are already working within their communities and who Area Coordination can continue to provide support and who wish to be considered. S/he will then ask colleagues to talk with people with whom they are currently working in Coventry’s priority neighbourhoods to explain what being a member of the Forum means and will also use other means to invite people to put themselves forward. You will then receive a list of those who wish to be considered together with a brief description of the person and why they feel they would be able to make a valuable contribution to the Area Forum. Please note that these people are unlikely to be able to represent their communities – this is the job of democratically elected Ward Councillors but they can provide a valuable local perspective. e) Decide whether you wish to meet the “candidates” individually or together before making a decision and decide also whether the selection will be by consensus or by a majority. The former is preferable. f) Be clear about who you are looking for. Some key questions that you can use to help the selection process and to ensure that residents know what they are volunteering for include: i.) Does the person have good links with his or her neighbourhood and will they be able to pass information between the Forum and their neighbourhood? ii.) Does the person have a particular interest or specialism that will be of value over and above being a local citizen? This is particularly important in that a perspective from a priority neighbourhood alone may indirectly exclude the views of those who are from communities of interest such as the disabled, young people, older people and minority ethnic groups iii.) Will the person be able to contribute to the Forum’s view of the whole area, especially the priority neighbourhoods? Citizens who come from a range of local neighbourhoods would be able to provide advice from across the area. iv.) Will the person be able to provide challenging advice to the Forum? There is a danger in choosing people who “think like you”! v.) Will the person be able to reflect the views of local people above their own personal interests and how do they intend to gather local views? g.) Be clear about what support you will be providing over and above any agreed induction training such as necessary childcare, transport, cost of telephone calls relating to the work of the Forum and so on. This is extremely important if you are going to attract those people who don’t normally have a voice and are often excluded from local democratic processes. h.) Active citizens should stand for a two-year term of office with 50% of the membership changing each year. This gives people the ability to grow into the work and allows the more experienced people to support the “newcomers”. Once the co-option process is complete, make sure that the Cabinet Member (Service Co-ordination) is provided with the names and addresses of the Forum’s co-optees as s/he must approve them on behalf of the Cabinet. How should the Area Forum relate to the Area Plan and Area Coordination? The Area Plans are based upon the priority needs of those residents who live in Coventry’s priority neighbourhoods. They are based upon the targeted, proactive work that takes place through Area Co-ordination. The Area Forum can support and help to develop these plans by Assisting, Advising and Scrutinising. Assist. The Area Forum can best support the development and implementation of the Area Plan by: Feeding into the draft Area Plan the general local issues that Ward Councillors are picking up in their surgeries and as a normal part of their work. The individual Ward Councillor should still deal with individual cases. Advise. The Area Forum can best advise on the development and implementation of the Area Plan by: Recognising that the Area Co-ordinator is not responsible for the delivery of individual services within the community. This is the job of Service Managers. If a problem arises which makes it clear that an individual service is unable to deliver an agreed piece of interagency work within the Area Plan and the Area Co-ordinator has exhausted all avenues to address the problem (including raising the issue with their Strategic Director, the Area Coordination Manager and the Area Working Group) the Area Forum can request Scrutiny to review the service in relation to how it delivers local interagency services (see below). Scrutinise The Area Forum can scrutinise the implementation of the Area Plan by: Receiving regular reports from the Area Co-ordinator on the implementation of the Area Plan against the original actions and targets that were agreed by Ward Councillors and the partner organisations. The Area Forum should ensure that the reports focus on what has been achieved and what the “sticking points” are. In this way, Ward Councillors can be informed of progress, can be made aware of any “sticking points” and can advocate solutions at whatever level necessary. Ward Councillors will also receive a short set update on a more frequent basis from the Area Co-ordinator which identifies where the work is in terms of “process” i.e. which meetings are taking place, how specific pieces of work are going, the issues that are likely to be arising and so on. This is designed to keep members of the Area Forum involved and informed. Please bear in mind, however, that the more reports an Area Co-ordinator writes, the less time s/he will have to help the local Area Team to “deliver the goods”. How can the Area Forum play its part in improving local services in general? The Area Forum and Ward Councillors in particular can play a very influential role in improving local services whether they are delivered in partnership with others or on a stand alone basis. The Forum should consider a few questions when it is concerned about the delivery of local services. These include: i.) Is the problem a “one off”, perhaps raised by an individual constituent? In this case, the Ward Councillor who has received the complaint using his or her normal channels will probably best deal it with. ii.) Does the problem appear more widespread i.e. are a number of