Friday, 18 November 2016

Council Numbers: An Alternative Proposal

Proposal
The Council should have between 70 and 90 councillors in 2021. The exact number will depend on getting a good fit with parish boundaries to keep communities together and the ability to deliver effective and convenient local government.
Why?
1.  The Council needs to make or, in some cases scrutinise, significant decisions for Cornwall and must be accountable in that role.
From a practical perspective it is impossible for all 123 councillors to have a meaningful input into those decisions. The result is that many councillors become frustrated and are critical of decisions they do not believe that they can influence. Consequently members do not feel ownership of, or responsibility for, many of the decisions and strategies of the council. This makes for a fragmented and dysfunctional organisation.
It also means that the process of decision making is very slow and unduly burdensome.
This is the Council's third governance review in 7 years. Despite both this administration and the previous one trying to get more members involved in decision making the same frustrations exist.
The conclusion of the Governance Review External Group (GREG) was that the current  number of councillors was 'unworkable' (as reported by the Chief Legal Officer to the Electoral Review Panel on 7th September).
I have listed the references in the GREG (see Appendix A) that support my conclusion that GREG thought that the number of councillors should be radically reduced. GREG did not suggest a new number, as that was not part of their remit. 
A large number of councillors and, importantly, stakeholders gave evidence to the GREG. It is important to take note of what they say to maintain credibility with the partners (such as the health service) with which the Council works.
2. The Council agreed a devolution deal with central government in July 2015. The current administration also wants more devolved powers, as set out in its 'Case for Cornwall'.
The Government generally requires a mayoral model of governance in order to agree devolved powers. A compromise was reached for Cornwall that it would not need to have a mayor but it would be necessary to fundamentally review its governance. It was assumed that councillor numbers would be much reduced. This was to make the responsibility for the administration of the new powers more visible and accountable.
3. The current extremely burdensome structure of committees, often with single issue agendas, called at short notice, held on different days of the week and with overlapping responsibilities makes it difficult for councillors who have work or family commitments. Councillors could operate more efficiently without sacrificing democracy.
The manner in which the Council has dealt with this latest governance/electoral review is a case study which demonstrates the point.  Its initial submission, after a great deal of work by many committees (see Appendix B) and approximately 40 meetings so far, has been politely but heavily criticised by the Commission. It has been told to go back to 'first principles'. 
And councillors have now concluded that they have not done enough work to be able to make a second submission.
4. The target date is 2021. The Council has time in that period to improve its ways of working (see criticisms of outmoded working practices in the GREG report).
5. The public expect us to reduce our numbers. They are suffering reduced services but see only that councillor numbers remain the same and their allowances are going up.
6.  There is significant devolution of assets and services to the parish and town councils, the voluntary sector and other bodies (including the transfer of most schools to academies and the transfer of leisure services to a social enterprise). Reduced service provision should mean that there is less to be done by Cornwall Councillors. 
7. The evidence of the Chief Executive to the Independent Remuneration Panel should be given weight. She said that there had to be 'more discipline in the member cohort'.  This should not be interpreted as anti democratic but that the way in which members operate causes unnecessary operational burdens.
8. There are serious issues around councillors managing large rural divisions which would be exacerbated by reduced numbers. This could be ameliorated by a system of differential allowances for councillors with large divisions (and addressed by the Independent Remuneration Panel). It could also be helped by improved ways of working to help offset additional transport costs. It is impossible, in my view, to protest that we have too much to do already while doing little or nothing to improve our own ways of working.
9. There would be a cost saving at a time of austerity both on member allowances but more significantly also in terms of officer time. This could be better targeted to preserving services.
10. If the divisions were larger they would become unequal in terms of voter numbers less often. And we would therefore minimise the frequency of undertaking the exercise of equalising the divisions. This would be good for stability and save money as the process is incredibly resource intensive.
How would it work?
a) Rather than put forward my own committee structure for 70 to 90 councillors I would use the example structure set out in Appendix 7 of the Agenda for Electoral Review Panel dated 16th November. It could be refined.  
b) More efficient ways of working.
c) Possibly differential allowances for rural members.
d) The Council would need to work with parish and town councillors to increase resource.  The parishes have already decided to grip this difficult issue.  For example the Cornish Association of Local Councils (CALC) intend to look at the merits or otherwise of Community Network Panels to help fill in any gap. There have been two reviews already of the panels and whilst some will say that they work well others say they are of no value.  There is an opportunity here to increase the influence of town and parish councils to be more in line with the responsibilities they are taking on.   It would also help to close the operational and policy gap between Cornwall Council and themselves if the ownership of the panels was devolved to the parishes together with some financial responsibility.  If the numbers of Cornwall councillors is reduced, there will be an incentive to make better use of the panels.

