29 May 2003
Report of the Chief Executive
Contact: David Hinxman, Head of Democratic Services, ext. 7339
1.1 This report presents the Policy and Resources Policy Review Committee with options for developing the County Council's Democratic Services following completion of Phase 2 of the cross-cutting Best Value Review.
1.2 The vision for an excellent democratic service covered the following:-
· Elections:- with above average turnout, easy access to information and voting and encouragement provided to those groups who traditionally do not vote. Local authority issues are perceived as relevant.
· Decision Making & Policy by Members :- support, services and facilities are provided to enable effective, sound and timely policy and decision making by elected members.
1.3 The main areas of activity to be addressed by the Review, as detailed in the project brief, were:
· Democratic support: the arrangements whereby the Council is
supported in decision making and policy review and how those activities
are promulgated so as to keep the Hampshire community involved.
· Elections: whilst there is little scope for the County Council to
influence procedural aspects given that these are closely prescribed by Regulation, the Review has considered how best the County Council's electoral arrangements can be enhanced not only to increase voter turnout but also to allow candidates to be better informed and subsequently better able to understand and carry out their roles if elected.
· Members services: the way in which the County Council provides
direct support for County Councillors across their many and varied roles
The Review has looked in depth at how these can be refined to improve
Members' effectiveness and accessibility.
2. Phase 2 of the Review
2.1 To encourage specialisation, the Review Team formed itself into three sub-
groups, one for each of the areas identified above. The Team collected information on resources (staff and budgets), performance and the effectiveness of the key supporting structures - the principal areas of work of the Chief Executive's Democratic Services unit and the arrangements made by chief officers to support the decision making and policy review structures which the County Council has put in place in response to the Local Government Act 2000.
2.2 Each sub group has been particularly mindful of e-government, crime and disorder issues, sustainability and equalities throughout their deliberations and these are reflected in the service improvements which the Review Team has identified . Each of these key topics has been the subject of presentations, and full and frank discussion within the Review Team as provision has been analysed and opportunities for improvement considered.
2.3 The Review Team has also, consulted and compared democratic services in Hampshire with other county councils in its "family" - Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire, Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex - holding challenge events at Essex and Kent with executive and scrutiny support officers and members services' officers. The Team has worked with the Hampshire Electoral Administrators' Conference and has taken into account views expressed by the County Council's Citizens' Panel on electoral turnout. External challenge has been further enhanced by the inclusion in the Review Team of John Quinton, Principal Democratic Services Officer at Surrey County Council and Professor Michael Hart from King Alfred's University, Winchester, and comparative work has been undertaken with IBM (UK) and King Alfred's on decision making procedures and support. Within the County Council, all Members, co-opted members, independent and lay people and key staff contacts were consulted about the quality of service given by the Chief Executive's Democratic Services Unit and other consultative exercises have been undertaken as the review has progressed.
3. Analysis of Information
3.1 The key findings of the review are as follows:
4. Democratic Support
(a) Information Technology and procedural issues
4.1 Since 1 September 2001 when the County Council implemented its new Constitutional arrangements, every formal business meeting of the Council, the Executive, members of the Executive acting individually, committees and advisory panels has been convened in accordance with the requirements of the Local Government (Access to Information) Acts as to the publication of agendas, minutes and reports. The County Council's policy to publish agendas for those occasions when Executive Members act individually to make decisions are markedly more generous than those imposed by the Regulations and by some other councils. These require the decisions to be published as soon as practicable after they have been made, whereas the County Council's approach has been, wherever possible, to publish those decisions which an Executive Member is to be asked to make in good time before the decisions are taken, normally a week in advance; 5 `clear' days is required in relation to `key decisions'. These decision days are also open to the press and public albeit that the Regulations do not require them to be. This reflects the County Council's longstanding commitment to openness and accountability in relation to its activities.
4.2 There are related operational issues, however, concerning the printing and publication of agendas, minutes and reports and electronic access where there is room for improvement. Random checking of performance in relation to the posting of reports etc on Hantsweb shows this to be patchy. Hantsnet performance across the board could be considerably enhanced if there were dedicated resources available. This would assist Members and improve access to the County Council's affairs within the County Council and throughout the community at large. Arrangements along these lines are already being piloted in the Chief Executive's Department. For the longer term a central, corporate resource is essential to achieve real and lasting improvements as seen during the Review Team's work with other councils in Hampshire's family. In the short term, as the pilot scheme develops, Chief Officers should urgently review practice and procedures in their departments so as to enable consistent publication of public documents on Hantsnet. Members' electronic access to confidential documents will also require development.
4.3 In relation to the printing and publication of agendas, decisions, minutes and reports, whilst physical despatch performance is good, post to members does miss the normal deadline when papers for despatch arrive late in the Chief Executive's Democratic Services Unit from authors. There are a number of factors in the production of reports that can lead to prior delays. It is also important that the Forward Plan, required to meet monthly publication deadlines, is kept up to date but monitoring shows that the absence of a coordinating contact in departments can result in omissions being made in the published plan. An issue in this respect may be the way that some departments are structured in relation to meetings support. Of the larger departments Property, Business and Regulatory Services, Education and Environment have resources allocated which link directly with the key Democratic Services staff in the Chief Executive's Department in relation to forward planning, consultation and agenda preparation whilst Treasurers, Social Services, Recreation and Heritage and Personnel and Training vest responsibility for liaison largely in the report author/section head.
