An inspector calls

PUBLISHED: 11:19 15 February 2007 | UPDATED: 14:59 12 May 2010

Council leader Ray Manning says there are going to be changes

Council leader Ray Manning says there are going to be changes

IN one sentence council leader Ray Manning has spelled out his response to a critical report from the Audit Commission. He simply said: Enough is enough. Cllr Manning had a week earlier been elected as leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council and

IN one sentence council leader Ray Manning has spelled out his response to a critical report from the Audit Commission.

He simply said: "Enough is enough."

Cllr Manning had a week earlier been elected as leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council and the publication of such a report into the running of the local authority must have seemed like being handed a poisoned chalice.

But on the publication of the report, Cllr Manning said: "There are going to be some changes made around here."

The report - the commission's corporate governance inspection report - outlines three areas where the council is seen as failing and is being told to deliver significant improvements.

The report criticised

- political leadership, culture and standards of conduct

- focus on communities

- democratic accountability, decision-making and planning

In its executive summary, the report said the inspection was carried out because there were concerns that the district council was at "serious risk" of failure of corporate governance.

It said political leadership of the district council was "poor" and this had led to the avoidance of difficult decisions.

The report said successive Cabinets deferred critical decisions on council tax rises for 2003-04 and 2004-05 despite being told about the risks to the local authority's finances.

It said: "Community leadership is poor with councillors struggling to act corporately and collectively in the face of issues that affect the whole district."

There was criticism, too, of the district council deciding not to proceed with the transfer of its council housing stock and its slow response to the increased arrival of travellers in the area.

The council was described as having a "negative culture" and with incidents of poor behaviour from councillors and a "lack of mutual respect and constructive engagement" between staff and members.

"The culture within the council is distracting officers and councillors from a clear focus on services and issues affecting the district."

Decision-making by the council was described as neither "effective or robust".

"There is little evidence that decisions are subjected to robust analysis or that a good understanding of the risks involved and the likely impact is reached before a decision is made," says the report.

"A lack of transparency in its decision-making is adversely affecting the council's reputation."

The report continued that traditional ways of working were retained in spite of the Local Government Act 2000 which put in place a modernised system.

"Despite recognising these weaknesses, the council has not sought to address them. The current processes are leading to confusion and inefficient working," said the report.

It continued: "The track record of improvement in the last year is mixed and does not provide a sound basis for confidence in the council's ability to deliver the substantial improvements that are needed."

And the commission added in the report: "Severe resource constraints and the need for further budget reductions, limited awareness among councillors of the scale of the problems and a lack of comprehensive robust plans to address the weaknesses mean we are not confident that the council will make improvements in the next year."

Cllr Simon Edwards, the council's new deputy leader, described the report as "hard-hitting" and "uncomfortable reading".

He said the report was, however, an essential step towards "putting right things that have been wrong for far too long".

Cllr Edwards said the commission had provided an "invaluable and expert" perspective on the council.

"Some may wish to debate this outcome at length, others may look to apportion blame," he said. "We will do neither.

"This is time for action and change and for ensuring that we seek advice and learn from the best."

Cllr Edwards added he wanted the council to be "ruthless" in introducing change wherever it is needed in the local authority.

Recommendations

- The Council must address clear weaknesses in its political leadership n improve standards of conduct

- provide clear political priorities

- improve decision-making process

- more effectively engage with partners on strategic issues

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