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Terms of reference

1. Introduction

Greater North Kent (GNK) comprises the local authorities of the Kent districts of Dartford, Gravesham, Maidstone and Swale, Medway Unitary Authority and Kent County Council (the Partner Authorities). Its remit extends across North Kent (meaning the collective administrative geography of the four districts and Medway). GNK may also collaborate with other authorities and bodies beyond its own boundaries where appropriate.

2. Status

GNK is a non-statutory body and not a legal entity. For legal, contracting and employment purposes it operates through an Accountable Body (see section 5.4 below), which is one of the Partner Authorities. The activities of GNK therefore complement the activities of Partner Authorities and do not supersede the sovereign exercise of statutory functions of and by Partner Authorities or other statutory bodies.

Where mandated by GNK’s Board (see section 5.1 below), GNK and its staff can represent the interests of Partner Authorities through engagement with outside bodies, organisations and institutions.

GNK’s status may evolve over time in light of any wider policy or legislative changes affecting local government in England.

3. Vision and purpose

GNK encompasses diverse communities from densely-populated urban centres to remote rural and coastal settlements and everything in between. We are united by a shared heritage and the legacy, both social and geophysical, of industrial change. We are ambitious to raise the quality of our offer to residents, investors, employers and visitors alike. We recognise and embrace the contribution that sustainable growth, led by infrastructure and employment, can make towards strengthening our offer as a destination of choice to live, work, learn, do business, invest and enjoy leisure and recreation.

GNK exists to promote economic prosperity, social wellbeing and sustainable place-making in North Kent. The scale and collective voice of GNK can be stronger and more influential than partners working in isolation, and together we can help positively transform both perceptions of North Kent and the reality for residents, businesses and visitors. Our shared goal is to harness our collective strengths through cross-boundary collaboration and effective engagement with stakeholders to bring positive change across the whole of North Kent and enable GNK Partner Authorities better to deliver their own strategic visions.

4. Membership of GNK

GNK is a joint endeavour between the Partner Authorities, represented at both political and officer level. The Partner Authorities’ mutual commitment is reflected in the Greater North Kent Agreement to which each is a signatory.

GNK will work collaboratively with neighbouring authorities and other organisations where this will help to advance GNK’s objectives. Where appropriate, representatives from other bodies may be co-opted onto GNK’s Board or subsidiary groups as non-voting observers. This may be on a time-limited basis depending upon the focus of the work programme and any particular functions, spatial responsibilities or expertise that it would be advantageous to engage with.

Membership is a mutual commitment between Partner Authorities and has associated obligations including financial (section 7). Should a Partner Authority decide to withdraw from the Partnership it shall give six months’ notice. Similarly, should the Accountable Body decide that it no longer wishes to act in that capacity, or Partner Authorities decide collectively to dissolve the Partnership, they shall give at least six months’ notice. More detail on the rights and obligations of Membership are set out in the GNK Agreement.

5. Roles and Responsibilities

5.1 The Board

The GNK Board gives political direction and determines the scope and priorities of GNK’s work programme.

The GNK Board comprises the Leaders of the Partner Authorities, plus any (non-voting) observers that may be co-opted.

Council Leaders may nominate a deputy to substitute for them in the event that they are not available for GNK Board meetings or other engagements involving the GNK Board. Deputies would normally be the Deputy Leader or a relevant portfolio-holder/Cabinet Member of their authority. Deputies would have the same rights and responsibilities at GNK Board meetings as Leaders; but where appropriate, for instance on contentious matters, decisions might be deferred to allow reference back to Leaders.

Board members are appointed ‘ex officio’.

5.2 Chair

GNK is a partnership of equals but has agreed that a GNK Board Chair should be appointed to provide continuity and to simplify external communications. The Chair will normally serve in this capacity for two years (the first Chair will therefore serve until June 2023). Where appropriate, communications on GNK’s behalf may be co-signed by all Partner Authorities.

5.3 Subsidiary Groups

GNK is a partnership of authorities and therefore commitment to collaborative working is embraced at both political level and at officer level.
The GNK Board will be supported by senior officers, normally the Chief Executive or equivalent or a nominated Director (the Chief Officer), from each Partner Authority together with the GNK Partnership Director. This group of officers will normally attend GNK Board meetings as advisors and may meet separately, as a “GNK Chief Officers’ Group”, to discuss operational and other matters.

The GNK Chief Officers’ Group will agree its meeting arrangements to complement the activities of the GNK Board. It may also establish other subsidiary groups where appropriate. This would normally be on a time-limited (‘task and finish’) basis and may involve representatives from other organisations where appropriate.