4.4 The findings of the Review Team are that a dedicated resource should lend itself to more effective and coherent planning and delivery albeit that, given the significant volume of business always to be transacted, agenda printing and despatch across the board is inevitably a race against the clock to meet legal and standing order requirements. Ideally, the Review Team consider that each department should have at least a nominated co-ordinating officer who is procedurally aware and able to influence the programming of business and
delivery of reports so that agenda and reports are ready for despatch in better time and that issues concerning the content of the Forward Plan are routinely coordinated.
4.5 IT also has the potential to speed up communication between and with councillors and to enhance their accessibility as community leaders. With adequate resources and training, internal procedures can also be streamlined and enhanced thereby improving services to Members, officers and the community in terms of accessibility and inclusivity, sustainability and equality. Without fundamental cultural change, however, such improvements are unlikely to be self-financing. Running paper based and IT based systems concurrently to the same end is clearly inefficient and expensive. Experience so far suggests that 100% commitment to IT based communication by members is not yet possible but this must be the objective. The Review Team do not believe there is any other option other than 100% Member commitment if democracy is to flourish and all stakeholders are to have the opportunity to contribute by whatever means.
4.6 In the meantime the Review Team welcome the review of procedures and systems currently being piloted in Chief Executive's to improve staff IT efficiency levels. This may allow room for such increased demands to be accommodated for the short term but this would need to be developed hand-in-hand with the earlier availability of committee reports etc. Human nature is strongly reflected in the existing arrangements: last minute pressures are such that very often deadlines are passed but targets are still achieved thanks to the goodwill of those at the coalface.
4.7 Some years ago the County Council took the view that democracy would be enhanced if people on the electoral roll for the administrative county had the opportunity to have their say at formal business meetings of the Council and its committees. This inclusive approach has been continued under the new constitutional arrangements. Comparisons with other county councils reveal that such a procedure is not adopted across the board although some operate a public question time which Hampshire does not. The Review Team consider that the deputation procedure plays a valuable part in the operation of the County Council's policy of openness and transparency and should be retained.
4.8 A consultative stakeholder review of the deputation procedure by way of a survey of those who had taken part in the last year or two showed this to be operating satisfactorily by and large. There is plenty of information available in Information Centres by way of fact sheets and on Hantsnet, and Democratic Services staff can give further advice to people making enquiries about how to go about addressing the Council or its committees. Sometimes, however, people wishing to address members have a grievance and may be difficult to satisfy. The deputation is but a procedure for people to have their say. It does not guarantee a solution and, whilst the procedure has operated satisfactorily, it is
considered necessary for the comments received about information and advice to be looked at in more detail in relation to the prevailing circumstances to see how staff and members can learn from the process.
4.9 The Review Team also consider that the Standing Order governing the deputation procedure can give rise to uncertainty in its application to the Council and committees in that it appears to allow a deputation to appear before the Council and a committee/panel in the same cycle whilst at the same time not allowing two appearances on the same subject within 6 months of having addressed a meeting.
4.10 A related issue is the scope for using modern technology to encourage and enhance the opportunities for people to have input into Members' deliberations. There would no doubt be resource implications but it is possible that the deputation procedure could be overtaken or supplemented by video link arrangements in due course. Given the accommodation and resource issues involved this is not considered to be an option for the short term but the rate of change in technology is such that, perhaps after the next County Council elections in May 2005, there would be advantage in this issue being reviewed. The facility has been used on a one-off basis recently to allow the Executive Member for Recreation and Heritage to take part in a Members seminar. Other opportunities may arise but budgets do not currently make provision for this approach normally. However, the e-agenda does allow a deputations application form to be completed and submitted on line and that is recommended.
(c) Quality Accreditation
4.11 When the Review Team opened itself up to challenge from Essex and Kent and compared its operating procedures with them and the other County Councils consulted, it became apparent that none has yet sought external accreditation for its Democratic Services Unit. There is no specific British Standard but the Review Team consider that this objective should be actively pursued by the Chief Executive's Democratic Services Unit through its close links with the South East Counties and seek to take to the lead with them in this area to reinforce its commitment to quality service delivery and excellence and complement its contribution to the County Council's IiP accreditation.
4.12 To maintain the highest quality in terms of the preparation of reports for consideration by members and their accessibility to the community, Democratic Services has for many years published a report writing guide. This was last updated on the change of approach required to decision making under the Local Government Act 2000. The need for all reports to address crime and disorder and the other cross cutting themes will be included in the next update in order to ensure that the Council's statutory duty in relation to the cross cutting themes remains uppermost at all times in the formulation and development of proposals.
(d) Local Involvement
4.13 To enhance the County Council's standing among all sections of the community, it is considered that more could and should be done corporately to encourage inclusivity and accessibility to the County Council's services and its business in general. For its part, the Chief Executive's Democratic Services Unit will do more to make plain the availability of agendas, minutes and reports in large print or Braille, taking forward the commitment made in the Year Book, or in other languages when necessary to meet local demand. There will be many other actions which can be taken across the County Council by way of good practice well beyond the remit of this review but, given the importance of the information on Hantsnet in letting the Hampshire community know about the business of the Council and the decisions being made, the Review Team considers that greater prominence should be given when accessing Hantsweb or Hantsnet to the scope for changing font size so that partially sighted people can enjoy the same degree of accessibility as those with full sight, and to how information can be accessed by people with other disabilities.
