Case studies of local authorities that have gone through the process of reform to unitary status have been pulled together by the Improvement and Development Agency to assist councils that are currently undergoing the change. The IDeA says those councils that have been through the process have a wealth of experience to offer.
The case studies have been published in ‘Gearing up for change – preparing for the new unitary councils’, which is primarily aimed at council leaders and senior members of authorities undergoing restructuring, but the IDeA says it will also be useful to other councillors as well as to chief executives and senior managers.
The studies draw on the experience of elected members and pose a series of questions as well as providing building blocks for those leading the changes. It also accepts that in some cases there may be opposition to the reforms with some councillors being uncertain about whether they will still have a place on the new authority and others not wishing to seek re-election. All councillors it says currently have an existing electoral mandate and so have an important and constructive part to play.
The IDeA believes the importance of elected members setting the pace and defining their own vision of the restructuring process cannot be overstated, especially as once it is underway restructuring can be mechanistic. If the process rather than the vision drives the restructuring there is a danger that it will not truly serve the needs of local people and communities. Elected members may find things are set in motion that are difficult to change.
Tony McDermott, the Leader of Halton Borough Council, one of four unitaries created in the North West in 1998, advised authorities involved in the latest round of changes, “Be brave and bold. Don’t be beguiled into entering into lots of joint arrangements with the
council or the area you have just departed from. That will just keep ticking over what happened in the past.”