5.4 Accountable Body

The Accountable Body for GNK is Dartford Borough Council. The Accountable Body is responsible for ensuring that GNK operates according to principles of good governance and accountability. The Accountable Body’s responsibilities are summarised at Annex A.

A GNK Agreement has been prepared for adoption by all Partner Authorities. Any costs associated with the discharge of Accountable Body functions will be met from GNK’s budget, in accordance with the GNK Agreement. The underlying principle is that the Accountable Body will receive neither advantage nor disadvantage through carrying out the role of Accountable Body on GNK’s behalf.

5.5 GNK Partnership Director

The GNK Partnership Director’s Role Profile is set out in Annex B.

Dartford Borough Council is also the lead body for support services (including as Employing Body for the GNK Partnership Director) on behalf of GNK. It will provide line management, human resource and other support to the Partnership Director. Priorities for the Partnership Director’s work programme will be agreed by the GNK Board and reviews of performance against work programme objectives will be held at appropriate times in consultation with the GNK Board.

5.6 Officers and other resources

Where officers in Partner Authorities are engaged on GNK business for a recognised proportion of their time and on a dedicated basis (this would be to reflect involvement going beyond ‘business as usual’, eg. dedication of x days per week for y months for a specific project, or dedicated support arrangements), the GNK Board may agree to reflect this either through reimbursement from the GNK budget or adjustment of Partner Authorities’ contributions. Where appropriate, formal secondment arrangements from the Partner Authorities might be agreed.

6. Meetings and practical arrangements

The GNK Board will meet bi-monthly unless otherwise agreed. Subject to any restrictions relating to Covid-19 or otherwise, meetings will be held in person and hosting will rotate among the Partner Authorities. A Chief Officer from each Partner Authority will be invited to attend in support of their Leader/Deputy.

Where in-person meetings are not possible, meetings will be online using MS Teams, Zoom or similar platform.

The GNK Partnership Director will circulate an agenda and any papers, normally at least three working days in advance of each meeting and notify Partner Authorities of relevant practical arrangements.

The GNK Board aims to operate by consensus. For Board meetings to be quorate a minimum of three Leaders or their Deputies must be present. Board meetings may proceed without a quorum but any decisions would need to be ratified by Board members at a subsequent meeting or by electronic procedure to take effect. Electronic procedure would be via email, allowing five working days for response (with nil response taken as assent to the motion under consideration).

The GNK Partnership Director will prepare a short note of each meeting reporting key discussion points and decisions. Notes will be circulated to Leaders and Chief Officers. Notes and papers will generally be classified as unrestricted. Proceedings of the GNK Board, discussions, recommendations and documents may be treated as confidential by agreement of the GNK Board, with reasons for confidentiality explained in the minutes.

Documents relating to the GNK Board, such as meeting papers, will not routinely be published but may be subject to disclosure in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR).

The GNK Partnership Director will provide all necessary assistance and cooperation as reasonably requested by the relevant Partner Authority to enable it to comply with its obligations under the FOIA and/or EIR. The Partner Authorities will be responsible for determining in their absolute discretion whether any information is exempt (under FOIA) or excepted (under EIR) from disclosure in accordance with the FOIA and/or the EIR.

If a Freedom of Information (FOI) request is received by or addressed to GNK, it would be referred to the Accountable Body for advice. Where appropriate, the officer responsible for processing FOI requests at the Accountable Body would liaise with counterparts in Partner Authorities to assemble any response, with assistance from the Partnership Director. FOI responses would be issued by the Accountable Body on behalf of GNK.

7. Funding and finance

GNK will have an operational budget, which is funded by financial contributions (subscriptions) from each of the Partner Authorities. The level of the budget will be agreed annually by the GNK Board upon advice from the GNK Chief Officers’ Group, normally no later than 1st March preceding the start of the financial year. The formula for calculating Partner Authorities’ subscriptions is set out in the GNK Agreement.

Funding from Partner Authorities will be accounted for through their individual processes and does not require separate accounting by GNK. However, the GNK Board is mindful of principles of transparency given that its activities are publicly funded, and will voluntarily produce annually a summary report on its activities, income and expenditure. The GNK Partnership Director is responsible for administering GNK’s budget(s) in liaison/consultation with the Accountable Body.

8. Communications

GNK will develop a suitable communications strategy and action plan to support delivery of its objectives and activities. Details including any online presence, social media and advocacy activity will be subject to agreement by the GNK Board.

Version 1.8 (Final) – January 2022.

