(A report presented by Councillor Judith Skinner, Chairman of the Joint Scrutiny Panel)
The Overview and Scrutiny Committees of Boston and East Lindsey commissioned a Joint Scrutiny Panel to undertake a review of the Strategic Alliance and merged workforce.
The Chairman of the Panel presented its report on the review to the Committee, asking Members to recommend it for consideration at the next full Council meeting.
The Panel met 3 times, interviewed 6 witnesses and conducted a survey of Boston Borough and East Lindsey District Councillors to canvass their views. The scope of the Panel’s work, the questions put to witnesses, the results of the survey and the notes of the Panel’s meetings were appended to the report.
The Panel Chairman explained that managing scrutiny across the two authorities was not easy in terms of aligning Councillors’ diaries to attend joint meetings. The Panel appreciated the support, guidance and expertise from the Scrutiny, Safeguarding & Executive Support Officer and the Assistant Director – Corporate and were grateful to the witnesses who participated in the process.
Witnesses gave a wholly positive picture of the progress of the alliance, illustrated by examples of how teams across the two Councils had come together. The Panel sought, and received, assurance that the projected savings outlined in the original agreement were being achieved. The Panel asked for examples of how collaborative working had furthered opportunities for both Councils and further suggested ways in which the alliance could effectively use combined power to achieve successful outputs. Members had asked about how the merging cultures of two and, now, three Councils could be successfully managed and had highlighted ways of doing this in its recommendations to create a common identity for this large area of Lincolnshire.
The Panel sent out a questionnaire to all Councillors to gauge their views on how the alliance was progressing. Several common themes emerged from the 15 responses received, which formed the basis of some of the Panel’s recommendations. These included clear lines of communications, cementing relationships, alignment of policies and joint meetings.
The Panel Chairman added that not all Councillors were positive about the alliance and many had not responded to the questionnaire.
The Vice-Chairman then addressed the Committee and explained that
The Panel agreed the following recommendations.
1. That staff ‘snapshot’ surveys are reported to Overview / Scrutiny on a 6-monthly basis along with staff turnover figures, in order to monitor any significant changes;
2. Review the ICT roadmap priorities and ensure that shared email addresses for officers is given the highest priority;
3. To develop a shared strategy to ensure that staff are valued and given opportunities to progress, with a view to enhancing recruitment and retention;
4. To better communicate to staff, councillors, and residents any relevant updates or priorities, and to celebrate the successes across the alliance;
5. To provide opportunities for more collaborative working for all councillors, such as scrutiny panels, project groups, and other shared opportunities across the alliance / partnership, especially where there is commonality, e.g., licensing and planning policy;
6. To provide an opportunity for councillors to visit partner districts to meet other councillors and gain an awareness of the ‘place’ of other districts;
7. Move to an alignment of policies, e.g., procurement, climate change, and recycling;
8. To encourage the development of a strong sense of identity within the 3 areas of the alliance and the opportunities that they offer. This will help develop a sustainable, resilient, and vibrant economy and population;
9. To prepare a strategy so the partnership is fully prepared for the possibility of devolution.
10.That the alliance should work together to lobby the government to ensure the financial sustainability of the IDBs on which the residents and the land of the 3 councils heavily rely;
11.To convene a shared scrutiny panel of the 3 Councils in the new Partnership at the end of the first and second year, in order to undertake a review of the Partnership and merged workforce.
The Panel’s Vice-Chairman reiterated that it had not been easy to get Members together and it would be more difficult with a third authority, but it was essential to make the process productive and allow everyone to have their say.
The alliance encouraged each authority to retain its identity and sovereignty, which was crucial. More joint working would be beneficial and it was essential that scrutiny committees monitored surveys to maintain momentum and ensure staff were behind it because some concerns had been raised. There would be a report to a future scrutiny committee and an annual review.
During debate, there was concern about some comments in Appendix D and the issues raised, particularly regarding communications. Members were aware of the pressure on staff, which needed close monitoring. It was felt the Partnership was asking a great deal of senior staff in terms of workload and the geological area that they had to cover, which needed to be addressed to ensure they did not lose key personnel. There seemed to be more negative comments than positive; however, the focus had to be on the positive in order to move forward.
Other Panel Members commented that it had been good to discuss matters with ELDC Members and find they had similar views. It was satisfying that they had produced recommendations and their work had achieved a way forward. The survey was now two months old and some Councillors might have changed their views. It would be essential to review matters six-monthly and proceed with three-way scrutiny, which was the right way forward.
A Member expressed concern in case the recommendations were accepted by one authority’s executive body and not another’s. The Portfolio Holder explained that Executive Members did not work in isolation; they held joint liaison meetings and this would continue with the three authorities. There had been many changes since the process began and some negatives had arisen, so there might be compromises, but the process was bringing the positives together. It was a great achievement from the Joint Scrutiny Panel, demonstrating that joint scrutiny worked well.
The Finance Portfolio Holder expressed surprise about comments concerning communications, as Members had been given all officers’ contact details and responses were received within two days.
The Leader commented that there were many positives from the process and that partnership working was an established way of making progress.