Fiona Ferguson.
18th November 2016


Appendix A
What the experts (Cornwall Council Strategic Governance Review) said:
1. ' The Council had been given 'a once in a decade opportunity to develop and implement a new model of governance' and 'demonstrates ...that Council taken seriously challenge to undertake a fundamental review of its governance upon which the delay in implementing the electoral review in 2021 was based'. (page 5 )
2.'Within the Council, the large proportion of 'backbench' Councillors has led to an unhealthy feeling of marginalisation and disengagement from decisions made by the Executive' (page 6)
3. Councillors' ways of working were 'arguably unsustainable' and 'outmoded'.(page 7)
4. Many councillors felt 'marginalised' and 'disengaged' and this could 'severely impact the effectiveness of the organisation as well as having serious future implications for attracting and retaining councillors' (page 20)
5. On balance mayoral model was rejected (page 22).
6. Portfolio Advisory Committees created a ' significant bureaucratic burden which is a vast draw on both member and officer time whilst achieving only very limited influence' (page 24)
7. A degree of overlap between functions of committees resulting in arguments about areas of responsibility (page 24)
8. 'We support a reform...which would result in fewer committees' (page 26)
9. 'Very limited use is made of technology to reduce Member time spent travelling to meetings' (page 28)
10. Councillors' 'strategic role should have primacy ' (page 29)
11. 'As budgets are reduced and demand for services increase, ..the way Members are currently operating are arguably not sustainable' (Page 29)
12. Impact of double devolution and a more strategic role for Cornwall Council, leads us to consider that it will require substantially fewer Members to function effectively'. ( page 30)
13. The Council should 'support members to move role away from an obligation to identify and personally solve all problems to developing community resilience alongside local town and parish councils' (page 30)

Appendix B


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Advice to the Council on councillor numbers.

Yesterday there was a meeting to discuss a letter from the Local Government Boundary Electoral Commission ticking off the Council for failing to get the axe out to councillor numbers.

The Commission watched the Council's last discussion, via the webcast, on why they needed at least 105 to 115 councillors - and was none too impressed. This time the Council whinged in private!

Most councillors could see no evidence as to why fewer were needed. I acknowledge that councillor workloads are a particularly difficult issue in large rural divisions. It is also true that technology can create a lot of work as well as save it. It is much easier for residents to phone, text, email, tweet or Facebook us than have to write us a letter.

However, these are a few excerpts from the experts' report who had a close look at the Council and challenged us to be radical and reduce our numbers.

What the experts (Cornwall Council Strategic Governance Review) said:
1. ' The Council had been given 'a once in a decade opportunity to develop and implement a new model of governance' and 'demonstrates ...that Council taken seriously challenge to undertake a fundamental review of its governance upon which the delay in implementing the electoral review in 2021 was based'. (page 5 )
2.'Within the Council, the large proportion of 'backbench' Councillors has led to an unhealthy feeling of marginalisation and disengagement from decisions made by the Executive' (page 6)
3. Councillors' ways of working were 'arguably unsustainable' and 'outmoded'.(page 7)
4. Many councillors felt 'marginalised' and 'disengaged' and this could 'severely impact the effectiveness of the organisation as well as having serious future implications for attracting and retaining councillors' (page 20)
5. On balance mayoral model was rejected (page 22).
6. Portfolio Advisory Committees created a ' significant bureaucratic burden which is a vast draw on both member and officer time whilst achieving only very limited influence' (page 24)
7. A degree of overlap between functions of committees resulting in arguments about areas of responsibility (page 24)
8. 'We support a reform...which would result in fewer committees' (page 26)
9. 'Very limited use is made of technology to reduce Member time spent travelling to meetings' (page 28)
10. Councillors' 'strategic role should have primacy ' (page 29)
11. 'As budgets are reduced and demand for services increase, ..the way Members are currently operating are arguably not sustainable'   (Page 29)
12. Impact of double devolution and a more strategic role for Cornwall Council, leads us to consider that it will require substantially fewer Members to function effectively'. ( page 30)
13. The Council should 'support members to move role away from an obligation to identify and personally solve all problems to developing community resilience alongside local town and parish councils' (page 30)







Why should Cornish votes be worth less?

