Approaches to Consultation and Engagement by Welsh Local Authorities during the Budget-Setting Process. Good Practice Examples

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1 Approaches to Consultation and Engagement by Welsh Local Authorities during the Budget-Setting Process Good Practice Examples

2 Table of Contents Introduction... 3 Engagement... 4 Case Study 1: Carmarthenshire County Council... 4 Support to employees... 6 Case Study 2: Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council... 6 Consultation tools... 8 Case Study 3: Wrexham County Borough Council... 8 Analysis and dissemination of consultation responses... 9 Case Study 4: Cardiff Council... 9 Case Study 5: Monmouthshire County Council Future thinking Case Study 6: The City and County of Swansea Page 2 of 12

3 Introduction All Local Authorities in Wales are required to set a balanced budget by early March each year for the financial year ahead. The budget-setting process for was challenging for Local Authorities, as the financial outlook required some difficult decisions to be made. It is more important than ever for the people of Wales, for Council employees, and for other stakeholders and delivery partners to understand the rationale behind such decisions and to contribute to the debate. Effective local scrutiny, coupled with open and transparent decision-making, are essential in supporting continuous improvement in local services. Requirements for this are set out in legislation and the Welsh Government sees it as a key part of the public service improvement framework, which should work in harmony with audit inspection and regulation, to support the delivery of better services. Throughout the budget-setting process for , we saw some excellent examples of engagement with the public through a range of communication channels such as press releases, web surveys, social media, Council magazines and public events. More innovative examples included the use of panels or forums specifically set up for residents, community groups and public sector partners. The Wales Audit Office Report, Meeting the Financial Challenges Facing Local Government in Wales, also highlighted some examples of good practice in relation to financial planning. We are, therefore, publishing this prospectus of case studies as good practice examples of public engagement in the budget-setting process to encourage best practice for future budgets. The following information is presented alongside themes of engagement, support to employees, consultation tools, analysis and dissemination of responses and future thinking. We have been impressed by the way some Authorities have specifically thought about new approaches to consultation and engagement in preparation for setting a challenging budget for This shows Local Authorities are committed to improving their medium and longer term financial planning and many have plans for larger scale public engagement and consultation for future budget-setting. The Centre for Public Scrutiny has also launched a helpful guide, Raising the Stakes: financial scrutiny in challenging times. It offers practical advice to Local Government officials and Councillors about how scrutiny can add value to financial planning. Page 3 of 12

4 Engagement Case Study 1: Carmarthenshire County Council Carmarthenshire County Council consulted with the widest ranging audience including 40 different stakeholders, delivery partners and 30 third sector organisations. The views gathered were presented in detail against each of the 51 budget proposals in a report considered by the Council s Scrutiny Committee. How did the Authority approach engagement? The Authority recognised the to budget-setting processes necessitated more rigorous and extensive consultation than past years. The approach was developed and advanced by a dedicated project group, jointly led by the Assistant Chief Executive and the Head of Finance. An online survey was publicised through Carmarthenshire News which is delivered to every household, along with a freepost coupon for suggestions on saving money or raising income. Who did the Authority engage with? Elected members Council employees Executive Board (Cabinet) Public (roadshows, and online survey) 40 different Stakeholders (businesses, Town and Community Councillors etc) Delivery partners 30 Third Sector organisations (primarily focussed on Social Care, Health and Housing) Council Scrutiny Committees Full Council The Council ran a series of public road shows and a stakeholder event comprising representatives from Equality Carmarthenshire (an umbrella grouping of diversity groups, including the Youth Council, 50+ Forum, Disability Coalition, the Multicultural Network, etc), businesses and Town and Community Councils. There was also a seminar held for 30 third sector organisations in relation to social care and housing. What did the Authority do with the information? Carmarthenshire submitted a copy of their 89-page budget consultation report to Council Members and a report of Carmarthenshire s budget process for produced by the Centre for Public Scrutiny. Summary information was publicised through a two-page spread in Carmarthenshire News. Page 4 of 12

5 The results from the survey and events were presented in detail against each of the 51 budget proposals in a Budget Consultation Report considered by Scrutiny Committee, allowing comparisons to be drawn with the overall results. Comprehensive information was provided to relevant departments and officers in relation to each proposal. This information included all relevant qualitative data (ie. specific comments about proposal or service area). The consultation results are available in a comprehensive summary report published on the Council s website which sets out a detailed discussion by elected Members on the 51 proposals. Page 5 of 12

