Becoming a councillor

Do you want to influence how local decisions are made?

Could you devote spare time to help your local community?

Have you got the confidence to stand up and speak in public?

Are you a good listener, with the willingness to learn?

On 2nd May this year, residents across Warwickshire will be voting for their local County Councillor. Could you be one of them?

Councillors play a key role in deciding how things are done in Warwickshire – whether it’s caring for the elderly, educating young people, maintaining the road network or managing the library service.

No qualifications are needed. Just the drive to improve services in Warwickshire, and a desire to represent your local community.

As a Councillor, you’ll attend a variety of meetings on a range of issues – and you’ll be the local point of contact for residents with concerns.

You’ll receive an allowance for the time and expense incurred on Council business. And if you take on additional tasks, such as chairing a Committee, you could receive more.

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Once elected, our Democratic Services team will support you with information, advice and training to help you get to grips with the role – and answer any questions you have about the Council.

To stand for election, you need to be:
››18 or over
››A British citizen / EU citizen / qualifying Commonwealth citizen
››On the electoral register / Lived or worked in Warwickshire for 12 months

What next?
››Email us for an official nomination form
››Get it signed by 10 people who live in the ward you wish to represent
››Return the completed form by 12pm on Friday 5th April 2013

Review of 2012 – Children and Young People

In the latest of our scrutiny reviews of 2012,  here’s a recap on the work councillors have been doing to improve services for children and young people.

Academies

One of the biggest changes the coalition government has introduced since 2010 has been its education reforms. Any school can now choose to become an “academy”; giving it greater independence from the Local Authority (LA). And in Warwickshire, the majority of secondary schools have already gone down this route.

But where does that leave the LA? Does the Council still have a role to play within academies? What about our overall responsibility towards young people in Warwickshire? How will this be affected?

A group of councillors met regularly in 2012 to explore these questions. They talked to head teachers and lead officers to consider the impact of academies – and to develop ideas for better working relationships with them in the  future.

Their report contains a number of clear recommendations which will be considered by the Children and Young People Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 30 January.

Post-16 Education

One of the freedoms that academies now have is the ability to set up their own post-16 provision (aka, 6th forms). In the past, any school that wanted to set up a 6th form would require approval from the LA first… and a range of issues would be taken into account when making that decision.

But the concern is now that lots of new 6th forms will appear, and there will not be enough students to fill the places available. This will have a negative impact on the quality and diversity of the courses offered.

Councillors have already attended a dedicated seminar on the challenges this presents to Warwickshire, and the Overview & Scrutiny Committee has looked at how the LA is trying to ensure quality and diversity. But with legislation soon making it compulsory for all young people to participate in education or training up to the age of 17 (and to 18 by 2015), this is likely to be an ongoing area of scrutiny for councillors well into the future.

Transport

One of the concerns councillors had regarding post-16 education was the lack of transport funding to assist young people in travelling to schools or colleges. Although the government is raising the participation age for education or training, it is not providing any financial assistance for transport and travel to those affected. The Overview & Scrutiny Committee has asked the Portfolio Holder to raise this with local MPs and local government groups, as it could lead to significant problems for young people, especially those living in deprivation and/or in very rural locations.

Another transport issue that gained attention last year was the removal of Passenger Transport Assistants (PTAs) from certain school bus routes. The Council is removing PTAs as part of a number of changes to school transport, which it hopes will save around £700,000 per year.

However, various schools, parents and local councillors have called on the Overview & Scrutiny Committee to investigate this policy, worried about the risks to children travelling unaccompanied to and from school – and unconvinced about the level of savings likely to be achieved. The Committee has agreed to review progress of the new policy later in 2013 when more evidence on the impacts and savings are available.

Safeguarding

Back in 2011, Ofsted inspected Warwickshire’s services for Safeguarding and Looked After Children. The verdict was that these services were “good”, although there was “capacity to improve”. Following the inspection, officers drew up an Action Plan to address those areas where improvements could be made.

A small group of councillors set about monitoring the implementation of this Action Plan during 2012, and their findings will be reported to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 30 January.

That concludes this brief review of the work of the Children and Young People Overview & Scrutiny Committee in 2012.

The first meeting of 2013 will be on 30 January at 10am in Shire Hall, Warwick. Members of the public are welcome to attend, especially if you have questions to put to the Committee. The agenda will be published a week in advance and can be accessed here.

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

We blogged recently about the government’s drive to localism, which is aiming to put power back in the hands of local people. But power is nothing without information…

…which is why we’re now publishing all of the Council’s proposed decisions online.

For the first time, we now have a live list of all the decisions and reports due to be considered by Elected Members over the coming months – fully accessible to the public.

By publishing this information live on our website, we are promoting a more open and transparent County Council that encourages residents to engage with us and get more involved in decision making.

Crucially, it also allows residents to see which decisions are due to be held in private, and gives them opportunity to challenge us on why those decisions can’t be made in an open public meeting. We think the Secretary of State would approve.

So where is it?

The decisions list is available on our Council and Democracy pages and is accessible to everyone. It can be sorted according to your preference, making it easy to find the information you’re interested in.

For example, if you want to know what’s likely to be on the next Cabinet agenda, simply sort the list by “Meeting Date” and scroll down to the Cabinet section. Or if you want to look for decisions related to the Fire Service, sort the list by “Group” and scroll down to the Fire and Rescue Service section.

Please do let us know what you think.