4.14 The growth in the development and use of IT has resulted in a significant increase in the amount of information available about the County Council. This makes a valuable contribution towards the delivery of the County Council's sustainability and equalities policies. Progress on the IT issues referred to in previous paragraphs should add to that. There remain concerns, however, that unless a matter is contentious or location specific, generating public interest in the County Council's affairs is still a major challenge. There may be communications issues here in the broadest sense and it is suggested that these should be followed up throughout the County Council as the Improvement Plan arising out of the review is developed.
4.15 This Review has, however, considered the two key aspects concerning
involvement in local democracy which were highlighted during the visioning exercise: Local Area Committees and increasing local engagement.
4.16 In relation to Local Area Committees, the County Council, in the run up to implementing its response to the Local Government Act 2000, considered the issue and decided against the setting up of an area committee structure. The Review Team has assessed what the County Council does to encourage local engagement. For many years the Council has involved local people by way of area transportation panels covering the whole of the county, and local site liaison panels and joint management committees, both formal and informal. The many and varied minerals and countryside site liaison panels have for many years kept the County Council in touch at grass roots level. All of these continue to flourish, including liaison arrangements with Southampton and Portsmouth. In 2002 the County Council also set up for each district a Highways Management Advisory Panel comprising in each case all the County Councillors for each district with an equivalent number of District Council members. These meet locally and regularly and are open to the press and
public. They meet at times of day to suit the locality e.g. Gosport meetings start at 6.00 p.m.
4.17 However, given the prominence of regional government in the national debate, the Review Team considers that the Council should review its sub-county structure at an appropriate time so as to be better prepared to respond to national and regional initiatives.
4.18 These local consultative and liaison arrangements are supplemented by local offices to ensure accessibility for local people. There are local Education, Social Services and Trading Standards offices around the county together with a network of Information Centres and local information points and libraries where information about the County Council can be obtained. These are extended as resources permit and it is suggested that the County Council should maintain this momentum by way of an incremental approach to meet local needs whilst at the same time reviewing how more effectively to increase local interest in County Council affairs. Doing nothing is not considered an option. The budget settlement led the County Council to concentrate on maintaining services at delivery level and accordingly major investment in this area is unlikely at this stage. However the opportunity was taken to provide a new information centre in the New Forest and the Review Team encourages this approach, prioritising responses in the light of evaluated needs.
4.19 The Review Team considers that, whilst not establishing area committees per se, the County Council has made extensive efforts to develop a strong local interface for its services. There is evidence of area committee structures being operated in South East England but these are in a minority. The Review Team consider that change must be a matter for members to determine. Experience shows that each of the County Councils consulted has responded to the issue in the way it deemed most appropriate for its community.
4.20 The following measures aim to increase local engagement:-
· the publication of executive and committee agenda by the Chief Executive, to meet or exceed legal requirements
· the availability of agenda, minutes and reports on Hantsnet
· the initiatives implemented corporately by the County Council via Hampshire Now
· other information published by the County Council by way of fact sheets, guidance and advice etc.
· the local work done by Members and departments to inform people about major events in their areas such as road schemes and school reorganisations.
The Review Team concluded that consideration should be given as to whether there is further scope to develop service and locality specific information
sources so that the County Council reaches yet further into the community. A more positive and local publicity regime is likely to have cost implications, however. This area is also touched upon in the context of County Council elections and related procedures and practice. The Review Team also considers that there is scope to enhance the supply of information to local members about proposals in their areas.
4.21 Members may feel that they themselves have an opportunity here to drive home their local community leadership role. Each Member has his or her own style and approach to their work. A number of County Councillors are also District Councillors, arguably therefore enhancing their understanding of their communities' needs and wants. Accordingly the Review Team considers it an opportune moment to reiterate that it has long been County Council policy for County Councillors to use County Council accommodation for their surgeries free of charge if the building is already open and in use, and to publicise these in their county electoral divisions. These are, of course, matters for individual Members to consider but Members have already been reminded of the County Council's policy in relation to surgeries on County Council affairs.
(e) "Joined up Local Government"
4.22 Despite the County Council's efforts to improve public awareness of the County Council and its services either by way of service restructuring or improved communication, there remains a view, not only in Hampshire, that the community at large continues not to have a clear understanding of "who does what" in 2-tier local government. . The Review Team considers that the most effective option in the short term is for Members and staff, at every opportunity, to be encouraged to do what they can to inform and advise those in the community with whom they deal of where responsibilities lie and how we work together closely with other agencies to provide seamless services as far as possible. The County Council has much to be proud of and its work and its achievements should be promoted and percolated within the Hampshire community to the fullest extent possible. In the longer term a coordinated communications strategy supported by all the key agencies would be the ideal. The Review Team considers that this should be flagged up in the improvement plan arising from this review as the County Council's objective.
5. Members' Services and Support
5.1 The consultations and comparisons with the other County Councils in Hampshire's family and the challenge visits to Kent and Essex illustrated clearly that support and services for members can be organised and provided through a wide variety of organisational arrangements. The common thread is that, albeit in different ways, all the County Councils involved deliver services which help elected members in their day to day constituency work and support leading members in their special roles. The following key issues have been identified in this part of the review.
(a) Information Technology
5.2 The visioning exercise at the start of this review indicated a clear expectation that a top performing County Council should be making the best possible use of the IT facilities available to it. In this respect there is an overlap with the Democratic support element of the review. The work done with the other County Councils indicated that in some authorities there is a 100% take up of IT among members. As mentioned in paragraph 4, much headway is being made towards that objective in Hampshire but, without 100% commitment, the full value of the investment and improvements in service and efficiency for members will not be achieved.
