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Devolution giving communities more
What is 'Devolution'?
Devolution can be in several forms, ranging from devolved local management arrangements, delegation of a service for which a fee is paid, through to full devolution of the responsibility for a service that Cornwall Council will no longer have responsibility. We are keen to pursue a comprehensive and ambitious programme of devolution packages with Town and Parish Councils and community groups. Several services also have budget commitments to carry out their own reviews aimed at achieve savings both now and in the future, and have been contacting local councils about them.
Ahead of the game
Many are not aware that Cornwall Council’s commitment to supporting town and parish councils in running and managing local services, is a move which has preempted the Government’s localism initiative, and along with a few other Councils is clearly ahead of the game.
The new Devolution Team
To support this, taking into account feedback we were receiving as part of the Localism service we took the opportunity to create a dedicated Devolution Team to give devolution a real push. The new team reports directly to Paul Masters Assistant Chief Executive. The team is headed by Rob Andrew who was previously Localism Manager for Mid-Cornwall, Scott Sharples who was previously Community Network Manager for Falmouth and Penryn and Kerry Knight who was previously a senior Community Network support officer. Together they have many years experience and first hand knowledge of working in many of the services we are looking to devolve such as highways and environmental management. The team can also call in expert support from other Directorates as required.
To manage the devolution process a Devolution Management Group (DMG) has been set up, which includes Heads of Service and senior managers, to drive the roll out of devolution programme, ensuring proper processes are in place and to developing solutions to problems. This meets regularly and reports to the Localism Board which includes relevant cabinet members and Corporate Directors.
In addition to the contacts above a dedicated devolution e-mail has been set up firstname.lastname@example.org which will act as a gateway to receive all devolution queries and signpost to the appropriate recipient. In due course we will set up a dedicated web page for devolution.
Initial discussions with Towns and Parishes should usually begin with your local Community Network Manager, who will help you form your ideas, and liaise with the Devolution Team. The Manager will also ensure that your local Cornwall Council members are involved and briefed. As the process gets into more detailed negotiations the Devolution team become involved and liaise with appropriate managers in the service and support departments. Your approach will be logged, and details entered onto a spreadsheet along with devolution proposals from other councils. This will allow the Team to look at possible ‘cluster’ arrangements, and link to devolution proposals being put forward by Cornwall Councils services, so that the potential for more cost effective packages of services and assets can be examined. It has been found to be easier to keep meetings informal and many Town and Parish Councils have identified a lead member or set up a sub-committee to take forward the negotiations.
The guidelines for selecting devolution packages include:
1. We’d prefer place based packages of devolution in the first instance rather than a single service approach. Packages may include asset transfer as well as service delivery. Some early packages, where negotiations are well underway and nearing completion include:
- rural parish – managing a ‘honesty box’ car park and maintaining local toilets (Case Study 1 below)
- coastal parish – managing a car park, maintaining local toilets, managing open space and harbour administration (Case Study 2 below )
- coastal town – managing a green open event space (Case Study 3 below )
2. Town / Parish Council should produce a business case for the devolution package to demonstrate it understands the risks, has the knowledge, skills and capacity to take on the package and will offer a local community benefit. The Devolution team will work with the Localism team and colleagues to support you in producing a business case.
3. We are happy to look at a staged approach to devolution. Some Councils feel its sensible to take on a limited devolution scheme first, and as their skills and confidence increase, they are keen to consider taking on more services in the future.
Progress so far
In the first few months we have met a range of people and councils to gain a better understanding of their concerns and issues, and potential opportunities for devolution that exist. The team has also been working to establish a ‘base-line’ record of the various discussions and negotiations that had happened as part of the One Cornwall process, so as to ensure that no opportunities are missed. This work has identified approximately 20 pathfinders where we are pushing forward devolution packages as a ‘first tranche’. These pathfinders have been chosen because negotiations had already been underway and/or an opportunity for a local devolution package has been identified by service managers The discussions and negotiations on these pathfinders have shown that devolution is a complicated topic with significant long term operational, legal, financial, risk management and health and safety issues that need to be considered. However, all involved are keen to get the issues resolved so that the devolution packages are set up to succeed and not to fail.
We are finding that in the ‘first tranche’, the simplest devolution packages are taking up 6 months to move from initial discussion to legal sign off as the issues are ironed out. More complicated packages could take considerably longer. With time, as experience develops and the processes become refined, we expect to see these timescales accelerated considerably. The overall devolution programme will be a rolling programme. At this time it will not be possible to take on any major new devolution packages until sufficient of the first tranche pathfinders have been signed off and are operational. If your Town and Parish is not one of the ‘first tranche’ but is keen to push forward with devolution and be part of the ‘second tranche’ then it can start to prepare itself by having a discussion with the Community Network Manager and possibly identifying a lead member and/or establishing a sub-committee.
As part of the work to pursue a comprehensive and ambitious programme of devolution packages with Town and Parish Councils and community groups we need to recognise that several services also have budget commitments to carry out their own reviews aimed at achieve savings both now and in the future, and have been contacting local councils about them.
Some case studies
In this example the Parish Council is considering whether to take on the lease of a small local car park and a local toilet. The car park has an ‘honesty box’, and it is anticipated that the income from the car park will offset the expenditure of cleaning the toilets. Some of the practical issues being considered are:
- Length of lease
- Move from ‘honesty’ box to another more effective form of collection but then have issues with enforcement
- Undertaking safety inspection of car parks to avoid claims for trips etc
- Toilet cleaning – risk of hazardous objects e.g. hypodermic needles
In this example a coastal Parish is in the very early stages of considering whether to be involved in some aspects of the management of one of the local harbours. Some of the practical issues being considered are:
- Who / how are harbour boat permits administered and any enforcement action taken?
- Inspecting and logging the condition of safety equipment
- Management of the car park / boat storage areas
- Management of the public conveniences
- Management of the flower beds
In this example the Town Council is considering their involvement in the day to day management of a public open space that has regular events during the summer and has a bandstand and café on it. Some of the practical issues being considered are:
- Who applies for temporary events licenses?
- How is vandalism dealt with?
- Who / how do they collect deposits from event organisers?
- How will the Town Council supply an out of hours contact?
Busting devolution myths!
Below are some popular misconceptions:
Myth 1: Grass cutting – if a Town or Parish Council takes on a local grass cutting service on behalf of Cornwall Council, it will have to raise the local precept to pay for it. Wrong – we offer a set payment to Towns and Parish Councils for grass cutting based on the area of grass to be cut and the Cornwall Council minimum policy standard for the number of cuts. Only if the Town/Parish wants to cut the grass more often will it need to raise the money to pay for this itself.
Myth 2: Grass cutting – Local councils wanting to take on grass cutting on behalf of Cornwall Council will have to seek three competitive quotes every year. Wrong – this was a requirement under some previous agency agreements but it is no longer the case.
Myth 3: Power over local councils - Cornwall Council can force a Town or Parish Council to take on a local service. Wrong – Cornwall Council has no powers that it can use to make a Town or Parish Council take on a service. The decision to accept the devolution or delegation of a service is entirely under the control of the local council.