Council turning it around

PUBLISHED: 10:20 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:42 11 May 2010

Cllr Ray Manning

Cllr Ray Manning

A GOVERNMENT watchdog told a council today that it has made significant improvements after a highly criticial report last year. But the Audit Commission has told South Cambridgeshire District Council that there is still a long way to go . Audit Commis

A GOVERNMENT watchdog told a council today that it has made "significant improvements" after a highly criticial report last year.

But the Audit Commission has told South Cambridgeshire District Council that there is "still a long way to go".

Audit Commission senior manager Nigel Smith said: "The problems facing the council were always going to take more than a year to resolve.

"A good start has been made, but it is critical that momentum is maintained if the council is to provide sustained improvement in service delivery and community leadership."

Mr Smith said, however, that the council had "responded positively" to last year's report which described it as having serious weaknesses.

Council leader Cllr Ray Manning said: "We've always said it was going to take two years to make all the changes necessary, but this year we have put in place some strong foundations."

Watchdog report sees council improvements

SOUTH Cambridgeshire District Council has made "significant improvements" in the last 12 months, say a government watch-dog.

A report published today (Thursday) by the Audit Commission into the district council's corporate governance arrangements recognises the progress that has been made over the last year.

But it warns that there is still "a long way to go before effective corporate governance becomes an integral part of the council's culture".

Nigel Smith, Audit Com-mission senior manager, said the district has improved the way it works with partners and is now more open and willing to take advice from others.

Communication is better and both internal and external relationships have improved.

"However, the problems facing the council were always going to take more than a year to resolve," he said.

"A good start has been made, but it is critical that momentum is maintained if the council is to provide sustained improvement in service delivery and community leadership," he said.

The report explains that the council has improved communication - both internally and externally - and councillors' conduct.

It also praises a "sharper focus" on decision making.

However, it says the council needs to "deepen and broaden" changes in leadership and political culture, and ensure that "policies and behaviours take due account of the needs and well being of all sections of the community".

This latest report follows highly critical Audit Commission findings in a report released in February 2007, which condemned "poor leadership" and highlighted a "failure to tackle the negative culture within the council".

Mr Smith said at the time: "This is a very worrying report for the people of South Cambridgeshire and for the council.

"In particular, councillors must provide better, stronger, leadership."

Council leader Cllr Ray Manning told The Crow at a press conference yesterday (Wednesday): "We've done what we set out to do, made real progress, and delivered significant changes in areas identified in the original report.

"We've always said it was going to take two years to make all the changes necessary, but this year we have put in place some strong foundations.

"We must now continue this improvement journey.

Cllr Simon Edwards, deputy leader of the council, admitted: "In the past councillors in South Cambridgeshire have just put their heads in the sand and chosen not to make difficult yet necessary decisions.

"But there are plenty of green shoots of change.

"A lot of what we have been doing so far has been behind the scenes, but now residents will begin to see tangible benefits."

Cllr Manning said that his team has been working hard with councillors to try and eradicate the "negative culture" mentioned in the 2007 report.

He said: "Like all councils, ours is made up of many colourful characters.

"But they must remember that they are elected to deliver a service to residents and that is the most important thing."

The council is focussing on employment in rural areas in the coming months, and has plans to set up an apprenticeship scheme when it can secure adequate funding.

It will also be looking to improve relationships with gypsy and traveller communities in South Cambridgeshire.

Chief executive Greg Harlock praised the officers who have put improvements into place.

He said: "We have a team of excellent officers here, and the last report we had was not a condemnation of their work, but of the processes that dictated it.

"We have also had a lot of support from the rest of the 'local government family'.

"Officers from other councils, together with bodies such as the Improvement and Development Agency, have provided us with invaluable help and advice," he said.

Audit Commission's verdict

* Councillors' conduct has improved leading to better relationships between members and officers.

* Difficult decisions are being made rather than deferred

* The council provides improved leadership across a range of issues

* Communications with staff and public more open and effective

* Corporate planning processes are more coherent and transparent

* The council now takes an active and influential role in the setting the local growth agenda

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