Oldham Council is to implement radical new changes in District Working.
The next steps, approved by Annual Council today, will affect local boundaries and how decisions are made at a neighbourhood level, including testing a new power allowing local residents to ‘call in’ decisions.
A report outlining the changes was drawn up following consultation with all Ward Members plus discussions with District Partnership Chairs and Vice Chairs. Their purpose is to help services better reflect the realities in different districts. They aim to strengthen the connections between Council services and residents and promote better engagement.
They should also enhance the independence and resilience of communities, ultimately leading to reduced demand on the public purse through ‘smarter’ and more flexible local services. Oldham Council’s district boundaries will be redrawn to ensure they better reflect residents’ own perceptions of local identity:
East and West Oldham are merging to form one new seven-ward district for Oldham;
Royton, Shaw and Crompton is splitting into two districts – Royton; Shaw and Crompton – with two wards each;
The remaining districts of Failsworth and Hollinwood, Chadderton, Saddleworth and Lees, are unchanged.
Important changes to local governance will see the launch of a totally new model for decision-making.
New ward-level Community Forum meetings are being introduced where local members will meet residents face-to-face. Findings and ideas from Community Forums will be passed upwards to strategic and operational working groups – made up of Ward Members, partners and officers – where local responses will be developed to local issues.
To enable swifter decision-making, the District Partnership meetings will now also mirror the Cabinet model at Borough level. A new District Executive, made up of local ward councillors only, will hold decision-making meetings open to the public. It is proposed that Ward Members will get increased annual individual budgets from £2,000 to £3,000 to help promote quicker responses to local issues. A 12-month pilot scheme will also see all districts testing a new ‘Community Call-in’ procedure that will enable residents to challenge decisions taken by the new District Executives.
Many key services have already been devolved to a local level. The next phase will allow any District Partnership to bid to run a council service or asset in their own area following submission of a business case to Council’s Cabinet.
Councillor Jean Stretton, Cabinet Member for Co-operatives and Neighbourhoods, said, “District working is absolutely crucial to our work as a Co-operative Council. These new ways of working are driven by a need to ensure that what happens at a local level is flexible. We recognise that each district is distinct in terms of its needs and challenges, a ‘one size fits all’ approach simply won’t do.
“These new arrangements should promote better discussions with residents and faster decisions that are responsive to and driven by local needs identified by local people.
“As we tackle the challenges of shrinking budgets and increased demand in public services we have to use every pound effectively. To do that we must redesign services in a way that connects them better and closer to people, delivering real value and concentrating on what each particular area needs, and what works. We need to focus on how to get the very best outcomes for local communities without regard to how these solutions are provided. That’s why we are collaborating so closely across the public sector and with residents to get the best outcomes.
“The past year has seen many successes at local levels through District Working. We have been leading the way with our changes and other Local Authorities are already showing interest in learning from our approach.”