neighbourhoods raising the same issue or is the same problem appearing across the Area? In this case, there may be a general problem relating to a specific service. The Area Forum can ask for further investigation to take place through their Strategic Director who should advise you whether this is a problem relating to the Council’s policies or whether it is related to how a service is being delivered. S/he may be able to address the problem through the Council’s existing officer arrangements. If this is not possible, the Area Forum may want to use the mechanisms outlined below. A Policy Problem The Area Forum can refer the matter to Cabinet through their Cabinet member. S/he will then raise the issue with other Cabinet members and report back to the Area Forum what action has been taken or is proposed. A Service Problem The Area Forum can ask the Scrutiny Committees to conduct a review of the service or the Forum itself can commission a review of a service within the area. This is possible even when the service is one that is not delivered by the Council. The Council works in formal partnerships across the City with a number of organisations, each of which delivers a range of vital services to your constituents. These organisations include: Coventry Health Authority Coventry Healthcare NHS Trust West Midlands Police West Midlands Fire Service The Chamber Quality Careers Services Ltd. The Employment Service Coventry Voluntary Service Council North Primary Care Group West Primary Care Group East Primary Care Group Carrying out Single Service Scrutiny Reviews. The constitution permits the Area Forum “to scrutinise the delivery of single service delivery at a local level and to commission work to improve local delivery”. As service reviews are the main role of the Best Value process and the Scrutiny Committees, it would not be appropriate for the Area Forum to generate a large workload in this area. The following advice is given: i.) Limit single service scrutiny to a small number of key services (perhaps only one per year). ii.) Agree with the Strategic Director the nature and approach of the review and the resources required. iii.) Where a service is subject to a Best Value Review then timetable the work to input a local perspective at the appropriate stage of the Review process and request feedback after the review is completed. iv.) Make sure that the findings of the Forum’s review are fed into the appropriate channel. This may be through the Area Plan if the findings relate to the development of a local interagency activity based on local needs. It may be best to provide the findings directly to the Service Manager so that s/he can build the recommendations into relevant service plans. Where should the Area Forum hold its meetings and how can residents find out about them? The Area Forums are public meetings and as such should be as accessible as possible. If Members wish to hold the meetings in the community, the room should be accessible. For example: Can a wheelchair user get in and out easily? Is there a disabled toilet? Is there a hearing loop for hearing impaired citizens? Do you need a signer or interpreter in your meeting If you need further advice on these issues, you can contact the Council’s Corporate Equalities Officer on 76831067 or via e-mail on email@example.com Other questions that need to be asked when identifying a suitable venue include: It the timing of the meeting suitable for the particular groups of people who you want to attend? What childcare arrangements are required? How accessible is the venue for people who require public transport Forums may want to hold their formal meetings outside the area. In this case, there may be a case for convening other public meetings at local venues of local interest on specific issues such as local transport plans or to seek views on the redevelopment of land. It is very important that residents know about the work of the Area Forum and that they are actively encouraged to get involved. Therefore, the Forum needs to ensure that the meetings are publicised and that the agendas and report are available to local people. How this is done will vary from area to area but a good starting point is to ensure that the local library and community centres have copies of the agendas and reports which the public can read. It may also be possible to put the information on a local Web Site – Young People particularly may find this helpful. Your Committee Clerk can make these arrangements once you have decided how you want to proceed. Don’t forget also, that the work of the Area Forum will inevitably need some coverage in the media. Each Area Co-ordination area has a designated member of staff from Corporate Communications who will be pleased to assist the Area Forum in getting some good news coverage. What is likely to be a typical calendar for agendas? There is likely to be some key work that needs to be done at specific points of the year. A basic calendar is shown below which of course can be modified and changed depending upon local issues and circumstances: April Election of Chair & thanks to outgoing Chair Co-option of “active citizens” Awarding “certificates” to outgoing co-optees Role and function of the Area Forum July Report on the implementation of local plans Report on proposals for neighbourhood consultation to identify local needs and priorities (if appropriate as part of planning cycle) October Report on needs and issues identified as part of the consultation process (if appropriate as part of planning cycle) January Annual Report on the implementation of local plans Report on how the local Community Initiatives budget was spent Conclusion Hopefully this brief guide to Area Forums will be useful in developing one of the most important parts of Coventry’s political management arrangements. Updates to the guide will be included in the Area Co-ordination handbook1 that all Elected Members should have. If you do not have a copy, please contact Member Services who will ensure that one is sent to you. 1 Coventry’s Area Co-ordination Partnership – A Handbook for Staff and Elected Members involved in Area-Based Work.