Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Pinch of Salt

It must be really hard for readers of our local weblogs to know what to believe anymore, particularly when it comes to the subject of politics and the council.

You can be sure though that truth is invariably the first casualty of party politics and on one weblog, I read that Thanet is: "the most underperforming Council in Britain" and on others I see how badly we compare with others when assessed by the audit commission and the blame for this apparently lies with the Conservative administration.

It's odd then, that a new report from the Audit Commission shows that Thanet District Council is in the top 50 out of almost 400 in the country for the improvements it has made to its services.

The Annual Audit and Inspection Letter ranks the council as 43rd out of 388 authorities for the number of performance indicators that improved between 2006/07 and 2007/08. The report states: “The council continued to focus on improving outcomes for local communities, linked to its ambitions. Crime has fallen and more people feel safe walking after dark. Streets are cleaner, recycling has increased and public satisfaction is improving.”

Other areas singled out for praise include the opening of Thanet’s Gateway Plus, which “has led to reduced waiting time and increased library usage”, the speed of decision making on planning applications and the award of the Charter Mark standard for customer service. Measures to make Thanet safer that are highlighted in the report include the extension of CCTV to Margate and Newington and increased prosecution of graffiti taggers.

Less successful areas included the percentage of private sector homes vacant for six months, the amount of overpayments in housing benefit that were recovered and the collection of rent.

Cllr. Martin Wise, Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services, said: “This report shows Thanet’s continued improvement. The fact that we’re now amongst the top 50 councils for improving our services is a great result and thanks to the hard work of all our officers. The fact that we’ve focused on services that matter most to local people, such as waste and recycling, reducing crime, benefits and planning applications is clearly paying dividends. Our challenge now will be continuing that journey of improvement in a tougher financial climate, but residents can rest assured, we will continue to offer the best possible value for money in everything we do.”

It comes after the Audit Commission’s Use of Resources assessment rated money management and value for money at Thanet District Council as above average. This was compared to a year earlier, when the council was classed as performing adequately.

I happen to be a member of the Governance & Audit Committee and we have a meeting, this evening to discuss the council's performance management, a stirring tale of adventure to be sure. Any council can do better and Thanet is no exception, having it's weak spots that need to be addressed and improved. However, to peddle the story that we are "most underperforming Council in Britain" among other allegations, illustrates the charged political atmosphere that now exists, with county elections just around the corner and perhaps even a General Election not too far away.

Some Blogs, like newspapers. are perhaps best read for their entertainment value, much like studyin the pages of the Daily Star or Sunday Sport for incisive political analysis.


Michael Child said...

I Simon while I agree with a lo of what you say about misinformation on the blogs I have considerable misgivings about the only aspect of all this high performing council stuff that I have experience of namely Thanet Gateway.

To my mind it has done considerable damage to Margate Library, could I recommend that you go and try to use the library for a little quiet research and see what you think.

Ken Gregory said...

Can we not get real here, leave the County election behind and realise that there are people out there of both major parties who want the best for Thanet. At Present we are working as a council for the improvement of Thanet, The next elections are in 2011, so lets spend 18 months getting on with the job we were all elected for, not spending our life sniping at each other. Or is that too simplistic for those who want to spend their entire life fighting and not getting on with the job they asked to do????

DrMoores said...

I really don't think that the average member of the public grasps how worryingly awful the prospects are for local Government revenues as the recession bites.

BBC Radio 4 even had a programme devoted to the subject which I listened to on the way home from Governance and Audit this evening. I recommend that you try and get the repeat, it was aired at about 8:15pm

In a nutshell, in benefits dependent society being increasingly overloaded with new legislation and costs, such as improved child protection, the money has to come from somewhere but most councils have seen their revenue from business, parking, investment and much more, simply dry-up in recent months.

Many councils in this country and especially those that invested badly and lost their money, are now looking over the edge of an abyss.

DrMoores said...

A note here for one of our familiar "anonymous" posters whose inimitable style of polite and concerned 'enquiry' I know so well.

If you wish to determine what my level of renumeration or that of any other councillor of any party, beyond the details freely given elsewhere on this weblog, you are welcome to use the Freedom of Information powers available to you and apply in writing to TDC, providing your correspondence name and address.

The Refuser said...

I'm surprised they haven't blamed it all on Margaret Thatcher. It seems to be the default position for most of the critics. Good ripsoste re the FOI act by the way. I rather doubt there will be many takers though.

ascu75 aka Don said...

I agree Simon most local blogs snipe and try to score points in some unseen contest. I was only thinking after my reply on Marks blog about the council tax increase if people think 2p a day is expensive wonder what they will think as we try and maintain standards with less income I know I am not as a disabled non tax payer qualifyied to comment on the increase this year but most people moan and then moan again but perhaps that is just the Thanet blog scene