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Gateshead Council is improving services for local people and performing well, but still needs to respond to some ke...
Gateshead Council is improving services for local people and performing well, but still needs to respond to some key challenges, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

The Commission's corporate assessment team found that the council is working well with its partners in establishing challenging ambitions for the area, and is demonstrating strong leadership. It has succeeded in creating a 'sense of place' and confidence in the area.

The council is making progress in tackling the overall deprivation in the borough through an emphasis on regeneration, and securing increasing inward investment in the area. Local people recognise the wide range of achievements in services which has taken place. Many new initiatives have been started recently and the council needs to make sure that they achieve the desired impact, particularly in tackling remaining areas of local inequalities.

Lynne Snowball, Audit Commission senior manager, said: 'It is encouraging to see the progress that the council is making in tackling the many issues that still face Gateshead. The quality of services is improving, particularly in areas that the council has identified as being of greatest priority.

'Educational attainment in schools is very good and there have been significant reductions in crime over the last two years. Political and managerial leadership is strong and there is a strong focus on working with a wide range of partners to achieve the necessary improvements for all who live and work in the borough. There is more work to do to improve all services and to reduce deprivation in some local areas. The council must clarify its plans and strategies to ensure resources are targeted to areas of greatest need.'

The inspectors found:

. The council has worked with its partners and local communities to establish clear and challenging ambitions for the area which relate well to local needs. It is working with partners, including the private sector, health bodies and neighbouring councils, to achieve its ambitions with a range of joint initiatives.

. Political and managerial leadership is a strength and the council is providing clear community leadership that is recognised and appreciated by its partners. The council regularly reviews its priorities, although it is not always clearly stated what are not priorities and the impact of redirecting resources to priority areas.

. Performance management is being furthered strengthened, and the council has a strong commitment to equality and diversity. The financial position is sound overall.

. The council is working well in many areas, such as to improve the health of the local community, to meet older people's needs, and in reducing crime. Other areas, such as the provision of affordable housing and future waste management, need further action by the council.

To help the Council improve, inspectors recommended that the council should:

. Make sure that its approach to regeneration is based upon a robust strategy that clearly addresses the needs of the local area and effectively defines the outcomes and impact.

. Further improve the involvement of all diverse groups in consultation over its plans and in setting service standards.

. Further develop its information on Gateshead at a local level in order to better target initiatives and actions to reduce inequalities between areas.

. Clarify its service planning to make sure that all plans are integrated with the local area agreement, community strategy, corporate plan and service plans to ensure that Council priorities are delivered and the necessary resources provided.

. Improve performance management by having clearer and more challenging targets which focus on outcomes for the people of Gateshead.

Copies of the report are available from the Audit Commission website.

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