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UNCERTAIN PROSPECTS FOR CULTURAL SERVICES IN BEDFORDSHIRE

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The cultural services provided by Bedfordshire County Council are 'fair' with 'uncertain prospects for improvement'...
The cultural services provided by Bedfordshire County Council are 'fair' with 'uncertain prospects for improvement' according to a report released by the independent Audit Commission.

On a scale from zero to three stars the Audit Commission inspection team gave the service a 'fair' one star rating. The council is not clear what it wants to deliver from the£7.6 million a year it spends on cultural services, ranging from libraries and public rights of way to sports colleges and tourism.

It provides some good initiatives for young people, and users are satisfied, but it does not provide consistently good access to cultural services for all sections of the community. Value for money is comparatively weak.

Nigel Smith, Audit Commission senior manager, said: 'Bedfordshire Council has made significant improvements recently to address corporate weaknesses and to improve services. Bedfordshire's population will grow considerably over the next 25 years with 80,000 new homes in the county by 2031. Quality of life will be important and culture has the potential to play a key role. The council needs to be clear how cultural services can help it to realise its vision of Bedfordshire as a thriving county.'

The inspectors found:

--The council provides a range of well managed services for local people such as libraries, sports and music tuition in schools, country parks and facilities for walking and cycling. But heritage and arts opportunities are more limited and tourism is underdeveloped;

--Access to services through the internet is improving, with a range of useful information available online. The Virtual Library, for example, offers online access to library services;

--Access to cultural services is inconsistent, however, and the council's approach to diversity is underdeveloped;

--The council is not clear how culture can help it to deliver its strategic objectives and can not measure whether its cultural services are making a difference to its residents' quality of life; and

--The council does not adequately monitor or measure value for money within cultural services.

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

--Develop a strategic approach to the delivery of cultural services in Bedfordshire based on a detailed assessment of local needs;

--Develop a performance management framework for cultural services which shows how cultural services contribute to the council's overall objectives, tracks progress and measures the effectiveness of the services; and

--Improve the value for money offered by cultural services.

Copies of the report are available from Bedfordshire County Council or from the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk/reports

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