The assessment team found that the council has a strong focus on working in partnership to deliver real improvements in the quality of lives of its residents and it is improving in a number of key areas. It has set itself challenging objectives for dealing with the significant problems of disadvantage faced by many residents. But many of the changes that it has started are very recent and yet to have significant impact despite the early promise they show.
'The council provides good quality services that are value for money. Educational attainment in the borough is the highest on the English mainland and crime levels are falling. We found strong political and managerial leadership and evidence that partnerships are effective and improving. However, the borough has pockets of real disadvantage and the council has set itself demanding objectives to ensure that all its residents experience the vision for the borough set out in the new community strategy. It is too soon for us to judge whether the council will deliver on its ambitions but there is some early promise.'
The inspectors found:
. The vision and ambitions for the area in the new community strategy are clear but action plans supporting the strategy vary in their detail across the theme areas and it is too soon to judge firmly the effectiveness of the new ambitions in the strategy.
. Political and managerial leadership are strong and the council provides effective community leadership - with partners reporting that this is an area of improvement and value the clarity that the council has about its own priorities.
. The council has strong performance management arrangements and is adept at working effectively with the private sector to deliver significant projects that have benefited local communities.
. The borough is very diverse culturally, economically and ethnically and the council acknowledges that it has more to do to ensure that all communities benefit from its plans for promoting employment, better health, greater access to transport and affordable housing.
. The council gives good value for money and is looking for more improvements in this area.
. The council's capacity in a range of areas including: Executive decision making, councillor training, scrutiny, the financial strategy, human resources, and diversity and equality needs to be improved to enable it to deliver its priorities.
To help the service improve, inspectors recommended that the Council should:
. Develop with its partners detailed action plans to support the success measures in the new Community Strategy and be clear about how it will measure the impact of its actions in specific areas.
. Address the issue of capacity in some key areas and take action to ensure that it obtains greater benefit from the capacity that it has.
. Ensure that it delivers on the plans and activities that it already has underway across a range of areas to address inequality and disadvantage.
Copies of the report are available from the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk/reports