(b) Local information for members
5.3 In response to concerns expressed by members both preceding and during the review, the Review Team has considered the scope for the provision of local information to local County Councillors more consistently. Whilst there are a number of protocols in place across departments for local County Councillors to be kept informed, e.g. involvement with local school improvement schemes; consultation on planning applications, consultation on traffic orders or proposals to divert or extinguish footpaths, there is a concern that departments could do more to ensure that local Members are kept more widely informed of matters affecting their county electoral divisions. Some issues may, of course, be district wide in which case all the County Councillors within that district should be kept informed. Each department has its own arrangements in place and the Review Team suggests that further work needs doing to establish and develop best practice corporately.
(c) Members' accommodation
5.4 Two particular issues were identified by Members involved with the Review Team about the Council Chamber: accessibility and the quality of its acoustics. Work on the latter has progressed and a more effective audio system is now in place. Accessibility has previously been addressed by way of the lift to the Council Chamber floor level and a hearing loop is now in place but there remain physical barriers still to be overcome partly due to the historic nature and status of the building. Work is being done to increase the use of the Council Chamber but, in parallel with that, Property, Business and Regulatory Services continue to make improvements to accommodation generally as part of a rolling improvement programme. The issue is constantly under review but resources constrain the Council's ability to respond. When space is at a premium for meetings, underused rooms can be ill afforded. Whilst accepting that more space would help Members if they wished to work for long periods whilst at The Castle, currently more offices are occupied by Members than ever before. This reflects in particular the demands of the new Constitutional arrangements on Cabinet members and Policy Review Committee chairmen in particular.
(d) Members' allowances
5.5 Historically, the Chief Executive's Department, and for the last 10 years the Democratic Services Unit, has managed the preparation and implementation of the County Council's Members' Allowances Scheme. Ensuring compliance with legal requirements in terms of provisions and procedures is the key element. Travel claims are monitored by way of comparison against attendance lists and making random checks. This approach has proved successful in helping Members to ensure that they follow best practice and maintain high standards of integrity. The approach is labour intensive, however, and there is a view that, given the demise by law of the attendance allowance which was claimable for qualifying meetings, the resource set aside for monitoring claims could be used to better effect. Propriety has a significantly higher profile in public service now and so complete personal responsibility and self regulation would not seem to be unreasonable. Some Councils leave responsibility for claims with Members alone for processing through their Council's finance departments leaving legal and policy issues to appropriate advisors in the context of the work now required of Independent Remuneration Panels. If this approach were adopted in Hampshire advice for Members would continue to be available in the Chief Executive's Department but the time spent on claims monitoring could be used to support other areas of work where pressures continue to grow. With allowances now paid pro rata, only claims for travelling to meetings remain.
(e) Service Standards
5.6 To improve service standards for Members, the Members Secretariat has developed its own performance indicators. Whilst workload is difficult to predict and, as IT usage grows, self-help by Members will make a contribution, the Review Team considers that work could be done to apply consistent service standards across all departments, for example in relation to response times when Members make an enquiry or complaint. The Review Team was mindful of the County Council's commitment to respond to correspondence promptly and saw no reason why County Councillors should be treated any differently. Members' experience, however is patchy.
(f) Member Training
5.7 In common with the many other facets of Member support, Member training has been provided both centrally and departmentally. In recent years the County Personnel and Training Department has begun to target Members with a view to identifying and addressing their development needs as community leaders; The Chief Executive provides background information with the initial Members' pack after elections and, within a few days of being elected, Members are invited to the County Council's headquarters to familiarise themselves with the offices and meeting rooms. Shortly afterwards there is an intensive week of corporate and service related induction. Chief officers have then run their own training programmes on service specific or subject specific issues. From
surveys of Members attending the initial sessions it is clear that these are helpful. However, pressure on Members' time indicates that turnout fluctuates markedly. This applies regardless of the training event. Lack of time, lack of resources and co-ordination issues were identified by the Review Team as the key barriers to making significant improvements to Member training provision. Whilst the current arrangements allow chief officers to take ownership of their own provision, training of a more developmental nature does compete with other commitments on a day-to-day basis. It could be argued, therefore, that improved co-ordination may be of limited benefit when in many cases members' availability is constrained by a wide range of business, personal and local government related demands. Induction arrangements are fine tuned every 4 years to learn from previous experience. This is also the case with chief officers' training programmes for Members but refresher training is noticeable by its absence other than for existing Members every 4 years who have the opportunity to revisit the corporate training programme.
5.8 The Review Team takes the view that corporate, procedural and service training is most appropriately placed with chief officers and that developmental training for Members is best placed with the County Council's central training service. The issue then is one of the extent to which the service can be supported. Corporate, procedural and service training forms part of the Chief Executive's and chief officers' ongoing responsibilities and is delivered in the light of changes in the law, new developments, etc. In relation to Members' personal development, an impact of the Local Government Act 2000 has been to require Members to broaden their traditional skills. This is reflected in the Corporate Performance Assessment integrated improvement programme which places a priority on the development of Member scrutiny. Among the initiatives currently being assessed for Member development, therefore, the Review Team considers that, across all the political groups, a programme needs to be in place at the earliest opportunity to enable Policy Review Committee members to hone their skills to enhance the delivery of the scrutiny function.
