The Audit Commission inspection team gave the services two stars because the council has clear and challenging aims for economic prosperity, is currently delivering an effective service to businesses and is starting to address the needs of the wider community.
Adrian Miles, commissioning inspector, Central Region Audit Commission Inspection Service, said:
'Malvern Hills DC is enthusiastic about improving the economic prosperity of the district and has a track record of business-related investment. However, funding in key areas relating to economic prosperity has been withdrawn in recent years and despite good partnership working, the council's overall vision for economic prosperity is unclear to partners. The council needs to stay focussed on economic prosperity, identify the best use of its resources and be clear with local people about its commitments and plans.'
- The council is involved in a range of projects to promote economic prosperity. It is the major shareholder in the Malvern Hills Science Park and it is active in effective partnerships in the district.
- The council has been successful in attracting external funding from a range of sources, lobbying at a regional/national level to ensure that parts of the area are included in funding zones and establishing the Malvern Hills District as a key part of the Worcestershire/Birmingham Technology Corridor.
- The council is starting to engage with the wider community on issues relating to economic prosperity. For example, it has completed three 'planning for real' exercises , is undertaking community consultation to identify residents' priorities for their area; and the community safety officer is working on issues such as designing out crime on business estates, involving young people in decision-making and reducing vandalism.
However, inspectors also found weaknesses:
- Although the council is delivering 'on the ground' and dedicates around a quarter of its budget to economic prosperity, this spend is not fully evaluated and relevant services are not fully integrated.
- The council does not give a clear idea of what it is hoping to achieve in the longer term, and gives the impression of being inconsistent in its commitment to economic prosperity.
- The council has worked hard to build up relations with businesses. However, less work has been done on building relations with the wider community. There is a focus on larger businesses at the expense of local community initiatives such as the development of town centres, and there is a need to involve the wider community in establishing council priorities.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
- Maintain an active involvement with partners, stakeholders and the community so that aims remain relevant and are seen to be achieved.
- To ensure a visible commitment to the long term economic prosperity of Malvern Hills the council should develop a ten-year strategy for economic prosperity, with partners, stakeholders and the community.
- Develop, with partners, stakeholders and the community, a tourism and marketing strategy and review the scope of the council's current role in tourism. (By end of 2002)
The services included by the council in the economic prosperity review were economic development and tourism, and relevant aspects of other service areas such as planning services, estates and valuations, environmental health and car parking. The services provided by the council under the banner of economic prosperity are estimated to cost£1.87m for 2002/03.