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NORTH DEVON DC - A WEAK COUNCIL THAT IS STARTING TO PREPARE ITSELF FOR IMPROVEMENT

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North Devon DC overall is a 'weak' council, according to a report out today from the Audit Commission. Its current ...
North Devon DC overall is a 'weak' council, according to a report out today from the Audit Commission. Its current plans show, however, that it is starting to put in place some of the building blocks for future improvement.

North Devon DC was among a number of authorities inspected in Devon as part of the comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) of district councils which rates each as either excellent, good, fair, weak or poor.

CPA is the first time that people have had a single overall assessment on their council. Reporting for the 238 district councils in England follows the 2002 CPA carried out for the 150 larger all purpose and county councils.

The assessment of North Devon found that the council is doing well in some areas:

* The council delivers generally good and improving services, for example in benefits, environmental health, recycling, management of public areas, leisure, regeneration and community safety.

* It works actively with local communities and local partnerships to improve quality of life for local people.

But the assessment also found room for improvement:

* There are still weaknesses in some important service areas, the council is not meeting its affordable housing targets and the refuse collection service performs poorly.

* The council has set very broad priorities and it has not faced up to the difficult decisions that it needs to make to plan and prioritise its expenditure.

* There have been weaknesses in the way that the council co-ordinates and controls its activities.

* Although the council has recently taken steps to tackle some of these weaknesses, it is too early to say how effective they will be.

Following today's report North Devon DC will plan what it needs to do to improve, with support from the Audit Commission.

Audit Commission senior manager Ian Carter said: 'North Devon DC delivers generally good and improving services but it needs to work on its remaining service weaknesses and develop it s longer term planning and management. Residents of North Devon will want to know what happens next. The council should use this assessment to help it deliver improvement. We would expect the council to make its improvement plans public. We will want to track progress. The end result should be better services for the people of North Devon.'

Audit Commission chairman James Strachan said: 'Comprehensive performance assessment is strategic regulation. It reduces red tape and is aimed at helping improve public services. Not only is this the first comprehensive report to the public on how well councils are run - it also provides a powerful tool to make services better. The findings we have published today will form the basis for future improvement plans. The commission will help by focusing its attention where it is necessary and most productive. The council will get maximum support without unnecessary bureaucracy.'

A press release from the local authority follows

CPA Recognises Good and Improving Services

More Work Needed on Priorities and Budget

An Audit Commission inspection has showed that North Devon DC has good and improving services but has some work to do on its 'nuts and bolts'.

The main messages within the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) report are that the council's services are of a high quality and are getting better but it has difficulties in planning for the future and trying to do too much which leads to problems in balancing the budget.

The Audit Commission also praises the work the council does with its partners in the voluntary, private and health sectors and with other councils, which is improving the quality of life for local people.

However, in spite of the positive comments, the Audit Commission placed more emphasis on the 'nuts and bolts' and less on the good services provided by the Council which led them to score the authority as 'weak'.

Measures are already in place to address some of the problem areas and work is underwa y on a major improvement plan which will tackle both the issues flagged up in the report and those already recognised by the council.

Leader of the council, Malcolm Prowse says: 'The CPA is supposed to be about improving services, which the inspectors said we are good at. In the end though, the Audit Commission gave more importance to the way we go about things.

'Of course there are criticisms in the report that we accept, but I still find it hard to believe that the workings of the council are more important than the actual services we provide.'

Chief executive John Sunderland says: 'We were very surprised to receive the scoring that we did but the important thing to do now is to get on with improvement. Our plans centre around how we can make better decisions about how we spend money by planning further ahead and by asking our local communities what is important to them.'

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