A report to Council concerning devolution and local government reform in Warwickshire.
Councillor Isobel Seccombe moved the following motion:
1. That, having considered the Strategic Case for Change for Local Government Reform in Warwickshire, the Council supports its submission to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in order to elicit from Government an invitation to enter into conversation and consideration of the future local government structure for Warwickshire.
2. That the Council considers that in the next phase of work to shape a future model for local government in Warwickshire, conversations should take place at all levels, including with residents, based on the following principles
i. double devolution - moving influence and power closer to communities, levelling up health and wellbeing and tackling inequalities;
ii. ensuring that Climate Change and adaptation are built into a new model of local government;
iii. achieving better value for our taxpayers;
iv. simplified governance with clear, accountable leadership;
v. co-design of the model is undertaken; and
vi. a balance of local focus with a strategic approach when needed.
The motion was seconded by Councillor Peter Butlin.
Councillor Jerry Roodhouse proposed an amendment which replaced the word “elicit” in point 1 with the word “seek” and added a point to say, “That a Citizens Panel be established, with an invitation extended to the District and Borough Councils to undertake/ establish this jointly with the county council, to seek the views of Warwickshire residents about proposals for future local government reform in/for Warwickshire”.
Councillor Sarah Boad (Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group) seconded the amendment.
Acceptance of Amendment
Councillor Butlin proposed a further amendment to the substantive motion by adding a paragraph at point 3: “That immediately following this meeting, the Leader invites the Warwickshire District and Borough Councils to make their submission to MHCLG jointly with the County Council”.
Councillor Isobel Seccombe seconded the amendment and both Councillor Seccombe and Butlin accepted the amendment proposed by the Liberal Democrat Group as a friendly amendment.
Councillor Helen Adkins proposed an amendment to the substantive motion which replaced the word “supports” in the first point with the word “delays” and removed the words “elicit from Government an invitation to enter into conversation and consideration of the future local government structure for Warwickshire” replacing them with the words “consult its partners and residents on the future of local government in Warwickshire”. Additional paragraphs at points 2 and 3 were proposed as follows:
“2. This Council notes that as we move towards the publication of the government white paper this Council intends to undertake thorough and transparent conversations with its borough and district partners as well as consultation with the public, in a bid to move forward in transparency and open co-operation.
3. This Council also requests that a further report be brought back to Cabinet on the optins for consultation with partners and residents”.
Councillor Dave Parsons seconded the amendment.
During the course of the debate, which suggested that support for this amendment was limited as it was considered that the outcome would result in too lengthy a delay when consideration of unitary status had been a longstanding issue, a short adjournment took place and the Labour group amendment was withdrawn without objection.
During a robust debate, Members made the following points:
· Moving toward unitary presented the opportunity to make savings but there must also be quality of service and representation.
· Whilst the unitary system was not universally supported, it was generally recognised that the notion of unitary made financial sense in the unprecedented circumstances across the country.
· It was noted that the formation of a single unitary authority would potentially deal with issues of adult social services and fire and rescue services more easily than a model which saw the creation of two unitary councils. A single unitary would be better placed to cope with the challenge of social care, with representation at a local level and the economies of scale that could be delivered.
· Proposals for two unitary councils– one representing North Warwickshire and the other the South – were noted and it was suggested that this would be a preferred option for residents, citing economic and cultural differences alongside health inequalities. However, it was noted that there were cultural differences among the district and borough councils that did not follow the north/south divide.
· A view was expressed that there was still some merit to an enhanced status quo position being given some consideration although this viewpoint was generally dismissed, particularly in view of the savings that would be needed to be made to 2025.
· Support was given to a unitary system which gave increased powers to town and parish councils (‘double devolution’), which could provide greater impetus to the resolution of local issues, but it would be important for town and parish councils to be distributed throughout the county, with sufficient powers and finance to carry out their responsibilities. Wiltshire and Milton Keynes were cited as good models for town and parishes working well alongside a principle council.
· It was noted that the Secretary of State would make the decision on future structures and it was important for both reports to be presented so that public consultation could consider the full evidence. Some caution was raised about setting in motion a process that was not within the Council’s control and if it was subsequently decided by the Councils that unitary was not the best option, the final decision still lay with central government.
· Commenting on the perception of confusion among residents as to the operation of the two tier model, it was noted that residents simply wanted their issues addressed and did not generally have a view on who dealt with problems as long as they were dealt with. Reflection took place on whether residents wanted one councillor contact for all issues rather than the two or three that were in place in the current system. Some queries resulted in crossover between the tiers and it was difficult managing the interface between two Councils. Examples of parking permits, grass cutting and installation of bus shelters were given. Anecdotally, it appeared that problems generally occurred when residents had ‘fallen through the gap’ between County and District/Borough and whilst the proposal presented an opportunity to address this, a unitary solution was not necessarily required to see more joined up services. There were some examples of good practice between the tiers of government but the loss of a single telephone line and Shire Hall reception inquiry desk for district and county councils was lamented. It was suggested that joined up working between the county and district was key to the provision of improved services for residents.
