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LONDON COUNCILS IMPROVING BUT THERE ARE BIG VARIATIONS IN PERFORMANCE

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Londoners have benefited from improvements to local services made by London councils. However, the performance of i...
Londoners have benefited from improvements to local services made by London councils. However, the performance of individual councils varies widely across the capital according to an Audit Commission report published today.

The 33 London councils serve around seven million people and spend an average of almost£1,000 for every person each year. The report shows how councils have performed across a range of services, such social services, housing, homelessness, libraries, council tax collection, rent arrears and recycling. It shows how councils compare with one another and how their performance has changed over time.

In the light of the proposed Greater London Authority, the indicators will be especially important in informing local debate on the effectiveness and value for money of council services.

Key findings include:

On the whole, the performance of London councils has improved. On a number of indicators, such as council tax collection, the improvements in London are the biggest in the country.

Councils serving some of the most deprived parts of London have improved, showing what can be done to deliver better services to Londoners.

Despite these improvements, there are still enormous variations in performance. On many services, both the best and the worst performance in the country is to be found in London. And there are big differences even between similar councils. For example, the best performing suburban council processes twice as many council tax benefit claims on time as the worst.

In a few cases, already poorly performing services have got worse. For example, of the 10 London councils which take longest to re-let empty council homes, eight have got worse.

Average performance in London is often poorer than in other city areas. For example the average percentage of tenants in serious rent arrears in London is double that in other city areas.

Most councils have slightly increased the amount they spend per person in real terms, but the redistribution of government grants has resulted in a few councils reducing spending substantially. As a result, overall average spending per person in London has dropped by about 2% in real terms since 1994/95.

Where performance is average or below or is deteriorating, councils need to look carefully at the way that they provide services, and look at what lessons they can learn from similar, more successful councils.

Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission, said:

'Many London councils have made commendable improvements in their performance over the past year. However, some London councils' services are amongst the poorest in the country. It is vital that these councils make improvements quickly.

'A proposed new regime for local government, termed 'Best Value', will involve councils in setting targets for improvement. Even before this new regime comes into place, where services are performing poorly London councils should now be telling their local public what steps they will take to improve.'

* Local Authority Performance Indicators 1997-98: Council Services in London (ISBN 86240 1489) is available from Audit Commission Publications, freephone 0800 502030, priced£20.

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