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Paper 4  -  23 March 2001

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

23 March 2001

DEVELOPING A COMMUNITY PLANNING FRAMEWORK FOR HAMPSHIRE

Report by the Chief Executive, Test Valley Borough Council

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RECOMMENDATION

That this paper be approved as the basis for developing community planning in Hampshire.

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INTRODUCTION

1. A group of officers from the County Council, Basingstoke and Deane, East Hampshire and Test Valley have been working together to advise on the most effective mechanism for co-ordinating community planning across Hampshire. The group has included the Chief Executive of Community Action Hampshire. Brief preliminary discussions have been held with the Leader of Hampshire County Council and the Chairman of the Association. The result is the following joint paper collated by Test Valley and agreed by the Chief Executives’ Group on 2 March.

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

2. * County, District and Parish Councils must work in partnership to avoid duplication of effort, wasted resources and confusion of the public.

* The process should be inclusive of all partners and stakeholders, even if they do not have a duty to prepare a community plan but there should be an acceptance of the DETR guidance that local authorities, as local democratic bodies, will have the leading role in the process.

* Particular effort needs to be given to joint ownership of the process and acceptance of its role in policy development and service delivery.

* The objective of community planning and the challenge of Council leadership in this process is to create a force for integration across the boundaries of organisations and co-ordinate all our efforts in meeting community needs.

* The process offers huge opportunities for coordination of public involvement, policy convergence and the joining up of service outcomes.

* A protocol for joint working must be established to avoid ‘unilateral’ or competing strategies which purport to commit partners without agreement.

* In particular, local partnership arrangements should ensure that the protocol protects the interests of partners who may not be capable of resourcing the process at every level. For example, the County Council may be unable to service area forums at sub-district level. In those instances Districts would need to ensure that strategic / County issues are referred up to the local partnership meeting where the County Council is able to respond.

* For the process to be both robust and enduring over time it needs to be embodied in a simple mechanism of community involvement and review.

GENERAL REQUIREMENTS

3. There are a number of main elements and requirements for this mechanism:

(i) The need to give the Community Plan local geographical expression. We need to demonstrate that the various elements of the plan are based on the varying needs and opportunities of different parts of the district/county and to make it understandable to people whose perspective begins from their home or work place and their immediate surroundings.

(ii) The need to take the community planning process closer to the people. We need to make the plan less of a document which conveys our vision about the district(s)/county and more of a reflection of community needs and aspirations and the community reference point for discovering and implementing solutions.

(iii) The need to involve all partners. We need to demonstrate our willingness to operate as an equal partner in the community. We will have to develop a culture and a management style – and perhaps ultimately also a structure – that leads through participation and involvement.

(iv) The need to make the mechanism inclusive at all levels. Members will need to be involved and, naturally all the main partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors. There will also have to be an appropriate forum for the general public.

(v) The need to add value. The whole system will grind into the sand if it is too complicated and involves too many layers of visioning and community liaison meetings. It should be more than a talking shop and should not increase bureaucracy.

A POSSIBLE FRAMEWORK

4. The working group has considered three levels of community involvement and joint working which could satisfy these requirements. The description of the arrangements set out below is not intended to be prescriptive and there should be plenty of room for local flexibility.

5. The first level of community involvement in joint working is the Community Planning Forum. DETR Guidance on preparing community strategies advises that: "… the most effective way of ensuring the commitment of other organisations will be for the local authority to establish a community planning partnership … (comprising) … the key partners operating in the area." The Community Planning forum is therefore essentially the same thing as the Local Strategic Partnership promoted separately by DETR guidance.

6. This is, in many ways, the logical development of the existing Policy Forums which have the advantage of being established structures but the disadvantage that they lack a clear and consistent purpose. In order to fulfil their new role as Community Planning Forums, the Policy Forums will have to be reformed, expanded in membership and terms of reference.

7. It would be impractical for an all inclusive group of partners to meet regularly to carry out the policy work in the community plan. A twin track approach is therefore suggested. An executive or steering group would be comprised of executive Members of the County and District Councils, supported by Chief Executive or Director level lead officers, a representative of the local Association of Parish Councils and senior representatives of key partner organisations. This group would meet, say, four times per year. Discussions have already started between the County Council and District Councils to set up meetings between senior elected members to consider local authority 'visions', appropriate partners and key strategic issues for the area and the best way forward locally.

8. An ‘open’ Partnership Forum involving a wider membership, but probably called by invitation, would meet occasionally, possibly on a ‘themed workshop’ basis. The precise form of the model, the frequency of meetings and the topics discussed would vary according to local discretion.

9. The second level is the concept of (sub-District) Area forums which have been discussed many times in the political management arrangements debates. Notwithstanding differing political opinions, it is difficult to see how any authority is going to satisfy the requirement of the new legislation without some form of area structure and this will be essential if non-executive members are going to develop their policy making and scrutiny role through more effective representation. This matter will, however, have be left to local discretion.

10. Thirdly, both the Area Forums and the Community Planning Forums might be brought together by a Countywide Standing Conference meeting on a six or twelve monthly interval which would draw in representatives of all organisations, groups and societies within the County as well as the general public. This is not the same thing as visioning (although visioning might be part of it) as it ought not to be necessary to go back to basics at each Standing Conference meeting. The Community Planning Forum is a kind of District policy group for the Standing Conference, the Area Forums are local sounding boards and the whole thing (with the exception of area structures) would be served by a Secretariat of Officers from District and County Council.

11. The main functions of the Standing Conference could be monitoring, strategy development and specific studies, conciliation, and advocacy.

* The body would monitor the various trends – demographic, social, economic and legislative – effecting the future of the County/District and would share and produce key data about the district.

* The body would contribute to and assist in the review of the community plan.

* Since there are almost always differences of opinion between the Councils, other agencies and various sections of the community, the Conference would provide a forum within which the divergent views can be reconciled.

* Finally, the Conference would provide a means by which communities, agencies, groups and societies of the County could speak with one voice, to other districts, counties, regions, national bodies and central government.

12. The Standing Conference has an obvious parallel in HIOWA and may be most effectively managed by the Association. HIOWA has a good track record of gathering consensus and developing joint approaches between its constituent authorities and has a structure of joint Member and officer support. It should be recognised, however, that the County Council would play an important role at this level in setting the framework for community planning at district level. Agreement between County and District Councils on this principle is essential if duplication of Community Plans is to be avoided.

13. Further consideration needs to be given to the involvement of Parish Councils and non-local authority partners. Following the agreement of this paper by HIOWA there will be detailed consultation with the Hampshire Association of Parish and Town Councils and in each district it is recommended that there is discussion with the local Association(s). As co-ordination of the voluntary sector could prove the most problematic the Chief Executive of Community Action Hampshire has been involved in the preparation of this paper and is considering ways in which his organisation could act as the link with Councils for Voluntary Service and other voluntary bodies.

ALAN JONES
Chief Executive, Test Valley Borough Council

Date: 9 March 2001
Annex: 0
Contact: Alan Jones - 01264 368102

Last update: 14/03/2001
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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