Rural Unitary Group Meeting - 4th July 2013

 RURAL UNITARY GROUP - A group within a group


Unitary Councils are in a different position to County Councils and District Councils.  Both of these have their own grouping within the LGA, the County Council Network, a long established organisation, and the District Councils Network SIG.  Unitaries seem to have no such similar formal arrangement. The variation in characteristic between the range of Counties is not a particular deterent to some joint working here, and while the District range is greater a District SIG has common work to do.  The Unitary Council movement is however out of both urban and rural, very different stables, and the range is so great inter action is more difficult.
It has been suggested that rural unitary councils lack a common grouping/influencing body and are consequentially missing out on many of the political  inter actions that are facilitated in other quarters. At this very moment for example there are massive concerns around Government proposals around small school funding, the council tax and benefit proposals, and with the NHS reforms and the transfer of the rural health function where quite clearly some joined up work and representations would be of considerable assistance.
SPARSE RURAL as part of the Rural Services Network is of course open to all types of Principal Councils who have a common rural characteristic and its hall mark of rural representation is very different to the representational role of a particular form of Council.  In terms of demographic or subject representation it is by a long way the largest Special Interest Group however.  It is, we feel, unfortunate that some 10% of its members who are rural unitaries are disadvantaged in this way and it is felt in the rural best interest to provide some form of solution if possible here.
The question has been considered at meetings and SPARSE Rural agreed an arrangement of a group inside the SPARSE Rural group which it is felt may help. We have deliberately avoided new money having to be introduced at what is clearly a really difficult time in that regard and sought to use existing resource.  We however seek to avoid duplication and dilution of the rural voice which (particularly with the current closing of a number of previous rural avenues) is already in danger of becoming painfully thin and divided in England. We suggest this grouping will also introduce a useful additional sub classification for our comparison and performance measurement services.
We suggest a grouping within SPARSE Rural to represent the rural unitary best interest might be constituted as follows:-
(1) The group would be automatically be available to all unitary local authorities classified Predominantly Rural or Significant Rural who were members of SPARSE Rural and, consequently, the Rural Services Network.
(2) Other Unitaries in other classifications who considered themselves to have the rural characteristic which made the Group of interest could subject to (1) above apply to join the Group and the question of their admittance would be determined by Group decision.
(3) Admission to the Group would be without charge unless the Group itself decided otherwise but members must be fully paid up members of SPARSE Rural.
(4) The pure administrative and clerical work in relation to Group activities would be undertaken by the SPARSE Rural and the Rural Services Network administrative team.  However Group members would be asked to provide one or more ‘specialism’ officers who would provide the expertise and lead the coordination in relation to their particular service.  It is hoped the Unitary Group could provide what would be a panel of experts covering the range of services their Councils dealt with.  Perhaps each constituent member of the Unitary Group could provide one such officer.

(5) Subject to (1), (2), and (4) above the Group would act independently and arrive at such policy and constitutional positions as it wished to.
(6) Whilst the Group will have the ability to make totally independent decisions these will not be in conflict with LGA Policy.
(7) Group Meetings including an AGM would be convened on at least two occasions a calendar year.
(7) The Group could appoint a Chairman and Vice Chairmen of their choosing and, after an initial period to December, 2013, the Chairman will not be the Chairman of SPARSE Rural and the Rural Services Network.
(8) The Group could if it wished appoint an Honorary Chief Executive of its choosing.



(9) Every effort will be made to establish and retain officer service working groups examining current topic areas and seeking to establish a common group view.
(10) The arrangement would commence as a Group within a Group to allow it to be established without having to be concerned about the numerical requirement for a formal SIG.  However if at any stage ( provided it had ten members) it wished to convert the arrangement to one of a SIG within a SIG it should be allowed to proceed on that basis, subject to review of the above operational arrangements.
It is hoped this arrangement will give the rural voice in unitary areas more potential influence.


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.