Do you know what Community Network Panel is? The cabinet will this week decide to increase their powers

Cornwall Council Cabinet meets this week (Wednesday) and on the agenda are the Community Network Panels and how to make them work better.

The what?

Community Network Panels.

Part of the Unitary authority bid back in 2009, CNPs were supposedly going to be one of the answers to the ‘centralisation’ of power to Truro, real and/or imagined following the abolition of the district councils.

“Community networks are the main way we connect with communities and help them address important local issues” says the blurb on the Council website. “Cornwall Council recognises that we can’t solve all the issues that communities face on our own and so elected Members and officers work with local councillors and other key partners
to coordinate our activities locally”

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There are 19 CNP in Cornwall, and up til now the consensus is they’ve been a bit of a flop.

However the council has previously ruled out getting rid of them altogether, so now is left with 2 choices-  continue to allow then to meander on in sleepy irrelevance or jazz them up and make them work.

Full Council Paper on CNP

Strengthening and empowering Community Networks (CNs) is supposedly a key commitment of the new Council administration however even though the phrase “Give residents and communities a greater say in decisions and make them at the most appropriate level” was aired, Community Network Panels didn’t get a specific mention in Adam Paynter’s State of the Nation address or in the Council’s Top 5 priorities launched just after the council elections.

The report to Cabinet reminds everybody that it was envisaged that CNPs would have delegated powers and budgets, and be joint committees of Cornwall Council and town & parish councils. However, shortly after the unitary came into being in 2009, Cornwall Council reviewed this concept, and agreed a less formal approach where CNPs would “be allowed to evolve and hold meetings in whatever format is appropriate…to progress issues within the area…and to “engage with the local community.”

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The report continues by asking Where are we now? The above formula is still followed and each CNP has evolved in its own way, with some central direction about meeting
arrangements, openness to the public, and priority setting.

The report continues
“The “internal” view of CNPs – that of those who participate in them directly
(including Members, town & parish councils and officers) – varies considerably.
It tends to range from them being seen as (a) a valuable local networking
forum, with a degree of influence on strategy, policy and service delivery to (b)
just a “talking shop”, with little or no influence and representing a poor use of
time and resources.

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In 2016, an “outside” view was provided by the independent Governance Review
External Group (GREG) who considered if our model of strategic and community
governance was fit for purpose and future proof. The GREG report highlighted
positive aspects including partnership working, information sharing and local
good practice, and also a sense of untapped potential. It concluded that some
CNPs worked better than others and that the Council should either better define
and strengthen CNPs, or abolish them.
Over 80% of Town & Parish Councils are engaged in CNPs. Public attendance at
CNPs is low, with figures improving when there is a particularly high-profile local
issue on the agenda (e.g. 60 residents attended St Agnes & Perranporth CNP’s
meeting on the dualling of the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross
in July 2017). This may partly be due to the way CNPs initially evolved, with a
primary emphasis on joint working and networking between councillors and local
partners. The Council actively seeks to encourage public attendance (e.g.
through media releases and including public participation on agendas) but, like
all local authorities, faces the general challenges involved in securing this
(including that of the competing demands on residents’ time) ”

So for now the Council will resolve to put in some immediate measures to enhance the standing of the CNPs and also look at further long term imporovements.

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