Warwickshire hosts regional conference!

ADSO East and West Midlands Regional Conference, 3 July 2015

“Looking Ahead” was the theme for this year’s regional conference for the East and West Midlands branches of the Association of Democratic Services Officers. Democratic Services – as the core facility that underpins local authority governance and decision-making – has to be a flexible and adaptable service to effectively responds to local and national political agendas. As “geographers of the political state” Democratic Services staff have to be one step ahead, constantly horizon scanning and ensuring that robust governance and decision-making continues as their organisations transform and reshape.

The regional conference was hosted by Warwickshire County Council and included plenary sessions from David Carter, Monitoring Officer at Warwickshire County Council, and John Gregory, Grant Thornton, on the future of local government and democratic services. Simon Goacher, from Weightmans LLP, provided an update on recent case law affecting the sector.

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The event, which was sponsored by Audiominutes, Astech and Modern.gov, attracted 50 delegates from across the Midlands. In addition to the plenary sessions, there was a strong focus on the development of practical skills and knowledge. Delegates had a choice of three workshops which reflected the other theme for the event: working in a hung council (facilitated by Janet Purcell, Warwickshire County Council), combined authorities and new models of governance (James Doble, Cherwell and South Northamptonshire Councils) and career development (Laura Latham, Stockport CCG and Sarah Cottam, North East Derbyshire District Council).

Mala Mistry, Solihull MBC said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the ADSO Conference and came away feeling refreshed and re-energised. The plenary sessions were informative and interesting and there were lots of opportunities in the workshops and throughout the whole day to discuss a wide range of issues that we as Democratic Services officers are all grappling with at the moment. A very worthwhile event which I would completely recommend.”

For more information about the Association of Democratic Services Officers, visit the web page: http://www.adso.co.uk/



Councillor Question Time – Local Democracy Week

It was Local Democracy Week  last week. One of the key aims of the week is getting young people involved in democracy. Warwickshire VOX and Members of the Youth Parliament are elected each year by young people and do a great job of representing the views of young people and campaigning on the issues that matter to young people in Warwickshire.

We’ve blogged here before about Councillors engaging with VOX and MYPs, and we thought we should build on the success of our previous events.

We thought it would be great to bring together the VOX and MYPs and some of our Councillors for a Question Time event – putting our Councillors on the spot and giving VOX and MYPs a chance to hold them to account – any they really did!

We selected four Councillors from across the County to form our panel – Alan Farnell (Leader of the County Council), Richard Cheney, Mike Gittus and Tim Naylor.

The MYPs and VOX didn’t hold back on questions – about cuts to the  youth service, transport to sixth forms and colleges, careers advice in schools, and the minimum wage for 16 year olds.

We had a good debate online with some of the young people  as well, who were reporting on the event as well:

The event went really well. In listening to the young people discuss issues with the Councillors you could see that they have a lot in common – both are elected to represent the views of others, and campaign for the issues of local people.

I’m confident that we’ll be blogging on here soon about the other ways our Councillors will be engaging with young people about the issues they face, and how the Council can try to address them. If you’ve got any ideas about how we can do this – leave us a comment below!

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.

Everything we do is Democracy – but this is Local Democracy Week

This week (15th – 19th October) is European Local Democracy Week. What does this mean?

Here at Warksdemocracy we help support your local County Councillors in their roles as your representatives and community champions, so that they can represent your views and deal with residents’ problems.

But our job is also to help you get directly involved that the decisions that affect you – whether by coming to meetings and telling Councillors directly, signing a petition, or writing to your Councillors to let them know your views.

All of this happens every day, and we regularly have public questions at meetings and have plenty of petitions submitted, both traditional paper and via our ePetitions facility

Local Democracy Week is all about making that extra push to get people involved in the decisions that affect them, with a particular focus on young people.

We’re taking the opportunity to let members of the public know about the various ways they can get involved in the work of Council.  Nearly all of the Council’s meetings are held in public, and you find out about future meetings, and download past reports and minutes here.

Before making any major decisions, the Council consults local people first.  All of the current consultations can be found on our consultation pages. You can also sign up to receive emails when consultations are launched.

We’ll be blogging more about Local Democracy Week as the week goes on, and tweeting from our public meetings this week. In the meantime you can find our more information about Councillors, Petitions, Elections and Democracy on our website.