6 Support to employees Case Study 2: Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council highlights the support they offered to employees during the budget-setting process for Employees and Trade Unions were invited to open events and were offered career and financial advice. The council also engaged with independent consultants to provide an additional level of scrutiny and challenge to the budget-setting process whilst assisting with service and organisational reviews. How did the Authority approach engagement? Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council engaged extensively with residents, staff, service users and other groups throughout the budget-setting process. The aim of the consultation was to speak to a variety of citizens across the County Borough to provide the Council with opinions from the public on the delivery of services and the current priorities. To ensure a wide response, the Authority used many forms of engagement tools and techniques such as an online survey, roadshows, drop-in sessions including direct contact with service managers, workshops, leaflets and posters. Engagement with Staff The Chief Executive held a series of open information sessions with all staff. This gave employees and trade unions the opportunity to ask questions and voice views Regular updates were provided through Human Resources staff bulletins and the Chief Executive s blog A dedicated account was set up for all staff to send queries and concerns into a Transformation Group Face-to-face meetings between employees and Human Resources were undertaken An event with Job Centre Plus and Careers Wales was undertaken to support any employees wishing to consider career opportunities Information on jobs, training and funding was given along with financial advice to those retiring or taking voluntary redundancy Engagement with Unions Letters to begin formal consultation were sent to recognised Unions Weekly meetings with Unions to agree a consultation plan and Human Resources processes Discussions around voluntary early retirement and voluntary redundancies, agency worker usage, redeployment opportunities and alternative service delivery projects Page 6 of 12

7 All feedback was published via the website and the Engagement Hub. Articles were also published in the Council s Community magazine and in the Citizens Panel newsletter. Page 7 of 12

8 Consultation tools Case Study 3: Wrexham County Borough Council Wrexham County Borough Council was innovative in its approach to the budget-setting exercise for in using an online budget simulator tool. The tool was used to engage with participants and ask them to achieve a 34m savings target over five years. This exercise was designed to increase public understanding of the challenging financial outlook. How did the Authority approach engagement? The Council adopted a phased approach to consulting on the budget. Phase 1 consulted on people s high-level views about how the Council could reduce expenditure, increase income and improve efficiency. Phase 2 consulted on the draft budget proposals for the financial year. The Consultation Tool Phase 1 of the consultation used an online budget simulator tool called YouChoose. The tool was used to engage participants and asked them to achieve a 34m savings target. This was achieved by selecting options to reduce expenditure, increase income and make efficiency savings as well as capturing further suggestions for saving money. Phase 2 of the consultation used a consultation booklet to present the full package of budget proposals to meet the funding shortfall for People could feed back their views by completing an online or paper-based feedback form, or writing in by or letter. These exercises were widely publicised to the public, staff, Members, partners and Town and Community Councils via the internet, intranet, social media, press releases and where appropriate direct s/letters. A series of focus groups were also carried out with the Senedd Yr Ifanc / Youth Forum, the Diversity Forum, the Over 50s Forum, and Social Housing Tenants, to complement the exercise. Just over 300 people completed the phase 1 consultation, with over 600 completing phase 2. The Authority was able to summarise the key messages from participants and provide detailed analysis on the results. The full details and results of these exercises are available on the Council s website, along with full consultation feedback. Page 8 of 12

9 Analysis and dissemination of consultation responses Case Study 4: Cardiff Council For the analysis and dissemination of consultation results, Cardiff Council and Monmouthshire County Council particularly stand out. Cardiff County Council published the most comprehensive qualitative and statistical analysis of consultation responses and a lengthy report is easy to locate on the Council s website. How did the Authority approach engagement? Cardiff Council ran an extensive budget consultation which consisted of an online consultation tool and a series of facilitated public events attended by Cabinet Members. The events were publicised via the website, social media, distribution and newspaper articles. Specific engagement activity was also carried out with other network groups. The Council s five Scrutiny Committees considered the draft proposals in detail. The Results Cardiff Council made the following available on their website: Choices for Cardiff a document explaining the background to the Council s budget and what it potentially means for Cardiff and the services the Council provides Young persons version of Choices for Cardiff Voices for Cardiff a document showing and overview of the responses to the Ask Cardiff 2013 survey. This includes public views on which services are most important Budget engagement report 1 providing a summary of the outcomes of the engagement events and results of the online consultation tool Budget engagement report 2 providing a summary of the results of the online consultation on the Cabinet s draft budget proposals Details of the budget scrutiny from the Council s five Scrutiny Committees The budget consultation reports evidenced engagement activity through the various consultation methods and detailed how these views would influence the Council s priorities. It also included photographs of the events and detailed breakdowns of the priorities of the various groups. Page 9 of 12