After strong criticism from the Conservative Group and having already burned up about £10,000, the 'no money' Council has agreed not to spend a six figure sum of Cornwall's money on a hopeless legal battle to fight sharing an MP with Devon.

However, it will still press on to attend meetings of the Boundary Commission in Devon and Cornwall next week to complain about this. Unfortunately, this is also a waste of Cornwall's money as the Boundary Commission has already explained to the Council.  The Boundary Commission has no power to address this issue.

To continue to protest about this, the Council needs to decide whether it is better to have only 5 rather than 6 MPs representing our interests at Westminster. This would make a Cornish vote worth about 17% less than votes in English counties, never mind other parts of the UK.

This is the plan the Council has currently been working on. Has it got a mandate to do this? It could also have some pretty strange effects on constituency borders within Cornwall.

Or, does it tell the Government that it cannot reduce the cost of politics by cutting MPs from 650 to 600, so that Cornwall can keep 6 MPs? Has it a mandate for what would only be a short term fix for Cornwall?

Would it be better to use the political influence of Cornish MPs to campaign for more money (or powers) for Cornwall rather than pleading a special case that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (total voters about 394,000) should have 6 MPs when we are only 1600 voters over the limit for 5?

So far, perhaps recognising the difficulty, the Council has not discussed it with the people of Cornwall. Consequently the Council has no mandate but is just having a general shout – at the wrong people; because The Boundary Commission has no power to address this issue.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Devonwall

Don’t spend thousands fighting a legal battle that can’t be won
Conservatives urge Council not to continue with Devonwall legal challenge

The Conservative Group at Cornwall Council has always been opposed to the idea of the cross county Parliamentary boundary concept known as ‘Devonwall' and they remain firmly apposed to it.

However, legal advice that Cornwall Council has received from a QC is that a legal challenge is extremely unlikely to succeed as it has been an Act of Parliament since 2011. This decision was made five years ago by a coalition led Government, which at the time saw Cornwall represented in Parliament evenly by three Conservative MP’s and three Lib Dem’s.

In this instance the Conservative Group feels strongly that residents would prefer that public money were spent funding more essential services in Cornwall such as Adult Social Care, Road Maintenance and even Public Conveniences and not funding an expensive legal battle that ultimately only lawyers themselves will win.

Commenting on the issue the Conservative Group Leader, Cllr John Keeling, said: “This isn’t about whether we’re happy with the idea of Devonwall, it’s about whether we’re happy to continue spending public money on a legal battle that we as a council cannot win. We’ve already spent a significant amount of money getting Counsel Opinion so why would you go against that recommendation and start spending thousands more.”

A request by the Conservative Group for the meeting to be cancelled was overlooked by the administration. The result is that Tuesday’s extraordinary meeting scheduled for 10.30am in Truro will go ahead creating additional travel expense for all attending councillors as well as significant expenditure on more officer time.

Marsh,Baxter,Hendra Appeal

The appeal made by Marsh & Baxter Developments Limited & Hendra TC & CP Limited
against the decision of Cornwall Council has been allowed. This decision will certainly not help the enabling development for the two stadium applications. Pity!

See the full decision here:   Appeal 27th October 2016


Boundary Review Letters

Kate Kennally Chief Executive
Cornwall Council
The Exchange, County Hall
Treyew Road
Truro TR1 3AY

