Durham County Council – what winning a MJ Award meant for us

Posted on 19/06/2017 by Centre for Governance and Scrutiny.

Like many scrutiny teams, in January 2016 we were contemplating entering the MJ Award for Excellence in Governance and Scrutiny. A classic trait of a scrutiny officer is then to ask many questions – what should the focus of our submission be, which reviews should we feature in our submission, what other areas of good governance should we mention? We decided that it would be good to go for it but wondered whether our entry would be good enough for initial shortlisting or even make the final few?  The thought of winning was a dream but we thought that the submission provided us with an opportunity to highlight at a national level the many positive achievements that scrutiny and good governance have made in Durham.

The Council’s submission titled ‘Local voices and innovative approaches: governance and scrutiny in Durham’ highlighted positive work that had made a difference within communities. The bid focused on excellence in scrutiny and governance.

Excellence in scrutiny was demonstrated through oversight to the implementation of a £1m project for 20 mph limits to be introduced at 33 schools with the highest accident rates and development of a new policy. Outcomes from this work included:

  • Engagement and consultation with all members representing local wards where 20mph limits were to be placed, children, parents, local business and public transport operators.
  • Comprehensive approach to branding and communications plan.
  • Development of pupil-led road safety drama production.
  • Detailed analysis of the equipment and signage which resulted in a more cost-effective approach to individual schemes, so that the initial budget of £1million for 33 schools agreed by Cabinet could include more schools.
  • A revised methodology for selection of phase two schools to include consideration of local colleges, not included in phase 1 of the scheme.
  • The development of a new policy on 20mph limits, which will require them by default on residential roads on new developments and in the vicinity of new schools.

Excellence was illustrated through Durham’s unique model of community governance in the form of 14 Area Action Partnerships,(AAPs) formed seven years ago, to ensure that local voices and concerns form a key part of policy and decision-making.

The AAPs have local budgets, set local priorities, and have regular local meetings, attended by councillors, public and private sector partners and residents.  AAPs are also at the forefront of approaches to participatory budgeting nationally, having delivered 39 separate participatory budgeting events which have engaged 30,400 people, and have been studied as a good practice model by Cabinet Office representatives. Through participatory budgeting the AAPs have allocated £1.4million which has leveraged in an additional £3.4million funding. Around 60,000 people have benefited from the money spent on local community projects.  

This element of the submission also included a countywide poll the council ran to consult all local people on devolution signalling once again this council’s focus on community engagement at the heart of its decision-making.

A copy of the bid is available from the following link. 

We were delighted to receive notification that we had been shortlisted and it was a privilege to attend the awards ceremony that show cased the excellent work that is undertaken by councils in all categories within the MJ Awards.

Our hearts started racing when they started the announcement for the category ‘Excellence in Governance and Scrutiny’. This changed to a feeling of euphoria when it was announced that we were winners.

We felt a great sense of achievement and pride in receiving such a prestigious national award. It was publicised widely on the evening by the MJ and Centre for Governance and Scrutiny and a subsequent press release by our own council. This was further reinforced with a presentation at a full meeting of Council in Durham. This gave all members the opportunity to reflect positively on the hard work of elected members, staff and partners who strive to make a difference to our communities.

By way of a progress with two key areas of our submission, the Council’s AAPs have continued to deliver many initiatives within their localities, and whilst devolution within the North East did not progress, the views of local people were taken into account when Durham County Council made its decision about the devolution proposals. We continue to report progress on our scrutiny review on the introduction of 20mph speed limits. A report was presented in January 2017 and Cabinet have agreed an additional 33 schools to be included within the £1m of available for the project. The Committee were supportive of this outcome and requested future reports to monitor delivery of the project. 

To conclude, the MJ Awards process has been a worthwhile experience and we wish to congratulate both the winner and all  those shortlisted at this year’s award.

About the Author:

CfGS is a national centre of expertise on governance and scrutiny. We provide consultancy and training to organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors. We’re a charity with a unique focus on the principles of accountability, transparency and involvement.