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'TWO STARS' FOR CHICHESTER DC'S BUSINESS SUPPORT

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The economic development service (business support) provided by Chichester DC is good and has promising prospects f...
The economic development service (business support) provided by Chichester DC is good and has promising prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

An inspection team gave the service two stars* because it is providing relevant and useful services to local businesses and making a valuable contribution to the council's aims of promoting a thriving and dynamic community; a stronger economy; and a better environment.

Jane Wreford, director, southern region inspection said:

'We found that businesses and partner agencies value the services, support and guidance given by the economic development service and that the team is well regarded. However, it is also clear that the service has the potential to improve and that the council needs to further clarify how its other services contribute to the economic development function.'

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

-- The service has developed a business contact programme and products to support new businesses and strengthen the competitiveness of existing businesses.

-- The service works productively with partner agencies to facilitate a number of business support networks.

-- There is council commitment to the economic development of the district together with capital and revenue funding to take forward service improvements.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

-- Strategic service targets are not prioritised. They are input and process focused, not results focused.

-- The service does not systematically collect and analyse data to provide a clear understanding of the local economy and thus help anticipate economic trends and customer needs.

-- The service strategy does not identify how the local economy contributes to or interacts with the broader regional and sub-regional economy.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

-- Establishing the current baseline for the performance of the local economy, developing information gathering techniques and implementing results focused targets.

-- Improving communications with, and participation by, customers and partners through the council website and electronic communication, raising awareness of the products and services on offer and developing greater influence within the council to champion the business agenda.

-- Improving the service by identifying good practice and learning from other councils and developing and implementing suitable performance indicators to make effective performance comparisons.

The role of the economic development service is primarily to support business and employment in the Chichester district. The service was established in 1994, has a team of seven full-time staff and a combined budget for 2002/03 of just over£1m.

Copies of the report are available from Chichester DC or on the Audit Commission website at http:// www.audit-commission.gov.uk

NOTES:

1. The service wasinspected as part of the government's best value initiative, which places a duty on all councils to deliver the most economic, efficient and effective services possible.

2. The inspection involved interviews with council staff and councillors, and members of the public using the service.

3. The Audit Commission Inspection Service was established to provide the public with an independent assessment of whether best value is being achieved by their local council in the delivery of services. Inspection reports judge how well a service is currently serving local people, based on a star rating from 0-3 where 0 is poor and 3 excellent, and how likely it is to improve in the future.

4. The government has placed a duty of best value on councils requiring them to achieve continuous improvement in local services. Councils must report annually on their performance (best value performance plans) and review their services in order to identify and achieve continuous improvement.

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