21 October 2016
Dear Kate,
ELECTORAL REVIEW OF CORNWALL
Thank you for the Council’s detailed first draft submission on council size along with the copy of the Cornwall Council Strategic Governance Review Report. It was helpful to receive this material in time for the Commission to consider it at its meeting on 18 October. The purpose of this note is to outline the Commission’s initial observations.
I should start by saying that the Commission has asked me to convey their appreciation for the considerable work that is being put into the exercise, both by members of the electoral review panel and by officers. From the outset, the Council and the Commission committed to working together closely in order to achieve the best outcome for the future of Cornwall and that remains our shared objective.
It is evident that much effort has gone into this initial analysis, largely by way of comparisons with other councils. Also, there is much helpful material in the survey of existing members. However, whilst such data is useful in a contextual sense, the Commission was surprised that the opportunity had not so far been taken to address fundamental issues about arrangements concerning governance, accountability, and community leadership for the new Council in order to understand the level the elected member capacity required in what will, essentially, be a very different kind of authority.
As was indicated at our initial briefings, the Commission views each authority as a distinct political entity and, consequently, regards comparisons with other councils as being of limited value. This will be particularly true in the case of Cornwall with the exciting and ambitious plans set out in your devolution deal. However, the Commission felt that the work so far has used the current council size as its starting point with relatively little apparent movement away from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
For the next submission, therefore, the Commission anticipates that the panel will wish to explore the opportunity provided by the review to go back to ‘first principles’ to suggest what number of councillors might be required under the new arrangements. Requirements to meet governance, accountability and community leadership needs are
the three aspects that inform the Commission’s judgment when setting the number of councillors.
In encouraging the panel to take this approach, the Commission notes the preface of the Council’s Strategic Governance Review Report. which observes that the Council is being presented ‘with a once in a decade opportunity to develop and implement a new model of governance over the course of the next four years……’. Also, it will be expecting to get a better understanding of how the Governance Review Report’s reflections and recommendations on the role and number of councillors has informed the panel’s view about council size.
In addition, the Commission would find it helpful to see how the proposal for a more strategic role for Cornwall Council working alongside town and parish councils under a devolution arrangement impacts on councillor numbers.
We hope that the Council will address these aspects explicitly in drawing up its next submission for December. At that point, I should stress that we are not expecting to see a fully worked up submission but rather an assessment that addresses these points and what they suggest for council size. We note that it has already observed that the next stage might point to a different range than that identified so far. The Commission can then reflect further and, informed by our comments, the detail can then be worked up for the final submission.
Finally, the Commission recognises that there are a range of views about how Cornwall could be governed going forward and it acknowledges that there may be more than a single view presented to it. Alternative submissions could come from groups of councillors, or a single councillor. It is content to accept more than one submission and none of them are required to be endorsed by full council. As with all of our electoral reviews, every submission is judged on the basis of the evidence provided, irrespective of its source. Also, the Commission can consult more widely on the most appropriate number of councillors for Cornwall, including a full public consultation if necessary.
Separately, the Commission has received a request from the Leader of the Council requesting a slight delay in the warding phase of the review in order to allow for the new Council elected in May 2017 to settle in and I am pleased to confirm that the Commission has agreed to this request. This does not change the schedule for the council size submission.
I hope that these observations are helpful and will assist the panel in taking forward their work. Needless to say, Commission officers will continue to help in any way they can. I look forward to receiving the next view on 16 December.
Yours sincerely
Jolyon Jackson Chief Executive
Local Government Boundary Commission for England
0330 500 1290
_________________________________________________________

Local Government Boundary Commission for England, 14th Floor Millbank Tower, Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

John Pollard Leader of the Council
Cornwall Council
The Exchange, County Hall
Treyew Road
Truro TR1 3AY
21 October 2016

Dear John,
ELECTORAL REVIEW OF CORNWALL
Thank you for your letter of 14 October requesting a delay to the start of the first consultation phase on warding patterns that will form part of the electoral review of Cornwall. The Commission has considered this request and appreciates your desire to allow time for the new Council to settle and have sufficient opportunity to consider options for warding following the May 2017 elections. Like you, we want to ensure that there is full participation in the process and, therefore, recognises that this is a sensible proposal.
Accordingly, the Commission will accept your suggestion and amend its programme to the following dates:
Warding pattern consultation 25 July – 2 October 2017 Draft recommendations LGBCE meeting 21 November 2017 Draft recommendations consultation 18 December 2017 – 26 February 2018 Final recommendations LGBCE meeting 17 April 2018 Final recommendations published 15 May 2018
We anticipate that it is likely that we will receive more than one submission for warding patterns during this phase – both for the whole of Cornwall and for various localities. This is commonplace and will allow both the councillors and the people of Cornwall to give them full consideration.
Finally, you also refer to the work of the electoral review group and indicate that it would be useful to have feedback on their early thoughts on council size. It was helpful to the draft submission from the group in time for the Commission to consider at its meeting earlier this week. Jolyon Jackson will be writing to Kate Kennally in the next day or so setting out the Commission’s observations.
Local Government Boundary Commission for England, 14th Floor Millbank Tower, Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP
Tel: 0330 500 1525; reviews@lgbce.org.uk; www.lgbce.org.uk
I hope that this is helpful and, of course, fully reciprocate your view about the importance of the Council and Commission continuing to work together closely in order to achieve the best outcome for the future of Cornwall.
Best wishes
Professor Colin Mellors
Chair