5.9 Other, more detailed, matters pursued were:
(g) Calendar of meetings
5.10 Preparation of the Calendar of Meetings is a time consuming task which may
ease as the new Constitutional arrangements bed in, but any help for example by way of an IT programme to save valuable time merits consideration given the need to take account of, particularly, relational issues which have arisen as the new Constitution has developed. However, none of the Councils consulted has found a solution and work done in house confirms that, at this stage, the complexities are such that manual preparation remains the most reliable way forward.
(h) Additional answerphone
5.11 Whilst an answerphone is not expensive, the availability of e-mail to nearly all Members renders this suggestion less of a priority as it enables Members to contact the Secretariat at a keystroke and gives Members dictating correspondence on the existing answer phone the opportunity to create their own documents or to forward text to the Secretariat thus increasing the availability of the existing answer phone. The Review Team consider that no further needs to be taken on this issue
(i) Staff directory
5.12 Consultation with other County Councils indicated consistent provision of a staff directory. It is important that Members can contact key staff without delay whether from home or out on County Council business. A users list in Hantsnet, therefore, is not considered to be sufficient although it is accepted that a hard copy becomes out of date almost immediately. There is no corporate solution readily available, but Chief Officers have developed their own directories.
(j) Departmental contacts for Members
5.13 The Review Team also considers that chief officers should consider
nominating an officer to be the primary contact for elected Members when they require assistance in the event that the relevant service manager is not available or generally. There are informal arrangements across departments but it is considered that Members would be better served by formal contacts being established.
(k) Year Book/diary
5.14 A wide variety of views has been expressed as to whether or not the Year Book and diary should be produced for Members in filofax format: the diary has customarily been presented bound in a hardwearing and attractive cover. A suggestion has been made that a loose leaf version of the diary and year book and permanent filofax style hard cover would be more welcome. At this stage it is clear that an annual saving on bound and covered copies could be made which could be taken into account when costing a loose leaf approach but unit costs could increase markedly as the information in the Year Book can also be found on Hantsnet and fewer copies should be required. The Review Team consider that departments should reduce their demands for printed versions significantly in pursuance of the County Council's sustainability strategy.
The middle course is preferred accompanied by costings.
(m) Out of hours emergency arrangements
5.15 As the County Council moves towards service delivery around the clock,
Members' information needs will change. This is a longer term issue and very much part of the work going on in relation to the development of a contact
centre. The needs of Members will be taken into account as part of that work and identified as such in the action plan;
(n) Political /Research Assistance
5.16 The visioning part of this Review also concluded that top performing Democratic Services could be expected to have political/research assistance supporting all the political groups in their work. Given the inherently political nature of the issue, the Review Team has not pursued the matter but acknowledges that such provision does exist in some authorities within the County Council's family.
6.1 This part of the Review concentrated on improving services in relation to County Council elections and associated activities.
(a) Elections expenditure
6.2 The County Council is not alone in delegating day-to-day responsibility for election arrangements to the districts. All the County Councils in Hampshire's family operate this way. Costs vary due to the size of the respective councils, their electorates and demographic issues. Hampshire's average cost per elector for the combined election in 2001 sits joint third of the seven County Councils consulted at 58p in a range from 48p to 62p. It is considered that more work should be done with our family of County Councils to assess the scope for reducing unit costs.
(b) Increasing involvement in elections
6.3 The election process is closely defined in Regulations and changes, such as to allow pilot e-voting schemes, polling in supermarkets or on different days, 100% postal voting or alternative counting arrangements - many of which were supported by Hampshire's Citizens' Panel - may only be operated with Home Office consent. Increasing electoral registration is the responsibility, with Electoral Commission support, of the Electoral Registration Officer who is a district council appointment, but indirectly the County Council can influence this by seeking to generate more interest in local affairs. The Review, therefore, has concentrated its efforts on what might be done outside the regulated structure to encourage more people to vote and on how candidates can be better prepared so as to operate more effectively more quickly.
6.4 The Review Team took into account the wide range of information available through MORI, much of which indicated indifference on the part of those who did not vote or an unwillingness to be involved, often due, people said, to a lack of information or a lack of interest. The latter harks back to work done by MORI for the County Council in the run up to the adoption of the new
constitutional arrangements which showed that people are more interested in service delivery than organisational and structural issues.
6.5 Key factors, therefore, are communication and publicity.
6.6 The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Association of Local Authorities has already begun work to develop a more co-ordinated approach as to how the district councils can promote elections more pro-actively. The County Council will be able to build on this for the County Council elections in May 2005 and equally there may be mutual benefits to be obtained from the outcomes of this Review given the districts' important supportive role with County Council elections.
6.7 The Review Team considers that, in addition to contributing towards the development of a countywide campaign to encourage people to vote, the County Council might be able to contribute to the development of a countywide IT standard for electoral purposes, an e-voting solution which all Hampshire Districts would be able to adopt. The County Council has established a modern network infrastructure, known as the Hampshire Public Services Network (HPSN). As well as at most County Council establishments, including schools, HPSN is already used by most Hampshire District Councils (an upgraded service is planned to be installed for all districts by the end of this year). This infrastructure could provide a sound basis for an e-voting solution. The County Council also has significant experience of the internet which, with suitable software development, could be used to extend e-voting, for example, from voter's homes.
