The council underwent a corporate governance inspection in December 2001, examining its overall management and service delivery. Inspectors have commended Mendip for its response to recommendations for improvement and building on its strengths - but numerous challenges remain.
- Communication with local people needs to improve. The council is coming to understand key community issues but this is not yet matched by a focus on what matters most to people.
- Service quality and improvement is variable - although there have been some good initiatives, for example in waste management, to drive improvement and many services have a strong history of innovation.
- Financial and performance management arrangements have improved over the past year. But the council needs to address the way in which it gets timely financial advice, and the effectiveness of internal checks and balances.
- An approach to risk management has been agreed, but the council must do more work on this, particularly to address the risks linked to its high reliance on contractors.
Other specific points highlighted include:
- The council has been open about its codes of conduct. But there are concerns over the co-ordination of key roles and the transparency of some decisions made by members.
- Some strong partnerships are developing and there are some examples of better management of contracts for services.
- Information and communications technology (ICT) to support service delivery is developing well.
Stephen Nott, Wales director, Audit Commission Inspection Service, who managed the inspection said:
'The council has the potential to do better. It has been respected for its innovation in the past and should try to regain that reputation. Stronger leadership at both senior manager and councillor level needs to be in place for this to happen.
'What impressed me is that the council has a solid foundation to build on and it has an action plan to support the changes needed. The real test of leadership will be to deliver this challenging programme. The Audit Commission will support the council in its aims to improve.'
To help the council deliver measurable improvements, the report contains some specific recommendations:
A shared vision for Mendip should be developed, in consultation with the community.
The council should focus its attention on those poorer performing services, such as development control, that are of most importance to local people. The emerging e-government strategy needs to be adequately supported and resourced.
Standards of conduct
The council should ensure that its new constitutional arrangements support transparent and open decision-making.
Risk management and internal control
The availability of high-level financial advice should be improved, and checks and balances should be strengthened. A detailed risk management plan is needed.
An Audit Commission inspection team will revisit Mendip to support its drive for improvement and help ensure good progress is being made in taking the recommendations forward.
* The full report is available here .
The commission's approach to corporate governance inspection has been guided by best practice in corporate governance drawn from the private and public sectors. This includes the Cadbury principles, work on governance undertaken by CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) and SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives).
These highlight five critical domains:
1. Community Focus - the extent to which a council is devoting its efforts to the things that matter to local citizens.
2. Service delivery - the extent to which services deliver what local people expect and what the council itself requires.
3. Risk management - the extent to which the council has an adequate understanding of the service and financial risk and had made provision for it.
4. Structure and processes - the extent to which a council has the right structure of decision making and business processes to conduct its affairs safely and effectively.
5. Standard of conduct and behaviour - the extent to which the council has ways of setting standards of conduct and regulating the behaviour of its officers and members to achieve them.