Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Southampton City Council (LGA 16)


  1.  Southampton City Council is a unitary authority and since the 29 October 2001 has been operating Executive Arrangements. The Council has adopted the Cabinet and Leader model. For 18 months prior to that, the Council operated transitional Executive Arrangements.

  2.  The City Council considers that it has good experience of operating the new arrangements and by and large they are a success.

  3.  The City Council's experience is that the planning framework—in this case the plans constituting the Policy Framework—are not integrated with the requirements of operating the new Executive Arrangements. Timeframes are frequently not sufficient to allow Scrutiny to effectively engage with draft plans and issues, guidance and pro-formas are issued late reducing the ability of the Council to pro-actively engage with planning requirements and there seems to be "patchy" understanding within various central Government departments as to the impact that new Executive Arrangements have on local authority decision-making.

  4.  It appears from anecdotal discussions that colleagues in other authorities are also experiencing these difficulties.


  5.  At the heart of the new Executive Arrangements is the Policy Framework. The Policy Framework (and Budget) provide the foundations for the authority. The Policy Framework is the subject of this memorandum. It consists of a raft of statutory plans at the cornerstone of the Council's activities. These include the Best Value Performance Plan, the Community Strategy, the Crime and Disorder Reduction Strategy, the Development Plan, the Early Years and Educational Development Plans, the Local Transport Plan and the Youth Justice Plan. Regulations govern the content of the Policy Framework[2].

  6.  These plans and strategies are recommended to the Full Council by the Executive for approval.


  7.  The Overview and Scrutiny function is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the new arrangements to operate effectively, being something quite new and unique for local authorities.

  8.  Overview and Scrutiny is encouraged to endorse and embrace the policy formulation aspect and this approach has been adopted by Southampton City Council who view the engagement of Overview and Scrutiny with the Policy Framework as fundamental to the Council's operation.

  9.  Guidance issued by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions—New Council Constitution—Guidance Pack—Volume 1—states at paragraph 2.29:

  "The Executive should adopt an inclusive approach to preparing the draft Budget, plans and strategies and to policy development more generally. It should ensure that Councillors outside the Executive (whether or not they are a member of an Overview and Scrutiny Committee) have the opportunity to put forward proposals to them for the Budget or policy development. Overview and Scrutiny Committees should also play an integral part in policy development and the Executive should consult these Committees regularly in the process of preparing the draft Budget and draft plans and strategies. In the case of the Development Plan, the Executive should consult all bodies within the local authority which take Development Control decisions."

  10.  A fundamental part of the new Arrangements, in the view of Southampton City Council, is the effective engagement by Overview and Scrutiny with the Policy Framework. Southampton City Council considers that this is important. This requires the provision of appropriate levels of information in a timely manner as key plans and strategies constituting the Policy Framework are prepared by the Executive for submission to Full Council. This process also requires the Executive to have sufficient time to be able to formulate proposals. In addition, following the expression of considered views by Overview and Scrutiny, the Executive also needs time to be able to take those views into account before reporting their recommendations to Full Council. During this time, the Council also needs to undertake the usual activities associated with the production of statutory and, indeed, non-statutory plans including consultation with stakeholders, citizens, other agencies, etc.


  11.  Southampton City Council's experience is that this approach can work well but is prone to difficulties predominantly caused by timeframes and logistical arrangements imposed on the Council by central Government in relation to the production of statutory plans.

  12.  The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has recently published (January 2002) a research document entitled "A Review of Local Authority Statutory and non-Statutory Service and Policy Planning Requirements". This is to be welcomed since it acknowledges, inter alia, the problems associated with timetables for production of plans, the duplication of the planning process, the prescriptive nature of the process and the need to rationalise/streamline the framework generally for making sure the planning burden placed on local authorities does not detract from their other obligations.

  13.  It is important to see the operation of the statutory and non-statutory service and policy planning process within local authorities within the context of the new Executive Arrangements. Within that context, it is also important to take account of the processes that need to operate within a Council operating Executive Arrangements to make that system effective, particularly in respect of the Policy Framework.

  14.  It is Southampton City Council's experience, both in transitional mode and since the 29 October 2001 that the ability of the Council—that is to say both Overview and Scrutiny and the Executive—to engage meaningfully with the Policy Framework has been inhibited on more than one occasion as a result of:

    (a)  guidance for plans arriving late so that plans need to be prepared to a tight timeframe, not taking account of the need to engage effectively with scrutiny;

    (b)  deadlines being changed without taking account of the impact that this might have;

    (c)  an inflexible approach to the submission of plans, ie an unwillingness to acknowledge the timeframes are unrealistic;

    (d)  on several occasions, an apparent lack of knowledge as to what new Executive Arrangements were, and that decision-making had changed within authorities operating Executive Arrangements.

  15.  Southampton City Council's Constitution largely follows the model Constitution produced by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions as part of its statutory/non-statutory guidance. It has Budget and Policy Framework Rules which facilitate the proper and effective engagement with Scrutiny that we see as being so important to our local Constitutional settlement.

  16.  Authorities operating new Executive Arrangements have their detailed rules and procedures contained within their Constitution, and it is acknowledged that much of the detail lies in the hands of each authority. Southampton City Council will be reviewing its Constitution robustly in May 2002 and addressing these issues from an internal perspective. But that does not detract from the fact that many of the issues arise not from the Council's own internal procedures but from external factors, particularly the operation of central Government. It does appear that not all Government departments are aware that many local authorities are operating new systems of decision-making, and the implications that that brings for local authorities in terms of timeliness, etc.


  17.  Given the Government's review of the local authority statutory and non-statutory service and policy planning requirements, Southampton City Council would wish to recommend that the Government should:

    —  consider the way in which the Policy Framework plans are timetabled and organised;

    —  review the time allowed to local authorities to formulate Policy Framework plans and strategies;

    —  ensure that guidance pro-formas and other material are available considerably in advance of the deadline for the production of statutory plans; and

    —  ensure that all Government departments are familiar with the new Executive Arrangements and the implications that that may bring.

  18.  In relation to the last point, the Local Government Modernisation Team (in DLTR) may well be able to assist in this process. Southampton City Council would also be willing to share its experiences in whatever manner is considered appropriate with any other Government department so as to explain some of the difficulties in detail that have arisen in relation to specific plans.

2   Section 13 Local Government Act 2000 permits the Secretary of State to make regulations so that certain functions of a local authority may not be the sole responsibility of the Executive. The Local Authorities (Functions and Responsibilities) (England) Regulations 2000 include at Schedule 3 a list of plans and strategies constituting the minimum content of the Policy Framework. Authorities have discretion to add plans and strategies to this list. This list must appear in the Constitution. This minimum statutory list has subsequently been amended by the Local Authorities (Functions and Responsibilities) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2001. Back

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