Do you think the Council is open and transparent?

Are you able to find the information that you need from us?

What else could we do to make things more accessible?

Could you run a Local Authority service better?

A recent change in legislation allows local people to challenge the Local Authority on who runs local services. It’s called the “Community Right to Challenge”. But what’s it all about?

The term “localism” has been pushed very had by the current government. Ministers have made changes to all sorts of legislation with a promise to “hand power back to local people”.

For example, just last week at Conservative Party Conference, the Home Secretary spoke about changing the law so victims of crime can choose the perpetrator’s punishment.

The biggest push for localism, however, has come from the Department for Communities and Local Government – the people in Westminster who essentially tell Local Authorities like us what to do.

The Secretary of State, Eric Pickles MP, has been quick to drive through the Localism Act 2011 (you can read a Plain English guide here), which promises to give local people power over their communities. The Act allows people to:

  • shape their local development plans
  • call a local referendum on certain issues
  • bid for the ownership and management of community assets
  • get involved in the delivery of Local Authority services

This last bullet point relates to a particular part of the Act called the “Community Right to Challenge”. It allows people to express an interest in running a Local Authority service in a different or more effective way. If this expression of interest is accepted (as you’d expect, there are various criteria to be met), the Local Authority must then open up a tendering exercise for that service.

The Community Right to Challenge came into effect over the Summer, and Warwickshire County Council has recently published its guidance and timetable. This page also includes contact details, so you can get in touch if you have any questions.

Schools Out?

There’s been lots of media coverage recently about the government’s reform of the education system. Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, has been far from slow in driving forward his desire to give schools more freedom and independence. But what’s the situation in Warwickshire? Councillors are about to embark on a focused review to find out…

Following legislation in 2011, we are seeing more and more maintained schools converting to “Academies”, which receive their funding directly from central government – rather than via the Local Authority.

These Academies are free to manage all sorts of things in their own way:

  • The way they offer places to pupils (their “admissions” procedure)
  • How they deliver the curriculum
  • Management of the school, including who sits on their governing body and who they employ
  • School term dates and the length of the school day

The government has also made it far easier for parents and interested groups to set up their own “Free Schools”, which are essentially brand-new schools that have all the same freedoms of an Academy.

Posing questions

But what does this mean for the Local Authority? Until now, we’ve played a central role in the school system, with responsibility for all sorts of things, such as:

  • Distributing funding to schools, and monitoring how it is spent
  • Co-ordinating admissions and the number of places available at each school
  • Employing and advising school staff
  • Managing school facilities and sites

Traditionally, the Local Authority has also provided a range of services that schools “buy back” from us, such as catering, admissions appeals, school transport, maintenance and cleaning. What’s the future for these services in Gove’s new world?

As you’d imagine, there are many questions and unknowns for Local Authorities at this time regarding their relationship with schools. It’s one of the hottest topics across all of local government.

Seeking answers

A small group of our Councillors in Warwickshire are about to start work on exploring these questions in real detail. They’ll be meeting regularly over the coming months to examine evidence, interview witnesses, probe experts and review policy.

What will this achieve? Well, they will be aiming to put forward some useful and practical ideas for the Council to put into action. Perhaps around the type of information that parents have access to when considering a school; or maybe a protocol for how Academies could work with the Local Authority to maintain community engagement.

There is certainly lots to look at. And we’ll be reporting back here with updates from the review as it progresses.

If you have any views or suggestions for what the Councillors should consider, then do let me know via richardmaybey@warwickshire.gov.uk

Improving Council services – have your say

The County Council provides a wide range of services for local residents, funded in part by your Council Tax. These cover social care, children’s services, roads and infrastructure, waste disposal, and fire and rescue.

Are these services working?

Could they be improved?

Are there hidden problems that need to be explored?

Most Council decisions are taken by the Cabinet, which is made up of 10 county councillors from the Conservative group. However, there are many other councillors, from across the political parties, whose role is to hold the Cabinet to account on those decisions.

This is done via something called “Overview & Scrutiny”. Councillors choose specific topics to examine and scrutinise in detail, and then try to form clear recommendations about how to improve them. The focus is on better outcomes for residents and service users – and it is a key element of the Council’s democratic process.

Councillors will soon be deciding what topics they’ll be looking at over the next 12 months – and they’d like to hear your views*.

What should the Council be scrutinising?

Please email your thoughts by 6 May 2012 to: democraticservices@warwickshire.gov.uk

*Scrutiny only has the capacity to look at certain issues. However, any requests that Councillors are unable to investigate will be passed on to the relevant Council department.

Interested in the changing world of social care and health?

On 15 February, the Council’s scrutiny committee responsible for these areas is meeting to look at a range of topical issues, including:

  • The future of services at George Eliot Hospital
  • Plans to modernise the West Midlands Ambulance Service
  • How Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust is trying to achieve Foundation Status
  • Social care updates on dementia services, staffing capacity and local accounts
  • Health updates on Warwickshire LINk and the Local HealthWatch pathfinder programme

The agenda and papers for the meeting can be downloaded here.

There will be 30 minutes at the beginning for public questions. So if you’d like to ask Councillors anything about Social Care and/or Health services in Warwickshire, please do come along.

If possible, please send your questions through in advance to Ann Mawdsley – annmawdsley@warwickshire.gov.uk

Adult Social Care and Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee

Wednesday 12 February 2012, 10am

Committee Room 2, Shire Hall, Warwick

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