Denbighshire County Council has established Member Area Groups (MAGs) which provide on-going engagement and dialogue with communities at grass roots level. Although still in their infancy, MAGS offer the only opportunity for Elected Members to collectively discuss issues on a geographic basis. This consultation means that community feedback could directly influence the scrutiny arrangements of the Authority and partnerships.
This engagement would also feed into Denbighshire County Council's decision-making processes.
It is not a new concept, but rather offers an interesting approach to engagement; local issues being discussed by local Members. The Authority had stopped its citizen panel, as it was not representative ofthe community, sufficient numbers were not involved, and it was costly. MAGS were seen as an effective new model of community engagement. A similar model of community groups had been identified as successful on a visit to an English authority with similar demographics and communities. There are four techniques which form the focus of the work of MAGS; informing, consulting, involving and empowering Elected Members. Their main purpose is to:
- raise important community issues for review by the Executive, Scrutiny and Cabinet;
- influence the corporate, financial and business planning processes of the Council;
- inform the development ofthe ‘Big Plan'(which is integrating services);
- review service provision in the area;
- use local data to plan improvements within the community so it better meets their needs;
- recommend community capital funding priorities;
- recommend road improvement priorities;
- monitor the implementation ofthe town and area plans and their links to the wider area (the LDP and ensuring communities have their say and are on board);
- act as a consultative group and when appropriate, consider how assets can be used within an area to best effect.
MAGs link closely with town and community councils and community forums to ensure there is an effective channel for on-going public engagement. They also have direct reporting links to Cabinet, Scrutiny Committees and the Corporate Executive Team.
Member Area Groups are a revised structure ofa previous geographically-based model, which include Members and Officers. The new structure has been revised to cover six geographical areas. These better represent the community characteristics across the county and offer more effective on-going engagement. The MAGs are based in the Rhyl, Prestatyn, Elwy, Denbigh, Ruthin and Dee Valley areas.
A Head of Service has been assigned to each of the six MAGs to ensure a corporate approach is adopted and issues are dealt with at a senior level. Meetings are supported by a Co-ordinating Officer, with appropriate administrative support to convene meetings, arrange agendas and follow through issues raised. Meetings are bi-monthly, ensuring there are proper linkages to other structures within the Authority or partner organisations. Data from area profiles and the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation, together with service and
partners’ intelligence on the area, is used to focus the debates on key issues affecting the area. The emerging work on town plans also feature prominently in MAG considerations. Although still a new arrangement, the MAG meetings have been well received by Members and Officers. They have provided analysis and informal discussions on emerging issues relevant to that particular geographic area.
Benefits ofthis model of community engagement include improved on-going engagement with communities at local level through Members concentrating on local issues. It is also an opportunity for Members to meet on a geographic rather than county-wide basis. Feedback relating to local issues are fed into policy and decision-making processes. It also offers greater empowerment opportunities for communities to design services, meet local needs and help planning for the future.
The model is still in its early phase of development. However, a review of its initial effectiveness has taken place, resulting in some minor alterations to the format e.g. agenda management.
There is one key limitation to this model of engagement; the MAGS are not a decision-making body within the Authority and therefore cannot make recommendations to other formal committees.
The concept could be adapted to other areas, but seems to lend itself better to an authority with a mixture of diverse rural and urban communities.
Name: Alan Smith
Title/role: Head of Business Planning and Performance
Organisation: Denbighshire County Council
Telephone: 01824 706000