Agenda Item 9
Strengthening Local Democracy
We welcome your views as part of the consultation. For convenience, this
preformatted response form sets out all the questions in the main consultation
Should you wish to use this form it should be returned, once completed, to:
Local Democratic Renewal Consultation
Communities and Local Government
Zone 4/G6 Eland House
Or emailed to:
The consultation closes on 2 October in 2009. Please let us have your response
by that date to ensure it will be considered.
When responding, it would be helpful if you could provide the following information.
Please fill in your name and address, or that of your organisation if relevant. You
may withhold this information if you wish, but we will be unable to add your details to
our database for future consultation exercises.
Name Wendy Thompson
Organisation (if applicable) Staffordshire Moorlands District Council
Address Moorlands House, Stockwell Street, Leek, Staffordshire
Postcode ST13 6HQ
Under the Code of Practice on Open Government, any response will be made
available to the public on request, unless respondents indicate that they wish their
views to remain confidential. If you wish your response to remain confidential, please
tick this box and say why. If we receive a request for disclosure of the information
we will take full account of your explanation, but we cannot give an assurance that
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I would like my response to remain confidential:
Please say why
You or your organisation
Q(i) In what capacity are you responding?
As an individual (if so, please go to Q1 in the main comments section)
On behalf of an organisation (if so, please go to Q(ii) below)
Q(ii) Is your organisation
(please tick the boxes that apply to your organisation)
A local authority √
A local government body/organisation
A regional body
A Business/business organisation
A Green organisation
A think tank/lobby group
Other – please specify
Strengthening Local Democracy consultation
This consultation, issued on 21 July, sets out a range of measures to promote and
strengthen the power and responsibilities of local government. It is a central part of
government’s work on local democratic renewal – one of five key strands of
constitutional reform set out in the Prime Minister’s June statement to the House of
Councils are well placed to provide local leadership and make sure that public
services are being fairly, efficiently and effectively delivered. Also they are uniquely
positioned to lead and work with other partners in supporting their communities
through the current economic situation towards recovery.
Key proposals in the consultation paper include:
an extension of local authority scrutiny powers,
broader discussion on whether councils have the powers they need to tackle
today’s challenges (including climate change),
exploring the need for clear and accountable leadership as the powers and
responsibilities of sub-regions grow, and
suggesting how the relationship between central and local government might
be better articulated.
The following questions are reproduced from the main document, in the order and
with the same numbering in which they appear there.
CHAPTER 1: LOCAL GOVERNMENT AT THE CENTRE OF DECISION MAKING
Q1 Do you agree that we should extend scrutiny powers in relation to Local Area
Agreement (LAA) partners to cover the range of their activities in an area, not
just those limited to specific LAA targets?
Members would welcome the opportunity to scrutinise other public bodies
operating in the area. Scrutiny should not be limited but flexible to allow
issues affecting the community as a whole to be addressed.
Q2 Do we need to make scrutiny powers more explicit in relation to local councils’
role in scrutinising expenditure on delivery of local public services in an area?
If so, what is the best way of achieving this?
Elected members do not want to see more explicit powers. Members
undertaking reviews already question budgets and expenditure on a
particular issue. The „Duty to Respond‟ should be related to other
organisations as already in place for Health Authorities and CDRPs.
Protocols should be introduced which explain what is expected of the
different organisations to ensure effective joint working.
Q3 Do you agree that we should bring all or some of the local public services as
set out in this chapter fully under the local authority scrutiny regime? Are
there other bodies who would benefit from scrutiny from local government?
Members take the view that Scrutiny Panels should have unlimited
opportunity to challenge local public services having an impact on
residents in Staffordshire Moorlands and therefore agree that all public
services should be subject to the local authority scrutiny regime. Members
have already included in their work programme :
Learning Skills Council
Q4 How far do you agree that we should extend scrutiny powers to enable
committees to require attendance by officers or board members of external
organisations to give evidence at scrutiny hearings, similar to the powers already
in existence for health and police?
If the powers of scrutiny are to be extended to include other organisations
it seems appropriate to require attendance by the most senior officers/
members of external organisations. This already works well in SMDC
Health Scrutiny and has resulted in positive outcomes for the residents of
Staffordshire Moorlands. Members continually stress how important it is to
have someone in attendance who is in a senior position and able to make
decisions or provide information at the meeting which ensures more
effective scrutiny and resulting action from those organisations being
Q5 What more could be done to ensure that councils adequately resource and
support the local government scrutiny function to carry out its role to full effect?
Dedicated Scrutiny support is already in place at SMDC and is required to
develop the function further in the future. Heads of service are lead
officers for Scrutiny and provide support to Scrutiny officers and Members,
as well as training and development, both of which are available to all
Members as and when they feel it is appropriate.
Q 6 How can council leaders ensure that scrutiny is a core function of how their
organisations do business and have a full and proper role in scrutinising the full
range of local public services?
The SMDC Constitution ensures the different roles of Scrutiny and
Cabinet, and maintains their separate governance functions. Cabinet
members are invited to attend Scrutiny Panel meetings and are engaged
with Scrutiny reviews as appropriate. The Member Improvement Board
which comprises Scrutiny and Cabinet Members ensures effective co-
ordination across the democratic process.
Q7 What more could be done to better connect and promote the important role of
local government scrutiny to local communities, for example citizens as expert
advisers to committees?
Members felt that education on the benefits of scrutiny and the promotion
of the scrutiny process was essential. SMDC already has a public question
time at scrutiny and this presents an opportunity for Members of the public
to raise issues. In addition during scrutiny reviews expert witness are
invited to take part.
