LLANELLI RURAL COUNCIL AND LLANELLI TOWN COUNCIL:
WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP FOR OVER 42 YEARS AND COUNTING
(ASSET TRANSFER – CASE STUDY)
In November 2016, Llanelli Town Council approached Llanelli Rural Council about the possibility of it providing grounds maintenance services to the Town Council in support of several parks to be transferred from Carmarthenshire County Council. The Rural Council agreed to help because it already maintained open spaces and parks for many years and was well placed to offer assistance.
Collaboration in the public sector is very much the order of the day in Wales and is encouraged by Welsh Government in support of its public services reform agenda. Public bodies are forever being challenged to collaborate with a range of stakeholders to deliver services in different ways, using different delivery models and across local authority boundaries. This is a significant departure from and in stark contrast to traditional service delivery methods tied to community boundaries and which the public is used to seeing. Working together for the common good is a key driver of The Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The Act places a duty on the Rural and Town Councils to act sustainably and to work towards promoting the principles of sustainable development.
In 2015 the Rural Council commissioned a whole place plan. A key function of the plan was to identify a number of local interventions which impact on the population’s general well-being and quality of life. One of the interventions was to safeguard open and green spaces in the Llanelli Rural area. At the time of formulating the plan there were widespread serious concerns that a number of parks, playing fields, other open spaces and play areas might be lost because Carmarthenshire County Council could not afford to continue supporting these services going forward.
Amidst this backdrop, the County Council wrote to all 72 community and town councils (that make up the county) explaining its funding difficulties and inviting them to submit expressions of interest to take over responsibility for parks and playing fields by 31 March 2016, otherwise the recreational facilities faced the threat of closure. Local councils were incentivised to complete the legal transfer of these community assets by 31 March 2017.
Before contemplating the transfer of the parks and playing fields, the two councils performed a significant amount of preliminary work to satisfy due diligence. This work was time consuming but focussed on:
- Powers to provide the service (including the delivery model);
- Legal searches of the sites (including appointing a solicitor to help);
- Management of risk (including health and safety and insurance);
- Capability and capacity analysis;
- Resource planning (covering workforce skills, equipment and materials);
- Financial appraisal and impact on the precept;
- Legal compliance issues and ownership;
- Long term implications;
- Sustainability and well-being considerations;
- Public involvement opportunities;
- Collaboration opportunities;
- Preventative measures and other considerations.
Shortly after this exercise, the councils agreed to transfer a number of parks and play areas from the County Council by the 31 March 2017 deadline.
However, and prior to the Town Council’s approach for assistance, the councils first started working in partnership together in 1975 when they formed a joint committee to oversee the acquisition and management of Llanelli District Cemetery. The councils recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in recognition of this long-standing collaboration arrangement in order to better regulate the activities of the joint committee and to cement its role and relationship with the parent councils going forward. However, the MOU also recognised the mutual desire to enter into a new collaboration agreement to manage and maintain parks and playing fields which had been transferred to both councils from the County Council under its asset transfer programme. To this end the Rural Council now provides professional advice and support to the Town Council on all grounds maintenance related matters as well as providing a bespoke grounds maintenance service tailored to an agreed maintenance specification.
The MOU establishes the basic terms used in managing the cemetery and grounds maintenance services. The two service areas are governed by separate service level agreements (SLAs) which form part of the MOU and define each council’s role and contribution in regard to those service areas.
The SLAs are formulated on a client and contractor basis whereby the Town Council is held as the client and the Rural Council is held as the contractor. The councils agreed the charging mechanism to be included in the SLAs as well as the level of expenses to be reclaimed under the agreements, recognising the commitment and risk taken by the Rural Council in having to recruit additional resources; acquiring additional machinery and equipment to provide the service; management time taken up with back office support arrangements and in overseeing the organising and administration of the planned and future work programme including the time taken to provide general support and advice; all of which is re-chargeable to the Town Council on an on-going basis.
A scheme of delegation was put in place to enable the Town Council to discharge its cemetery management and ground maintenance functions to the Rural Council so that it could manage the services on behalf of the Town Council. This was predicated on the understanding the Rural Council held the necessary qualifications, experience, abilities and resources to provide the services to the Town Council.
AIMS AND BENEFITS
A primary goal of the partnership is to make efficient and effective use of resources. As an additional measure, the councils agreed to utilise the services of staff and the cemetery maintenance workforce employed at Llanelli District Cemetery to amalgamate with and support the Rural Council’s workforce in providing a sustainable grounds maintenance service to both councils. Not only has this arrangement saved a lot of money it has also helped to sustain and safeguard jobs.
Sharing resources has delivered a more sustainable and effective working solution across a wider area than had previously been possible. The collaboration arrangement has saved the Town Council considerable time and expenditure in not having to recruit its own grounds maintenance team as well as the necessary skilled and specialised management personnel needed to deliver the services. It has also saved having to buy additional grounds maintenance machinery and equipment. In effect, considerable duplication has been avoided by sharing resources. The Rural Council has also benefitted and will realise a significant yield in income to help defray its costs in these service areas as well as making a modest surplus which will be reinvested to offset general expenditure across other budget areas. The willingness to work together has produced budget savings for both councils through sharing service costs but importantly the partnership has added enormous value to sustaining important community facilities which have a direct impact on general well-being. This is making a noticeable difference to the local community with recreational facilities being maintained to a very high standard. Above all else, service delivery has markedly improved and the arrangement is providing much better value for money to the public and this is what partnership working is all about.
The two councils have asset transferred the following parks and playing fields from Carmarthenshire County Council:
Rural area transfers:
Bryngolau play area, Dafen; MUGA play area Heol Gwili, Llwynhendy; Heol Nant play area, Swiss Valley; Dafen Park; Pontiets Park; Pwll Recreation Ground and Trallwm Playing Fields.
Town area transfers:
Crown Park, Seaside; Havelock Park, Morfa; Penyfan Playing Fields; Penygaer Playing Fields and Peoples Park, Llanelli.
The assets have been transferred under long term lease arrangements but Carmarthenshire County Council has issued licences for many of the recreational facilities as a temporary holding measure to enact the transfers while it deals with title registration issues with the HM Land Registry. The lease period for each and every facility is 99 years at a peppercorn rent.
To offset the cost burden of the asset transfers, Carmarthenshire County Council has made available grants to the two councils. The grants equate to two years’ worth of annual maintenance cost per asset and a one off improvement grant to cover one or all assets transferred. The monetary value of the grants available to the Rural Council is in the region of £83,000 and the value to the Town Council is in the region of £294,000.