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Shire Local Government: time for change? Brian Wilson, Commission for Rural Communities

Brian Wilson, CRCThis discussion paper was published in the summer.

A lot of debate about the structures of local government not least through the Lyons review and the imminent white paper. But it's striking that this was mostly about urban issues - improving neighbourhood governance in urban areas - but little on shire government.

So what would serve rural communities best? Of course they should have a view on the greater urban areas but there were two issues to focus on:

getting towards powerful new unitaries working closely with a renewed structure of empowered town and parish councils as well sas other neighbourhood level structures.

There have been some rural unitaries, but often the doughnut effect. There has been some strengthening of parish and neighbourhood governance but we feel there is further to go.

Why shire unitaries? Four key arguments:

Reduce public confusion and clarify accountability.

Simplify strategies and partnership working - complexity of two-tier government is too much.

Increase the resource base, to give shire authorities more flexibility.

Increase the clout of shire authorities within their regions - not just in debate, but about targets, strategies and the allocation of money.

This to go hand in hand with a strengthened town and parish council structure, which is a substantial resource that is underused:

Parish plans/market town plans; Community call for action; Resource base eg match-funding or access to business rates; Charters with principal authorities.

CRC about to launch an enquiry on rural community participation in decision making see www.ruralcommunities.gov.uk

 

Rural Delivery Pathfinders - John Mills, Rural Policy Director, Defra

John Mills, DefraPathfinders were announced in 2004 - the real purpose as developing the strategy was to ensure that in the process of devolving decision making mechanisms were in place for Central Government to engage better with Local Authorities.

8 Areas around England

The initial aims in the prospecturs were local priority setting, encouragement of innovative joined up solutions to rural delivery problems, deciding what at local level works best - all embedded in the rural strategy - none rocket science but worth saying anyway.

In addition it was about creating a mechanism for rural polic relationship with local govt; giving extra strengh to the way councils can engage in the policy debate; helping government to appreciate the policy challenge at local level; integration of rural funding streams; making the rural side of LAAs go better.

It was clear that central govt really didn't have a clue about how local govt works in this sphere and that has improved (a bit). They were anxious too to deal with the integration of funding streams primarily by helping authorities understand how they flow.

Progress in the last eighteen months, so significant outcomes are hard to see - but there is progress - testing and strengthening of existing relevant partnerships; there are lots of interesting things being done and contemplated (many might have been done anyway, but pathfinders have given a forum for talking about them and probably improving them as they go); seeing good central-local dialogue (including GOs); and the impact on rural LAAs - not all the way, but clearly progress.

However the funding streams integration hasn't got very far except to help everyone learn how difficult it is to understand!

Next Steps:

This was established as a 2 year programme to fit in with the anticipated spending round. Next year will ensure there's some proper reportage including a national conference to hear from those involved in the pathfinders and to learn lessons.

Important not to stop in 2007 when the programme finishes - good things need to continue!

Will also want to broaden and mainstream the process (drop the 'pathfinder' tag) but keep enough structure to allow influencing to happen.

Start thinking hard about new challenges:

intensified LAAs and LSPs - the local government white paper is to be released very shortly - this will be tremendously important and hopefully encouraging.

improving rural delivery partnerships at regional as well as local level;

a new Rural Development Programme to start sometime next year - RDA's will be spending £80m a year in England covering the competitiveness of farming (Access 1) and the socio-economic side (Access 3), so need a step change in the way that Government, Local Government and the Voluntary Sector relate to the RDAs;

implementing the Leader-approach - 5% must be spent in this manner.  In practice a large amount of this will be found from the socio-economic side.  So making this work properly will be mission-critical.  Some of the work done in the pathfinder process will be very important in making this work.
economic, social and environmental 'integration' in the new RDP.

We hadn't thought of this when we set up the pathfinders, but we said it was important that we had a better relationship with you and it's gratifying that that groundwork has been laid ahead of these important trends.

And so whither Rural policy?  Under Miliband we are taking stock (or throwing it up in the air and seeing where it might land) - so much talk of "mainstreaming" rural policy but little understanding yet of what that might actually mean.  What we do know though is that the importance of rural policy is undiminished at a national and european level.

 

Officers Discussion

On the morning of day one, council officers got together to talk through the experience of the mentoring scheme from their perspective.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBU11lmS8PY]

 

 

Martin Wood

Despite the distractions, Martin Wood from the Government Office for the North West, talks about what he learned from the GO/Defra discussion session.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9rE6mhsJ8s]

 

Ivan Annibal

Ivan Annibal from Lincolnshire County Council tells us what he hears in the council officers' discussion group.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhiV16r0Aao]

 

Councillor Jane Evison

Jane Evison from East Riding of Yorkshire Council gives her instant reaction to the discussion group for elected members.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rITEDxrOpqc]

 

Members Discussion Group

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6mJ04H8-3I]

Elected members at the conference talk about their experience of the mentoring programme so far

 

Richard Greening, Programme Update

richardgreening.jpgRichard gave a presentation to the whole group on progress in the programme so far.

The current position is that of the twelve projects started in 2005, nine are doing well, two (East Staffs and Wakefield) got stuck and have been rescoped. Only one, Allerdale, didn't continue beyond scoping and so two reserve projects were started early in 2006 (Cumbria and North Warwickshire) to replace it.

The teams have carried out visits to other authorities, held local seminars for officers and members in mentee authorities, focusing so far mostly on group mentoring rather than individual mentoring.

The top five issues faced are:

Access to Services/Transport;
Community Leadership;
Community Engagement;
Affordable Housing; and
Facilitating enterprise and skills.

While scoping has taken longer than expected, engagement is now underway and visits are getting positive feedback - though at this early stage, progress on external outcomes are not so clear yet.

Next steps for phase 1 are the completion of engagement programmes, focusing on achieving external outcomes, reporting on each project leading up to a third learning network event and final evaluaiton results from phase 1.

In Phase 2 we'll see a new programme focusing on strategic housing leadership and delivery capacity with 10 bids from unitaries, district councils and national parks in late November 2006, ready for mentoring beginning in May 2007.

Richard's Powerpoint presentation is available in the Community Document Store.

 

Blogging the Rural Excellence Event for I&DeA

Upwards of forty people, councillors and officers from local authorities and representatives of Central and Regional Government, have gathered at the Monkbar Hotel in York to chew over their experience of the I&DeA's Rural Excellence mentoring programme.

I'm going to be blogging throughout the day today, capturing bits of video and audio and sharing them here or on the CoP website once it is up and running properly.

We've just been listening to Richard Greening from I&DeA  about the progress of the programme and people are now going to break up into discussion groups.