CHAPTER 2: STRONG LOCAL GOVERNMENT OPERATING IN THE LOCAL
Q8. How best should any reduction in numbers of LAA targets ensure that services
are responsive to the most important local needs and priorities as well as
Effective consultation and engagement, together with clear understanding
of the objective and subjective needs of the district are clearly vital pre-
requisites when examining LAA targets and their continuing relevance.
Reductions in LAA targets should be accompanied by analysis on whether
the needs and priorities of the area are being met and actioned as part of
the LAA process.
Q9. Should councils have a power to engage in mutual insurance arrangements?
Yes, and this power should also include parish and town councils
Q10.Are there other powers needed to cover engagement in further complex
arrangements of a possibly speculative nature outside of existing powers?
No, Members felt that they could operate effectively within existing
Q11.Do you agree that greater powers should be premised on demonstration of local
confidence? How should this be demonstrated? How can councils best reverse
the decline in confidence?
It would be very difficult to demonstrate this.
Q12.Are there core issues that should have greater council control which councils
believe they are currently prevented from undertaking? If so what are they and
what is the case for councils to take on these roles?
As a district council, one area of concern not provided directly by the
authority is around education needs and attainment.. The notion of
„Educational inequalities‟ is one felt by the residents of the district. Due to
the shortage of skills in the area, Members consider this to be extremely
important, as all young people have abilities which need to be tapped into,
and which can be used to make the area a better place to live, work and
visit. This would also help to develop a stronger economy, by meeting the
needs of local businesses directly.
Q13.Do you agree that there should be a review of the structure of local partnerships
with a view to identifying unhelpful overlap and duplication? Are there particular
issues on which such a review should focus?
SMDC already reviews all key partnerships on an annual basis and the
Better Staffordshire Moorlands Overview and Scrutiny Panel is
responsible for ensuring the delivery of services to residents in
partnership. Members agree that there should be a review, and would
base any work on what is already in place..
CHAPTER 3: LOCAL AUTHORITIES TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE
Q14. How is the current national indicator system working to incentivise local
authorities to take action on climate change? Should Government take new steps
to enable local authorities to play a greater role in this agenda?
The Members‟ view is that Local Authorities are best placed to action key
responses to the challenges posed by climate change. In order to provide
robust strategies and to implement effective solutions, greater levels of
capital funding are required from central government. This authority
wishes to take up opportunities to bid for projects funding in the future,
building on our successes of the past. Councils are best placed to work
with their LSPs to ensure they take a leadership role. Members would not
welcome prescriptive indicators but would prefer to introduce local
initiatives and set local targets.
Q15. Where can local authorities add most value in meeting climate change aims,
and what should Government do to help them do so, giving consideration to the
proposals set out in this chapter?
Local authorities, particularly single tier and district councils, can add most
value through the natural focus they provide for community activity. For
instance, the District Council has set up a climate change initiative called
“Project Carbon” through which it works to engage with its local
communities to raise awareness about climate change and encourage
community action on carbon reduction and adaptation actions. Members
are keen to work in partnership on shared activities with partners,
encourage individuals to take their own action, ensure sustainable
procurement, and work with local businesses. Members were keen to
investigate their own renewable energy schemes.
Q16. How do we ensure that national policies reinforce local efforts – for example,
around transport, renewable energy, and energy efficiency?
Members stressed their preference which was to introduce local initiatives
and to have freedom to develop local projects.
CHAPTER 4: SUB-REGIONAL WORKING
Q17. Should the activity of sub-regional partnerships be required to be subject to
Yes, Members stressed the importance of ensuring liaison with sub-
regional partnerships and would therefore welcome the scrutiny of sub-
Q18. Should councils’ joint overview and scrutiny committees be able to require sub-
regional bodies to provide them with information on the full range of their
activities and to consider their recommendations on sub-regional matters?
Q19. Should the duty to respond to petitions be extended to sub-regional bodies?
Q20. Do current and planned models for joint working give people a clear enough
voice in decisions that are made sub-regionally?
The Members view that decisions should be made by directly elected
individuals who are closest to the community.
Q21. How could we go further to make existing and planned city- and sub-regional
structures more accountable, in addition to the suggestions in this document?
Members agreed with the suggestions in paragraph 161, again expressing
the need for directly elected individuals.
Q22. Should we give more powers and responsibilities to city- and sub-regions? If so,
what powers or responsibilities should be made available?
No, Members felt that powers should be devolved to local authorities with
less restrictions on budget spend, so resources can be directed to what
the Council priorities.
Q23. Is there a need for direct democratic accountability at the sub-regional level?
What would be the best means of achieving this, giving consideration to the
options set out above?
CHAPTER 5: CLEAR RELATIONSHIPS WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Q24. Should central and local government’s roles be more formally established?
Yes, Members felt that a constitutional basis should be established for
central and local government to provide more continuity and so that
people are clear about the respective roles of the different tiers of
government in this country.
Q25. What are your views on the draft principles set out above as away of achieving
Members agreed with the principles set out in the document and made
particular reference to „C‟ which stated local government should be free to
exercise its functions in the interests of their citizens without unnecessary
direction of control from central government of other agencies as this point
was made throughout consideration of the document.
Q26. Do you agree that an ombudsman-style arrangement and a joint select
committee of both Houses of Parliament are the correct approaches to oversee
and enforce these principles, if adopted?
Members took the view that central government should be subject to the
same regimes as local government, in order to ensure that the interests of
the public and other key stakeholders are being maintained.
Q85 Do you have any other comments about the consultation documents or the
consultation exercise itself?
Thank you for completing this response form.