6.8 The Elections Sub-Group was challenged by district council colleagues from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Electoral Administrators' Conference and it is clear from that event that the County Council, with the district councils' support locally, could strengthen input into publicity and communications around election time aimed at the importance in a democratic society of participation, inclusivity, equality of opportunity and government by mandate secured by votes in the `ballot box', be they cast on a ballot paper or electronically. The elections budget, however, has traditionally been geared only to meeting the costs incurred by the Deputy Returning Officers in organising and running the election. Other costs for service improvements, such as the development and replacement of the County Council's computerised election candidate/results management system by the next County Council elections, have always been the subject of specific bids when required. Staff costs incurred by the Chief Executive as County Returning Officer are not specifically identified for charging to the elections budget and are absorbed by Democratic Services. As reported to the Standards Committee in January, election costs are predicted to rise given the removal of artificial limits on certain fees imposed by the County Council when the current fees structure was first implemented in the early 1970s.
(c) Information for Candidates
6.9 The Review Team was also mindful that, whilst most candidates have political party support and therefore should have some understanding of what should be expected of them if elected, this is not a reason to ignore the needs of everyone who may wish to stand for election. All Members when elected receive a pack of information about the County Council and Members' roles and support arrangements. The Review Team considers that there is scope to promote information for candidates on the County Council's website so that anyone interested in standing for election can locate it via, for example, a members' portal or through the information centres. This would link with initiatives identified by the Members Services Sub Group of the Review Team. Potential candidates could, therefore, be more fully informed about the County Council and how it works before deciding whether to stand for election and, therefore, more quickly be able to undertake their duties effectively if elected.
(d) Involving and Engaging Young People
6.10 The Review Team was also very aware that the visioning exercise identified young people as a key social group. Information and understanding of the role and work local government are considered vital to enable first time voters and people soon to be of voting age to play an effective part in the community. Whilst citizenship education is now part of the National Curriculum, the Team considered that County Councillors could themselves play an active role in generating interest in local government affairs by visiting schools colleges and meeting and talking to students. This would be yet another call on Members' time but, in the longer term, such local involvement has the potential to reap dividends. Doing nothing is not, therefore, considered to be an option. Equally expecting every Member to visit every school in their electoral divisions is not realistic. Arguably this is not a matter for the County Council to prescribe but, as a community leader, the Council would no doubt wish to encourage all its Members to contribute to and develop community involvement in ways that best suit their own communities.
6.11 When challenged by Kent and Essex it became apparent that there is scope for the County Council to do more to generate interest in its affairs among young people, extending beyond the work of the Youth Service, such as encouraging school visits to the Council Chamber, or holding mock Council meetings allowing young people to participate. This would require a time commitment but, with the longer term in mind, this could be seen as a worthwhile investment. The attendance at the April Council meeting of the Hampshire members of the UK Youth Parliament is a step in the right direction.
Discussion on Options for Service Delivery and Service Improvements
7 Democratic Support and Support & Services for Members
7.1 The Review Team, when consulting and comparing with the County Council's family, noted how these county councils had developed their own individual responses to the Local Government Act 2000. As mentioned in paragraph 5.8, there is a clear expectation deriving from the Comprehensive Performance Assessment that the scrutiny role of the Policy Review Committees should be developed. The Review Team found that in some Councils, to enhance the separation of the Executive and Scrutiny roles, officer support arrangements were organised to mirror the separate Member arrangements. In that respect, however, the Review Team was mindful that, having implemented its new operating arrangements from 1 September 2001, the County Council itself undertook a wide ranging and thorough review in March 2002 of its experience and, in May 2002, made no changes to its Constitution, preferring to fine tune and enhance administratively the opportunities for all members to contribute fully to the work of the Council and the Executive. That Review revealed no evidence for organisational change in terms of central support but, as the scrutiny function evolves, the Review Team anticipates that the need across the board for support for the County Council's Policy Review Committees will grow. At this stage, therefore, the Review Team has not challenged whether or not the Council delivers support to democracy in the most effective way or whether the new executive arrangements should be supported at the core by other than the Chief Executive given that key issues in this respect are governed by the recently reviewed Constitution (Part 1:chapter 11). The Review Team was also mindful that each of the County Councils consulted has adopted arrangements to reflect what they perceive to be the best to suit their own preferred way of delivering democracy and that, as scrutiny within the County Council evolves, the County Council will have the opportunity to learn from the experience of others.
7.2 The Review Team was also mindful of the County Council's excellent status following the Comprehensive Performance Assessment and that there is no evidence from other Best Value reviews undertaken around the country or from the challenge to Hampshire's family of county councils that democracy can thrive without effective provision and management of services for elected Members and a trained, professional, corporate support workforce well versed in the intricacies of local government law and procedure. Both are in place in Hampshire and supported and maintained by the County Council through its IiP accreditation. If such provision were absent the Review Team considers that management of the County Council's business would flounder in the short and medium term with the potential for serious adverse impact on the corporacy of the Council. It is no surprise, therefore, that whilst there is evidence of some small local authorities privatising meetings support, none of the Councils consulted has forfeited corporate support organised in a way best suited to the requirements of their constitutions.
