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BRADFORD'S CULTURE SERVICES SHOW PROMISING SIGNS FOR IMPROVEMENT

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Bradford's clear ambitions for improving culture services in the district and identification of culture as a signif...
Bradford's clear ambitions for improving culture services in the district and identification of culture as a significant contributor to delivering the council's priorities are praised in an independent report published today. However, more work is needed to ensure that the whole community's needs and aspirations are being addressed and that the impact of culture services on local people is being properly evaluated.

A team of inspectors from the Audit Commission judged Bradford City MDC's culture services to be of a fair, one star standard, with promising prospects for improvement. Whilst some facilities are no longer fit for purpose, the service has attracted over £14m in external funding in recent years and this has resulted in significant improvements for users. Working in partnership has also helped to broaden service provision.

Despite a tendency to be too inward looking and concentrate on the process rather than the user, customer feedback has nevertheless been used effectively to make improvements to some services.

The council knows that cultural services provide important opportunities for the expression of local cultures and communication across the cultural divide. The Bradford International Festival and the Ilkley Literature Festival are good examples of this.

The recent appointment of consultants to develop a sports strategy, and plans to spend an extra £1.6m to boost specific areas of the service, such as book stocks in libraries, demonstrate the council's commitment to culture services. However, there are some concerns among managers that this level of funding cannot be kept up in the long term.

Inspectors found the council had learnt a lot from both the disturbances in 2001 and the Capital of Culture bid, and is now working well with local people and other organisations to build on this legacy.

Audit Commission senior manager Diane Neale, said: 'Bradford council's annual survey shows increasing satisfaction with culture services over the past three years. Higher levels of investment, clear ambitions and better partnership working are all contributing to better experiences for local people. However, in some areas, for example libraries, museums and galleries, improvements have so far been more limited, with recent changes and investment in these services yet to make a real difference.'

Inspectors found the following strengths:

* Staff are friendly and helpful and some areas of the service have customer care awards.

* There are clear systems in place to enable local people to provide feedback on services, including online, and improvements have been made in response to customer feedback.

* There have been a number of significant improvements in the service including the redevelopment of Lister Park and Shipley Pool; the development of four distinct tourism brands in key areas; outreach work; and improvements to signs on rights of way.

However:

* Whilst some staff and councillors have challenged their own approach and learnt better ways of delivering the service, other parts of the council are more wary of doing so.

* The council lacks comprehensive information about the needs of local people, so most services and facilities have not been developed to meet specific needs.

* The standard of information about services on the council's website is variable.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations including:

* By June 2004, carry out a comprehensive survey across the district to find out detailed information about the cultural needs of all sections of the community. Use this information to provide culture services that meet these needs.

* Continuously monitor services to ensure they meet the expectations and needs of local people and use customer feedback to make improvements.

* Tackle the perception that culture services are area-based and therefore a threat to community cohesion. This should be achieved through closer working and better communication with com munities about their needs and priorities.

The culture service includes:

* libraries

* museums and heritage

* sport and leisure

* tourism

* countryside and parks

* the built heritage

* theatres, arts, events and festivals

The budget for the service for 2002/03 is £24.2m.

A press release from the local authority follows.

Staff praised in Audit report

Bradford Council's friendly, helpful and dedicated staff have been singled out for praise in a major review of cultural services in the district.

It follows a week-long inspection by the Audit Commission of how the Authority runs its theatres, parks, libraries, sports centres, museums, countryside services and tourism.

Anne Hawkesworth, executive member for arts, heritage and leisure, said: 'The inspectors clearly recognised the extra investment that we are putting into our cultural services. This has allowed us, along with the commitment and dedication of our staff, to improve significantly and develop better services for our customers.

'The council learned a great deal from the process of bidding to be European Capital of Culture and is using that information effectively to bring real benefits to people in Bradford.'

The inspectors also praised improvements to Lister Park and Shipley Pool, the tourism strategy, the marketing of the district during the European Capital of Culture bid as well as the tourism websites.

They also recognised the council's success in attracting more than £14m in external investment to help improve services to people in the district.

Jane Glaister, director of arts, heritage and leisure, said: 'We have spent the last two years consulting our users, bidding for external funding and changing our services to make them more customer focused.

'As a result we have attracted more resources to develop new programmes and to put our plans into action and I am delighted our efforts have been acknowledged by the Inspectors. < p/="">

'We will now be looking at the inspectors' recommendations so that we can continue to improve the services we give to the public.'

These included carrying out a comprehensive survey to find out the cultural needs of people across the district and monitoring services continuously to make sure they meet the expectations and requirements of the public.

Bradford was one of only four councils across the country to take part in a review of this type.

The inspection included a review of council plans, talking to customers and 'mystery shopper' visits to experience the services at first hand. The findings are an improvement on those from the inspection of theatres, sports and libraries that was previously carried out by the council best value review team.

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