Headlines: October 5th, 2006



Gateshead Council plans to restructure the way it carries out its business to strengthen the role of local people and ward councillors. Under the plan, responsibilities of the ten Cabinet members will be re-allocated. Five members will take on services such as housing or transport. The remaining five will have responsibility for an area of the borough and they will look at problems of communities in their area and across the borough.

The plan comes ahead of the White Paper on Double Devolution which is expected to set out a vision for local government where power is moved down from Whitehall to councils and from councils to citizens. It is likely to propose a stronger framework of opportunity and responsibility to bring about a double devolution, not just to the Town Hall but beyond, to neighbourhoods and individual citizens. Re-shaping local government in this way would mean a more visible and powerful role for ward councillors who would speak and act for their communities and neighbourhoods and hold authorities to account.

Under the Gateshead plan the five Cabinet members will each chair an area forum made up of local ward councillors and representatives of other partners like the police and health services, as well as local groups such as young people and the elderly. The exact make up of each forum could vary as local people will get the chance to influence how it operates.

Gateshead worked on the plans with the Young Foundation, a national organisation that champions social innovation and has a track record of working to empower neighbourhoods. They acted as a critical friend on the scheme.