10 Analysis and dissemination of consultation responses Case Study 5: Monmouthshire County Council Monmouthshire County Council took a unique approach with its detailed consideration and scoring of each individual response to consultation. How did the Authority approach engagement? Monmouthshire has taken significant steps to improve engagement and adopted a two-phased approach for the budget-setting process. Phase 1 consisted of raising awareness of the financial challenges faced by Local Authorities. Staff sessions were attended by 1,000 employees and five public events were held across the County which were attended by over 900 people. The sessions provided an opportunity for attendees to suggest ideas for change. The events solicited a high number of ideas which were incorporated into the emerging budget strategy. Every idea was rated 0-4 in relation to: (1) feasibility (2) suitability (3) acceptability 27 high scoring ideas were included in the budget plan. The second phase consisted of more formal consultation regarding the budget proposals endorsed by Cabinet. There were five public meetings and three drop-in events in town centres which generated 700 conversations, the feedback received was extensive. Publication of the results Monmouthshire County Council demonstrated evidence of the detailed consideration and scoring in which it provided to each individual response to the consultation. The Council published a detailed report on the discussions and the ideas generated from the events. All information is available via the Council s website. There are also several Cabinet reports published on the Council s website to evidence how the consultation outcomes were considered during the budget process. Page 10 of 12

11 Future thinking Case Study 6: The City and County of Swansea The City and County of Swansea stands out for considering more fundamentally the future of service delivery, by launching an extensive and long term Sustainable Swansea: Fit for the Future initiative which focuses on: The core future purpose of the Council; The transformation of services and the model of delivery; Greater collaboration with other councils, local organisations, community groups and especially residents, The delivery of sustainable solutions which has prevention at their heart. How did the Authority approach engagement? The Council adopted a phased approach to consulting on the principles of Sustainable Swansea and the budget. Phase 1 comprised reviewing the Council s current budget, staff roadshows and events for residents and delivery partners. This was supported by social media activities. Phase 2 included the Council consulting on detailed budget proposals through themed drop-in public events (leisure, transport, education) plus events for specific groups (children and young people, equality groups, third sector). Cabinet Members were visible and involved throughout. The third phase focused on providing feedback to those who participated in the consultation with the aim of demonstrating how people s views had influenced decisions. The Council s Sustainable Swansea: Fit for the Future programme The Sustainable Swansea: Fit for the Future programme involved staff, communities, organisations and council partners. The programme enabled the residents and groups who got involved in the consultation to understand the programme was not just about finance or money but about a new way of doing things in the Council area. Sustainable Swansea: Fit for the Future was implemented to agree the services the Council should provide in the future, what they should stop doing and looking at what residents, groups and communities are prepared to do for themselves and how the Council can help and support this. Through Sustainable Swansea: Fit for the Future, the Council is continuing the conversation in order to work collaboratively to develop services and ways of Page 11 of 12

12 working which are sustainable and fit for the future. This includes addressing the Council's core purpose in the coming years so it can work alongside others to meet long-term priorities. Staff are also being engaged in a debate about the future shape of the Council, linked to a cultural change and Innovation Programme Local residents, community groups, service users, customers and partners will be asked to participate in reviewing social care services, including residential care and day-care services. In respect of scrutiny, there are further planned questioning and challenging for Cabinet Members responsible for delivering changes within their portfolios and checking progress against savings and outcomes. The Council noted from the first round of Sustainable Swansea: Fit for the Future how its proposals were improved by the feedback received from the public. The Council also noted how, whilst this process was time-consuming, it was necessary and has provided the groundwork for future years. Page 12 of 12

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