Broadland DC was among seven authorities inspected in Norfolk as part of the comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) of district councils which rates each as either excellent, good, fair, weak or poor.
The assessment of Broadland DC has found that the council is doing well in some areas:
* Public satisfaction levels are good and the council has taken action to improve performance in some key areas such as benefits, planning and recycling
* The council makes good use of its resources, has a positive relationship with its committed workforce, and works well with others to help deliver improvements for residents
* The council has maintained focus on delivering its priority to be low spending and manages finances effectively
But the assessment also found room for improvement:
* The council does not yet have clear ambitions and priorities that are informed by community needs and therefore cannot be sure it is focussing effort on the things that matter most to residents
* Strategies and future plans are not consistently focussed on outcomes for service users and communities
* The council needs to improve its contribution towards meeting housing need in the area
Following today's report Broadland DC will plan what it needs to do to improve, with support from the Audit Commission.
Audit Commission senior manager Sue Jewkes said:
'Broadland DC is taking action to improve services for users and communities and is workin g well with partners to build capacity and help maintain improvement. But it needs to ensure that its priorities reflect the needs of communities so that it can focus on delivering the outcomes that matter most to local people. Residents of Broadland will want to know what happens next. Where the council has weaknesses it should use this assessment to help it deliver improvement. We would expect the council to make its improvement plans public. We will want to track progress. The end result should be better services for the people of Broadland.'
Audit Commission chairman James Strachan said:
'Comprehensive performance assessment is strategic regulation. It reduces red tape and is aimed at helping improve public services. Not only is this the first comprehensive report to the public on how well councils are run - it also provides a powerful tool to make services better. The findings we have published today will form the basis for future improvement plans. The commission will help by focusing its attention where it is necessary and most productive. The council will get maximum support without unnecessary bureaucracy.'
A press release from the local authority follows:
Having turned down Broadland's appeal for a higher score, the council could take out a 'judicial review' of the Audit Commission decision, however, it has decided that this would be a waste of public money to do so.
While the report highlights areas where Broadland is strong for example, employees who care very much about their customers and improved performance in benefits, planning and recycling, it also lists those areas that need attention for example housing. Broadland is already addressing the weaknesses.
The Audit Commission has criticised Broadland for not having clear priorities but this is not the case. Broadland DC's current priorities are based on what our residents told us in a survey carried out in 2000. For example, they wanted an increase in recycling levels, street cleaning and better crime prev ention measures. This year with our partners, we have consulted about 10,000 residents on current satisfaction levels and their priorities for the future which will help the council further refine its priorities.
Broadland DC leader Simon Woodbridge said: 'We believe that the Audit Commission has fundamentally misunderstood how Broadland works, this is surprising given the extent to which ministers are highlighting what they regard as a top quality district council and how well Broadland fits the description.
'Central government expects us to keep our spending low and run efficient services. Our budget places us as the second lowest spending district council in the country and we have the seventh lowest council tax too [£89.55 per annum per Band D property], yet the report says our focus 'on low council tax is a constraint to service development'.
'Very clearly the Audit Commission's view is that we should increase council tax to improve services. We disagree because we know our residents want low council tax and our customer surveys tell us that they are either 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with our services as they are. Central government priorities for council tax and cost-effective service delivery are at long last reflecting our own, so how can we be off the mark?'
Colin Bland, chief executive of Broadland DCsaid: 'The report is very positive about the council, its staff and partnership working, in particular, the improvements made over the last two or three years. We all have our own ways of judging organisations we come into contact with. The Audit Commission has used its method and has judged us as fair. I would far rather rely on what our customers say about us, which on the whole compares very well with councils across the length and breadth of the country. My staff and I are committed to get these ratings even higher. The council has learnt a lot about itself and has identified some weaknesses that need to be addressed and a start has been made. It was reassuring tha t the Inspection Team confirmed our strengths.'
Broadland underwent its CPA inspection in the period April to July 2003.
Broadland appealed against its score in November. Both Broadland and Breckland DC were not included in the original round of Norfolk district council reports due to their outstanding appeals.