Getting to the heart of young people’s issues

Young people discussing their concerns with Councillors

Warwickshire has a vibrant pool of young people engaged in politics and democracy, with lots of ideas and issues they want to see addressed. They now have a clearer route into the County Council to raise awareness of those issues…

Last night, two of our leading County Councillors met with Warwickshire VOX (Local Youth Councils) and local Members of the Youth Parliament (MYPs) to gain a better understanding of the issues that matter to young people. The idea was to:

  • Establish a dialogue, so that communication between Councillors and young people is better
  • Listen to issues of concern for young people, and how Councillors can try to address these concerns
  • Work out how young people can be more involved in decision making in Warwickshire

We’re pleased to say the meeting went really well. MYPs and VOX members really got their concerns across to the Councillors on a range of matters, including:

  • Youth unemployment
  • Bus services
  • Negative stereotyping of young people in the media

Councillors valued the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of the challenges being faced, and have now committed to meeting formally with VOX and MYPs every term to try and address them.

There is also a commitment to getting young people more involved in Council decision making and scrutiny. We’ll keep you up to date with how this goes.

As always, we’d welcome your views on this story – or any other Council matters. Please get in touch via email or Twitter, or post a comment below.

NHS Reforms – How will they work in Warwickshire?

A really good turnout!

Yesterday was pretty busy around here – we held a partnership event for all of the major health organisations in Warwickshire, to try and work out how everyone will work together as a result of the NHS reforms. The event was co-hosted by Councillor Les Caborn (our Chair of the Adult Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee) and Andrew Lawrence from the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS).

At the event we had reps from (watch out for acronyms here) CCGsPCTs, HWBBCQC, LINk, NHSCfPSHealthwatch, and local Councils.

Locally, most of the unanswered questions are about how these agencies will work together, as people have new responsibilities, or find themselves working with different organisations. The idea behind the event was to get everyone in the same room, to try to provide answers to these questions, and build what will be important working relationships for the future.

Here are some of the things we learned:

Health is about patients and the public

I’m not saying that we didn’t all already know this, but it was kind of encouraging to affirm this as a lot of the debate on the reforms has been about structures and organisations, rather than improving care. It was really useful to try and map out all of the people and organisations involved – each table put patients and the public right at the centre of their ‘solar system’.

Note the Spaceship…

A lot of our work should focus on stopping people becoming patients, or sending them to the right people to get better.

I suppose this expands on the adage of “prevention is better than cure”, though is a bit more complicated than that. We heard from health professionals that in a lot of cases, people who have minor complaints either put off seeing their GP until their condition gets more serious (which is clearly bad for the patient, and more expensive for the NHS) – or even worse, wait until their condition is really advanced, when they present to A&E on a Saturday night, with a problem that should have been sorted long before then.

A focus on early intervention and preventative campaigns doesn’t just make sense from a health point of view; with budgets as constrained as they are, can we afford not to nip these problems in the bud?

GPs are getting on with the job they’ve been given

We had reps from 2 out of the 3 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) operating in Warwickshire at our event – the message from them was that, despite concerns expressed by the British Medical Association and others, they’ve been given the responsibility to commission healthcare services in their area, so they’re getting on with it.

The CCGs are going through the process of being authorised at the moment, with them taking over responsibility from the Arden Cluster (Primary Care Trust) in April 2013. As with any membership organisation, there is the problem of engagement, and they admit that not all GPs will want to be involved with commissioning. They say they are working to combat this though.

Health Scrutiny is like a spaceship (yes, really)

Continuing the solar system theme here – County and Unitary Councils have had the responsibility since 2001 for scrutinising local health services (i.e. Health Scrutiny) and have powers to require information from local health trusts, and to call in their Chief Executives if there are problems. Out of all of health bodies, Health Scrutiny hasn’t been really affected by the health reforms, and still has the powers to look at anything that Councillors and public want it to. This can range from the closure of a ward in Rugby, to a specific group to look at Mental Health services for young people, or even parking at University Hospital in Coventry. Scrutiny can go anywhere, and look at anything. Like a spaceship.

The next steps in Warwickshire

The event went really well – you can see some more of the debate and photos on Twitter (@WarksDemocracy). Quick feedback from most people was that it was useful to get around a table with everyone – even if we didn’t all agree all the time.

County Councillors will be working with District Councillors over the coming months to work out how local democracy and accountability can be promoted in the new health world. We’ll be looking to avoid duplication between councils and hopefully, by working together, get better results for local residents. This should then help how the councils work with the CCGs, Health and Wellbeing Board, and Health Scrutiny.

We’ll be holding another event in October – hopefully we can update you all further after that – things are moving pretty quickly, so who knows where we’ll be by then!

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