Councils in a state of ‘paralysis’ over joint working arrangements

Torridge District Council leader Cllr Philip Collins. Torridge District Council leader Cllr Philip Collins.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
2:41 PM

Independent report on Torridge District Council says joint working is in a state of ‘paralysis’, councillors are ‘uninterested’ and relationships are ‘fractious’.

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Riverbank House.Riverbank House.

CRACKS are starting to appear in a joint working arrangement between Torridge District Council and North Devon Council, an independent report has found.

The study, undertaken in May 2013 and published this week, said joint working between the two councils was in a state of ‘paralysis’.

The voluntary corporate peer challenge of Torridge also identified issues with elected councillors, the council’s relationships with key partners and a lack of forward thinking and ambition.

Torridge and North Devon currently share a number of heads of services, including waste and recycling, planning and financial services.

The report said: “The current organisational structure can only be sustained for a limited period of time so the council will need to determine the future structure soon,” stated the report.

“It is important that Torridge ensures it is securing equal benefit from the shared arrangements as North Devon.”

The review, undertaken by members of the Local Government Association and other local councils, criticised councillors for being ‘uninterested’ in joint working.

“The greatest issue though, is the appetite, interest and commitment of some councillors to undertake development activities,” said the report.

“This is particularly surprising given around half of councillors were newly elected only two years ago.”

The report said officers claimed elected members had absorbed their time, provided them with contradictory directions and derailed decisions late in the day, ‘even when they have had the opportunity to be involved earlier in the process.’

It said: “We felt the decision-making arrangements involving elected members need greater clarity and, as part of this, that there is a requirement for the policy formulation arrangements involving councillors to be improved.”

Torridge’s relationships with other partners such as Bideford Town Council and the Bideford and District Chamber of Commerce were described as ‘strained and fractious’.

“We didn’t explore these relationships so we cannot comment on the reasons behind the situations that exist – but we are clear that it is in nobody’s interests for things to remain as they are,” said the report.

Torridge was praised for moving forward ‘significantly’ since it was named the second worst council in England a decade ago.

It was told its healthy finances ‘may not be the barrier currently perceived’ and that the council should demonstrate ‘much greater ambition for the district’.

Councillor Philip Collins, leader of Torridge, said he was pleased with a ‘very positive review’ which highlighted the council’s strengths and areas to improve.

He said: “Due to careful management and budget setting, the review noted that we were actually, at that moment, financially sound.

“The future is very challenging though, and no one is perfect and we are certainly not complacent, we would never sit on our laurels.”

Cllr Collins said closer working with other councils was ‘still very much on the agenda’, including working with town and parish councils.

He also said Torridge was in the early stages of investigating different and ‘more modern’ ways of working to bring the way it works and interacts with residents ‘into the 21st century’.

He added: “We have started a consultation process in which we are asking the public what they think of us, and how we can improve. There’s a lot of work to be done and members will have some difficult decisions to make.”

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