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FROM THE TOP - ONE DROP AT A TIME

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One drop at a time Faith Boardman waits for the trickle to become a flood ...
One drop at a time Faith Boardman waits for the trickle to become a flood

Back in the early 1980s there was a lot of talk about the 'trickle-down effect'. This economist's sleight of hand stated that it was a good thing for the rich to get richer, because their wealth would 'trickle down' to the poor via employment generated by demand and investments made by wealthy people.

When it comes to Lambeth LBC and money, many LGC readers may smile wryly and remember the bad old days of the 'loony Left'. Money wasn't so much trickling down as floating away on the Thames.

Things have changed since then, but in many ways Lambeth faces its own trickle-down effect when it comes to its reputation.

We have made significant, far-reaching and lasting improvements over the past three years. Unfortunately, understanding and acknowledgement take longer to trickle down.

Let's talk rubbish for a moment. Our refuse performance has improved from the bottom to the second quartile, yet our comprehensive performance assessment results for waste management are based on a three-year-old inspection.

In three key areas, we have made big improvements. Our finances have moved from a general fund deficit of£28m in 2001-02, to being in credit by£9m at the start of 2003-04. We have also paid off£99m in long-term debt. We expect to end 2004-05 with reserves of over£20m and two months into the year we have already secured nearly£80m in external funding.

Climbing out one of the biggest financial holes in London has not interfered with service delivery. Our GCSE results are the fifth-fastest improving in the country and in the crucial area of community safety our partnership working has helped to slash street crime by 48% since 2002. Our partnership work with police, community groups and charity organisations is recognised as best practice. Long gone are the days when Lambeth councillors led demonstrations on the streets and poll tax collection ran at 47%.

What I see when I look at the borough is a council on the verge of momentous change. We've had a lot of success and we're waiting for this to be reflected in perceptions of us outside Lambeth LBC. And just as importantly, we need to encourage our staff to remind them they are working for an improving organisation. How must it feel to think you're working for an organisation that others think is 'poor'? This is the next step in trickling through those improvements.

We recently achieved Investors In People accreditation across all departments - a huge achievement. In 2001-02, the ombudsman received 954 complaints about Lambeth. In 2003-04, this has been reduced to 226 with no cases of maladministration.

It was then-US president Ronald Reagan who coined the term 'trickle-down effect'. It is ironic that the two competing ideologies of that time are now mostly defunct: loony-left politics and right-wing Thatcherite economics. But I hope the improvements we've made at Lambeth are beginning to move downstream.

Faith Boardman

Chief executive, Lambeth LBC

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