7.3 Whatever the organisation of democratic support, it will have a cost and in Hampshire, the cost of the Chief Executive's Democratic Services Unit, which with the Members' budget, is the most readily identifiable, compares favourably pro rata with the others in its family. Organisational arrangements among the 7 authorities are such, however, that direct and detailed comparison could not be achieved. In Hampshire the Democratic Services Unit not only provides support for the County Council, the Cabinet, individual Cabinet members, the Policy Review Committees and the other non-Executive committees and panels but also provides support for the Hampshire Police Authority and the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority thereby avoiding duplication of effort and extra cost for council tax payers and benefiting from the County Council's economies of scale and the expertise of its staff. Meetings of other bodies are supported at no direct cost to the service to which they relate, such as the Independent Education Appeal Panel and the School Organisation Committee. The Members Secretariat is part of Democratic Services. Democratic Services also runs the County Council's elections, manages boundary issues, makes road traffic and rights of way orders and administers the Register of Common Land, a wider remit than any others in the County Council's family.
7.4 It is also significant to note that, whilst Hampshire's democratic support organisation is not directly mirrored in any of the other County Councils in the family, in all cases democratic services staff play a key corporate role. The core activities are very similar despite some marked differences in the style of delivery. For example there is evidence that decision taking by individual Executive members elsewhere is not programmed nor is the function coordinated and supported from the centre but Democratic Services provides corporate support by publishing the decisions made; In some councils, as mentioned earlier, Executive and Scrutiny support roles are clearly split. The added value of Hampshire's arrangements is that decision making is open and transparent and the Democratic Services team, with support from their departmental colleagues, are the focal point for all formal business enquiries from members and the public; existing experienced staff have been seconded to maintain quality support and secretarial services for the Hampshire Police Authority and the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority rather than each establishing its own arrangements independently; the unification of the team has increased its flexibility in terms of its ability to respond to support both the Executive, the Policy Review Committees and the Advisory Panels and short term fluctuations in workloads,(albeit at a cost to the effectiveness of the direct service aspects of the unit's work as core work must receive priority). The wide variety of work also presents a range of developmental opportunities for staff. But that is not to say that parts of the work could not be hived off to other providers.
7.5 The Police Authority and the Fire Authority could establish their own stand alone support arrangements; the quasi-legal work on statutory orders is often carried out in legal departments; education appeals could be dealt with at arm's length as they are in Surrey. Chief Officers could take responsibility for Executive decision making. The district councils could manage more local
meetings and affairs or they could be less involved than at present. Throughout the review, however, a constant feature has been that core democratic services operate from the centre, promoting corporate governance and maintaining consistency across councils as they make decisions affecting the everyday lives of the Hampshire community. Taking all the issues into account, the Review Team considers that Hampshire's performance is such that better value by way of cost or quality is unlikely to be achieved by organisational change at the present time. External factors are more likely to drive change due to existing arrangements being unable to cope with demand, or there is a political will for change.
7.6 One of the findings of the Review, however, has been that the County Council's new ways of working coupled with an increasing number of meetings as new panels have been set up and an ever increasing workload on education appeals and statutory order work, mean that the Democratic Services unit no longer has the capacity normally to support other than core business meetings, i.e. those subject to the requirements of the Local Government (Access to Information) Acts, and similar meetings of the Hampshire Police Authority and the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority. To maintain its capacity for these meetings, Democratic Services has recently withdrawn from servicing the Hillier Arboretum Management Committee and will be withdrawing support for the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust shortly. It also proposes to withdraw from supporting the Arts Forum. As a result it is anticipated, at this early stage, that programmed meetings of the Health Review Committee can be supported within existing resources. Democratic Services will also continue to support a handful of small trusts where the County Council is a key trustee and the trusts have no support resource or expertise and it will also continue to co-ordinate the many local minerals site liaison panels set up over many years at grass roots level following the grant of planning permission. This approach may make some additional work for chief officers but it is not considered appropriate that efficient and effective support for the core democratic operations of the County Council and for members should be threatened due to administrative pressures generated by consultative and investigatory processes with which members may be involved.
Other than formalising this position, therefore, the Review Team believes there is no case for change in service delivery.
8.1 Following local government reorganisation in 1974 the day-to-day organisation and running of County Council elections in Hampshire was taken on by each of the district councils on an informal basis, the expertise being largely vested in them. This has continued to date and is reflected in the responses from every County Council with whom the Review Team liaised. These joint arrangements have worked very well now for nearly 30 years and, whilst the service is likely to undergo significant change in the next decade as the government clarifies and codefies how the principles of e-government will apply, it is considered that
the existing arrangements should continue for the foreseeable future there being no evidence that service improvements could be achieved by externalisation of
the process or the County Council taking full responsibility for the elections itself.
9. Summary of Service Delivery Options
9.1 Democratic Services:
(a) Discontinue or externalise the service. Members would have no in-house advice or support nor would they benefit from staff expertise across the board. There would be performance and cost implications. There is no evidence to support this option.
(b) To limit the service to support for the formal aspects of Members' work in relation to decision making and policy review. This would have a significant impact on departments regarding new provision to maintain existing levels and quality of Members' services and corporacy and the wide variety of other services delivered presently by the Democratic Services Team in the Chief Executive's Department.
(c) To extend partnership working so that district councils and the two unitary authorities take greater responsibility for local or cross boundary issues for which the County Council has responsibility and for local member meetings. However, this would reduce the direct impact of the County Council in the community.
(d) To reduce partnership working so that, for example, the Police and Fire authorities make their own exclusive clerking arrangements.Whilst minor time savings may be made, stakeholders would be excluded from working with the County Council in direct conflict with community strategy etc requirements; the Police and Fire Authorities would have additional costs and a loss of flexibility.
