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					                                                                   Agenda Item 9

Strengthening Local Democracy

Response Proforma

We welcome your views as part of the consultation. For convenience, this
preformatted response form sets out all the questions in the main consultation
document.

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
Bressenden Place
London
SW1E 5DU

Or emailed to:

localdemocracyconsul@communities.gsi.gov.uk


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

Confidentiality

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
confidentiality can be maintained in all circumstances. An automatic confidentiality
disclaimer generated by your IT system will not, of itself, be regarded as binding on
the Department.

                                           1
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




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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
Commons.

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?


                                             3
       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 :
            Extended Schools
            Highway Authority
            Environment Agency
            Housing Association
            Voluntary Services
            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
       scrutinised.


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.

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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
INTEREST


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
    national entitlements?


       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
       powers.


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?


                                          5
       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
                                            6
       “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
   scrutiny arrangements?


       Yes, Members stressed the importance of ensuring liaison with sub-
       regional partnerships and would therefore welcome the scrutiny of sub-
       regional partnerships.


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?


       Yes


Q19. Should the duty to respond to petitions be extended to sub-regional bodies?


       Yes


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?
                                          7
       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?


       As 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
   this ambition?


       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.
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Other Comments

Q85     Do you have any other comments about the consultation documents or the
        consultation exercise itself?




Thank you for completing this response form.




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