· The consultative ethos of the substantive motion was welcomed as it sought to seek the involvement of residents and district and borough councils. The view was expressed that sufficient time be given to consultation to build knowledge and understanding so that communities were genuinely able to contribute from a grass roots position.
· More public involvement in the decision along the lines of a residents panel or citizen’s jury was promoted.
· Some disappointment was expressed in the process to date and it was felt that it should have concentrated on being open and transparent at the outset, consulting and listening to the boroughs and district councils. Instead borough and district council Leaders had suffered a high level of stress and anxiety and unpleasant meetings had taken place that could have been avoided with the approach that was now being seen.
· It was noted that funding from central government was decreasing and demand on services were rising. This, together with rising unemployment, was exposing financial difficulties around the country not just in Warwickshire. The situation needed to be addressed and a in light of this, the current governance model was unsustainable. Local government needed to be lean and efficient and professional in its delivery of services. In the current circumstances it was hard to disagree with the conservative manifesto commitment to deliver local government reform. Being in the vanguard of reform would lead to savings, improved services and more resilient communities.
· Some consideration was given to the look of democracy in a single unitary council and whether it would be possible to introduce a system of voting along the lines of that undertaken by the London assembly to introduce an element of proportional representation which would see greater cross-party involvement and smaller residents groups having representation.
· The need to maintain support for frontline workers with a less complicated management system was suggested.
· Delay to the government’s white paper was noted and this gave rise to views that the report was premature since the content of the white paper was unknown in terms of the operation of democracy, population or the process of application. The view that it was not necessary to submit the reports to government at this stage was made, but rather that time should be taken to educate and engage with residents and allow them to contribute to the debate from an informed knowledge base. In contrast, the impact of Covid-19 was considered a factor in the need to press ahead with the submission which could be made under existing processes. However, the view that the need to concentrate on solutions to the impacts of Covid-19 was more pressing than reorganisation was also put.
A second Labour amendment was proposed by Councillor Dave Parsons and seconded by Councillor Helen Adkins which sought to amend point 1 of the substantive motion by adding words as follows:
“1. That, having considered the Strategic Case for Change for Local Government Reform in Warwickshire, and in light of the debate today, the Council considers that its submission to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in order to seek from Government an invitation to enter into conversation and consideration of the future local government structure for Warwickshire should await the publication of the white paper.”
A number of Members expressed the view that the amendment was not dissimilar in effect to the earlier motion that had been withdrawn. Mixed views were expressed with some members believing that the content of the white paper would make little difference and others considering there would be merit in viewing its content before progressing. A level of concern was expressed about delay in a climate of uncertainty and that now was the time to show leadership and shape the future together.
A recorded vote was requested by the Chair
Vote 1 was on the amendment proposed by the Labour Group.
Votes for the amendment - Councillors H Adkins, C Davies, N Dirveiks, J Holland, M O'Rourke, D Parsons, C Phillips and A Webb
Votes against the amendment - Councillors J Barker, M Bell, P S Birdi, S Boad, M Brain, P Butlin, L Caborn, M Cargill, J Chilvers, J Clarke, A Cockburn, J Cooke, A Crump, Y Dahmash, N Davies, J Fradgley, B Gifford, P Gilbert, D Gissane, C Golby, S Gran, C Hayfield, J Horner, A Jenns, K Kaur, J Morgan, B S Pandher, A Parry, W Redford, D Reilly, C Rickhards, H Roberts, K Rolfe, J Roodhouse, A Sargeant, I Seccombe, D Shilton, J Simpson-Vince, D Skinner, H Timms, A Warwick, C Williams, P Williams, A Wright,
Abstentions - Councillors J Falp and K Kondakor
The amendment was lost 8 votes to 44 (2 absententions).
A further record vote took place on the substantive motion
Votes for -
Councillors P S Birdi, S Boad, M Brain, P Butlin, L Caborn, J Clarke, A Cockburn, A Crump, Y Dahmash, N Davies, J Fradgley, B Gifford, P Gilbert, D Gissane, C Golby, S Gran, C Hayfield, J Horner, K Kaur, J Morgan, B S Pandher, W Redford, C Rickhards, H Roberts, K Rolfe,
J Roodhouse, A Sargeant, I Seccombe, J Simpson-Vince, D Skinner, H Timms, A Warwick, C Williams, and P Williams,
Votes against –
Councillors H Adkins, M Bell, C Davies, N Dirveiks, J Falp, J Holland, A Jenns, K Kondakor, M O'Rourke, D Parsons, C Phillips, D Reilly, A Webb, and A Wright
Councillors J Barker, M Cargill, J Chilvers, J Cooke, A Parry and D Shilton
This was won 34 vote for to 14 against (6 abstentions).