Annex A: Responsibilities of the Accountable Body and Lead Bodies for support services

1. The Accountable Body is responsible for ensuring that GNK’s activities are consistent with the principles of good governance.

2. As an informal unincorporated partnership, GNK is a non-statutory body and not a legal entity, and is not subject to the usual conduct of business requirements of its Partner Authorities such as publication of its papers or public access to its meetings.

3. The Accountable Body’s responsibilities are detailed in the GNK Agreement, but in summary, and working with the GNK Partnership Director as appropriate, are:

(a) To administer any procurement or contracts on behalf of GNK (unless otherwise agreed in any particular case);

(b) To ensure the use of resources involving the Accountable Body will be managed in accordance with the Accountable Body’s established processes including its financial regulations and the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (as amended);

(c) To hold GNK’s budget and administer income and expenditure on GNK’s behalf;

(d) To register and maintain any domain or trade names and addresses (e.g. internet domain names) on GNK’s behalf;

(e) To ensure any external (i.e. non-GNK) grant income received, payments out and any applicable repayments are accounted for and administered correctly;

(f) Where any grant is transferred to Partner Authorities, to ensure this is done under a written agreement which reflects the grant requirements of the awarding body, clearly sets out ownership of responsibilities and makes adequate provisions for the protection of public funds (e.g. arrangements to suspend or claw back funding in the event of non-delivery or mismanagement);

(g) To ensure that decisions and activities of the GNK conform with all relevant law, and that records and other evidence are maintained and managed in an appropriate manner including any documents (electronic or physical) relating to all funding received from Government or other public sources;

(h) To ensure that any official record of the GNK Board or subsidiary group meetings is maintained and stored appropriately; and

(i) To ensure that assistance is provided to the Partner Authorities to respond to any FOI/EIR requests made with regard to the GNK including the responsibilities of the Accountable Body.

4. In addition to the responsibilities in paragraph 3, and subject to any change that might be agreed in future, GNK may be supported by one or more ‘Lead Body’ covering other support functions for GNK. The Employing Body is Dartford Borough Council and has responsibility for:

(a) Employing the GNK Partnership Director and, subject to specific agreement, any other staff appointed exclusively on GNK business;

(b) Providing HR, ICT and accommodation services in support of GNK staff.

The lead body for Legal Services is Medway Council, with responsibility for providing or assisting in procuring any independent legal advice that may be required from time to time.

This will be covered by a simple service level agreement agreed with the Partnership Director.

Annex B: Annex B: Outline role profile for
GNK Partnership Director

The following Role Profile was drawn up for the appointment of the GNK Partnership Director. It will be kept under review and may be amended periodically with the agreement of the GNK Board and Dartford Borough Council as Employing Body.

  • To develop GNK into a more formal GNK body and structure, including research associated with devolution and local government restructuring, if so approved by the GNK Board.

  • To coordinate and promote the strategic objectives of GNK to achieve sustainable growth as part of the North Kent authorities’ area.

  • To support GNK and deliver in accordance with the vision and aims and against the GNK work plan.

  • To develop and coordinate GNK’s strategic vision and objectives.

  • To develop and present proposals for taking forward priorities set out in the GNK Work Plan for consideration by the GNK Board and take forward agreed actions.

  • To work with local authorities and other agencies and sectors across North Kent.

  • Act as the champion and advocate for GNK preparing and implementing a communication and advocacy plan.

  • Gather intelligence, undertake analysis and provide authoritative advice for GNK and, where necessary, commission expert analysis.

  • Work with Partner Authorities to identify and develop innovative proposals for resolving obstacles to delivery, in order to help secure progress on key developments and (investment) priorities in North Kent.

  • Identify, support coordination and promote funding bids to Government and other key bodies.

  • Promoting the interests of GNK regionally and nationally working with the Thames Estuary Envoy and at the Thames Estuary Board.

  • Lead in all arrangements for the meetings of GNK and other meetings as necessary, including planning agendas, writing and presenting policy papers, taking minutes and other secretariat duties.

  • Support the North Kent Enterprise Zone. (Following winding-up of the NKEZ Strategic Board on 31 March 2022, support to local delivery partners is now on an informal basis)

  • Develop a detailed knowledge base around the different North Kent local economies.

  • Horizon scan for economic development opportunities in North Kent and respond to proposals which impact on the GNK economy, including the extension of Crossrail and the Lower Thames Crossing.

  • Develop a consistent higher/further education and skills agenda across the various partner councils.

  • Responsibility for the GNK budgets.