(e) To maintain the current organisational arrangements supporting the County Council, the Hampshire Police Authority and the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority, fine tuned in the Chief Executive's Department to minimise non-core support as described in paragraph 7.6 developed in departments as outlined in paragraphs 4.4 and 5.13 and to support evolution of the scrutiny role within the County Council.
(a) To withdraw from elections work. However, this would result in a failure to meet the County Council's statutory obligations and therefore this is not a viable option.
(b) To maintain the current organisational arrangements. This would allow the long term and effective partnership arrangements between the County Council and Hampshire District Councils to continue.
(c) To take full and sole responsibility for the management, administration and organisation of County Council elections. There is no evidence from the review findings that cost or service benefits would result from this option being pursued. The detailed operational experience and expertise vested in the district councils' electoral registration would be lost.
10. Summary of Service Improvements
Information Technology and procedural issues
· to improve Hantsnet agenda, decisions, minutes and report publication
arrangements both short and long term along the lines described in paragraph 4.2;
· to review departmental liaison arrangements to improve consistency and ability to achieve deadlines in relation to papers for member meetings and members support generally;
· to encourage Members to achieve 100% commitment to e-operations in support not only of the delivery of the demands of the new constitutional arrangements but also to enhance their access to information, to each other and to the community at large and community access to them.
· to analyse the issues raised in the survey along with the current Standing Order to see where improvements can be made;
· to take technological developments into account when the deputation procedure is reassessed in the longer term;
· to develop an on-line deputation application form to enhance access to the County Council's affairs.
· to review approaches to generating interest in County Council affairs;
· to encourage members of the County Council to develop their community leadership role;
· to continue to evaluate demand for a local County Council presence and review in the light of resource availability;
· to review opportunities to develop service and locality specific information for members to enhance local communication, interest and engagement;
· to develop a democratic services standard;
· that the Chief Executive's Democratic Services Unit focus its activities normally on core meetings support, namely those to which the provisions of the Local Government (Access to Information) Acts apply.
"Joined up Local Government"
· to strive with the County Council's partners and stakeholders to develop a joint information strategy to enhance public awareness of the roles and responsibilities of those government bodies which impact locally on the everyday lives of the Hampshire community.
· to undertake an analysis in more detail to ascertain whether there are fundamental differences in approach among those councils with lower average costs from which the County Council and possibly its district council partners can learn. This course of action is proposed.
Increasing involvement in elections
· to build on and develop as far as resources will allow the Council's existing communication and information strategy to encourage people to vote;
Information for Candidates
· for County Council elections in May 2005, to develop web based information to encourage and assist candidates to be better informed about the County Council and its work.
Involving and Engaging Young People
· to seek to enhance opportunities for engagement and participation by young people;
· to encourage all members of the Council to review how they could improve awareness of their roles and the role of the County Council in their communities.
Local information for members
· to seek members' views and consider with Chief Officers how best information for local County Councillors can be delivered.
· to continue to take Members' needs into account whenever opportunities arise to maximise the use of appropriate accommodation.
· to consider whether better value could be achieved by replacing the current arrangements with a system so that Members take full responsibility for their claims - electronically in due course - so that Democratic Services pressures could benefit from the resource released;
· the Members Secretariat to work with Chief Officers to take forward common standards of service for Members for implementation across the County Council.
· within existing resources, to continue to work with Members to identify their wider training needs with a view to a tailored programme being developed with particular reference to the scrutiny function in the light of the Action Plan deriving from the Corporate Performance Assessment.
· to consider the publication of a corporate directory of key officers and key service/section contacts. In the meantime Chief Officers' work with their own departmental information should for Members continue.
Departmental contacts for Members
· to encourage Chief Officers to review their support arrangements in relation to advice and support to members with a view to nominating a specific contact.
· to consult further with other County Councils and Hampshire district councils and seek Members' views;
Out of hours emergency arrangements
· to log the issue for review in the light of operating changes in the longer term.
11.1 The options in this report have been shared with key staff involved in the support and delivery of democratic services both within the Chief Executive's Department and across all departments. Members have been involved in each of the key stages of the review.
11.2 The cost of the options and service improvements identified in the report are difficult to quantify, the impetus being very largely on developing existing provision. These issues will, as now, need to be managed in the usual way as competing priorities.
11.3 The Committee, therefore, is asked to consider the options for service delivery summarised in paragraph 9 and the service improvements summarised in paragraph 10, whereupon the Review Team will develop an Improvement Plan for consideration by the Committee at its meeting on 26 June.
11.4 The following information which has helped to inform the Review is in the Members Room:
· Departmental summaries of democratic support provision;
· Summary of analytical work with other County Councils;
· Note of challenge days with Essex and Kent;
· Deputations survey;
· Democratic Services Unit customer survey;
· Candidates information survey;
· Note of comparative exercises with private sector;
· Notes of meetings with electoral staff;
· Meetings support performance indicators.
· Notes of focus groups with key service users.
Section 100 D - Local Government Act 1872 - Background Documents
The following documents disclose facts or matters on which this report, or an important part of it, is based and has been relied upon to a material extent in the preparation of this report.
NB the list excludes:
1. Published works
2. Documents which disclose exempt or confidential information as defined in the Act.
· Documents listed in paragraph 11.4 of the report;
· Review Team working papers (Chief Executive's Department)