(i) Formal Agreements / Terms of Reference
It is essential that each partnership has suitable governance arrangements in place set out in a formal Agreement or Terms of Reference. The specific requirements will vary for each partnership, and as many partnerships start off as loose arrangements and develop in importance, requirements may also change over time and so should be reviewed regularly.
As a minimum, all partnerships should have terms of reference developed with, agreed and supported by all partners. This is essential for partners to build their personal working relationships and create the trust to make the partnership successful.
When the partnership involves the commitment of significant Council resources, be they finance, human, land, buildings or equipment, or when the Council is operating as the Accountable/Responsible Body for the partnership, it is essential to have a formal agreement in place. This should include:-
- the period of the agreement, exit strategies, notice and termination arrangements including redundancy costs and other potential liabilities on termination;
- the roles and responsibilities of the various parties including arrangements for banking, taxation and VAT matters, employments contacts, insurances and ownership of assets;
- auditing and reporting requirements and how these relate to our Finance Procedure Rules and other Council Regulations and Codes of Conduct;
- financial and non-financial contributions to be made by the respective parties and, where the arrangement is to extend beyond one year, the method for calculating and collecting payments in future years;
- the named contact officer or project manager who will be responsible (within specified limits) for the Council's rights and obligations under the terms of the agreement and accountable for overall outcomes;
- a clear exit strategy, for example, in terms of any residual ongoing costs;
- default procedures to be applied where the terms of the agreement are broken;
- arrangements for Internal Audit staff to have sufficient access to partners’ premises, assets and records as is necessary for the purposes of the partnership.
The legal status of the agreement and content should be proportionate to the partnership and should be agreed in consultation with our Legal Services team. For example, if a partnership will involve a company structure or unincorporated structure, this will have different levels of liability and impact on Member and officer involvement. If a legal entity is being considered, the contract procedural rules state that approval must be sought from the Head of Legal Services.
These more formal agreements should be agreed through the Council’s Legal Services. Legal, HR and Financial Services will advise on the appropriate format the agreement should take and must always be consulted prior to resources being committed. The agreement must ensure appropriate governance arrangements are in place. This is noted best practice in a review of partnerships by the Audit Commission which concluded that those partnerships with documented governance arrangements were more likely to succeed.
(ii) Member and Officer Roles
Members and officers should ensure that they understand the role they will undertake in partnerships.
Broadly speaking, roles should be:-Members:
(a) The Executive is responsible for approving the overall framework that will guide us in our partnership working;
(b) The Executive will approve our partnership policy and any associated policies;
(c) Scrutiny Committee will ensure that it provides an effective challenge function to partnership working;
(d) Each year the Executive or Audit and Governance Committee will approve those members representing the Council on Partnership Boards and / or Groups (appointment to outside bodies). Their role will vary according to the type of partnership and Members should be clear about their role and any specific requirements when they represent the Council in a partnership arrangement. We need to be clear about the actual role of elected Members within a partnership, for example if they are appointed to a Company and whether they are on the Board of Directors;
(e) Members attached to partnerships, whether in a voluntary or representative capacity, will conduct themselves within the Member Code of Conduct which includes declarations of interest, to ensure that the reputation of the Council is not at risk.Officer role and ownership: Directors Are responsible for:
(i) ensuring that there are adequate procedures operating within their directorates to control and monitor partnership activity;
(ii) ensuring that value for money is being obtained from partnership working;
(iii) determining when partner arrangements require formal agreements;
(iv) ensuring the appropriate level of officer participation;
(v) ensuring that elected Members and officers representing the Council in their partnerships fully understand their role and any specific requirements when representing the Council;
(vi) completing an annual statement of partnership activity within their area of responsibility as their contribution to an annual report for the Executive to consider continued Council support in the partnership (this should be linked to the report required by the Audit and Governance Committee from Members appointed to outside bodies);
(vii) ensuring that all funding notified by external bodies is received and properly recorded in the Authority’s accounts and that appropriate standards of probity, stewardship and best value are secured. This will include ensuring that audited accounts are prepared and presented on an annual basis and that all appropriate claims and returns are promptly and accurately submitted. They are also responsible for ensuring that the External Funding Team is notified at an early stage of any bids for external funding.Heads of Service
Before entering into any partnership agreement involving joint funding, Heads of Service must consult the Director of Resources, the Head of Legal Services and the Head of Procurement, who will advise on the appropriate form of agreement or contract, taking into account the nature and scale of the proposed arrangement and the extent of the legal and financial commitment involved. Further guidance on key considerations when entering into a partnership arrangement is listed below under (a) to (k).Responsible Officers
Each partnership arrangement must have an officer contact who is the ‘owner’ of the partnership from the Council’s perspective. This will be the person who a member of Management Team has agreed to represent the Council. The level of ‘owner’ or officer support to partnerships must reflect the type and significance of the partnership. The owner will need to be clear about their role and any specific requirements in the partnership arrangement, as well as what the partnership is doing, and report back to senior management and Members in an appropriate way. The owners’ key responsibilities will include ensuring that:
(a) the partnership is working to a clear set of objectives and that these align to the Sustainable Community Strategy and/or Corporate Plan priorities;
(b) the Council’s resources are being used economically, efficiently and effectively;
(c) governance arrangements are clear and set out how decisions are made, by whom and how resources are deployed, including details of any delegated powers;
(d) where appropriate, the Council’s Internal Audit team has the right to access financial records and especially in the case where the Council is performing the Accountable/Responsible Body role to the partnership;
(e) the Council honours its partnership commitments and that where applicable, resources are made available and have been identified and allocated in accordance with financial and contract rules and the workforce plan;
(f) there are monitoring and reporting arrangements in place which, during the year, enable Members and Management Team to assess the effectiveness and cost benefit of the partnership arrangement;
(g) an appropriate risk and equality impact assessment has been undertaken and that the partnership has an appropriate equal opportunities statement;
(h) conflicts of interest are recorded;
(i) it is made clear to the partnership when an officer is representing the Council and when they are acting in a private voluntary capacity and that in cases where the Council is already involved with that partnership, approval is sought from a Director who will decide whether there is a conflict of interest. In either case that acceptable codes of conduct are maintained to ensure that the reputation of the Council is not at risk;
(j) the work of the partnership is Compact compliant;
(k) successes are communicated within the Council, particularly to elected Members and Management Team.
(iii) Diversity and Impact Assessment
It is a requirement that partnerships should include an agreed equality and diversity statement to complement their main governance document. Some partnerships incorporate this statement within their governance document to highlight this area.
Partnerships should adopt an impact assessment process and apply it to their main strategic documents so that potential negative impacts can be mitigated. The assessment should cover, as a minimum:
Stage 1 - the opportunities for benefiting a range of communities and the relations between them and the risks of inequality or even discrimination
Stage 2 - research and consultation stage to ensure evidence-based policy making
Stage 3 - action planning and commitment to continuous review
Stage 4 - published outline of the way forward and performance indicators
Below is the Council’s agreed approach to impact assessment but other organisational versions are just as valid. The West Cheshire Together Local Strategic Partnership ( LSP ) Equality and Diversity statement is also relevant.