Council chiefs get nasty shock

BOSSES at a council got a shock when it was put under the microscope by a team of experts – with services and management falling well below expectations.

BOSSES at a council got a shock when it was put under the microscope by a team of experts – with services and management falling well below expectations.

Officers at Suffolk Coastal believed it would be classed as "good", and would be near to excellent, proving to be one of the better run councils in the country.

But today it was revealed the team which spent three days investigating the authority disagreed – and felt there was still some work to do before it could even be judged as "good".

Council leader Ray Herring said: "Their report was a mixture of compliments and concerns as would be expected in their role as a 'critical friend'.

"Their comments now give us a few months to target where we need to increase our efforts to make a genuine impact before our formal Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) review by the Audit Commission in September.

"They were impressed with the innovative approach Suffolk Coastal are taking in its Moving Forward Together efficiency review but felt we still had some work to do if we are to achieve a desired 'Good' CPA rating against the current background of substantial change."

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The inspection, called a peer challenge, was organised by the Improvement and Development Agency to give a snapshot of how the council is achieving.

The Audit Commission will judge every council in England based on the quality of service it provides and how likely it is to improve. As a result of this, councils are rated as excellent, good, fair, weak or poor.

The visiting team – Simon Brian, of East Midlands Local Government Association; David Parr, chief executive of Macclesfield Borough Council; and Malcolm Buckley, leader of Basildon District Council – met senior councillors and officers, as well as people from all levels of the council.

They also spoke to representatives of some of the council's partner organisations.

Mr Herring thanked the team for how open and honest it had been, and its recognition that there was "a genuine desire across the council to deliver real improvement, not just talk about delivering it".

Among the team's recommendations were an emphasis on improving communications, setting milestones and key target dates, developing a more robust medium term financial plan, a reduction in the number of council priorities, and investment to tackle areas where performance could be improved.

"How we are ranked under the CPA process is important as the Government has offered what are called 'additional freedoms and flexibilities' to councils which perform well," said Mr Herring.

"Although the government limits these benefits at present, this could mean fewer inspections, fewer plans to produce, and more scope on how to spend money we raise.

"We will now give considerable thought to the recommendations, and take on board as many of them as possible."

n What do you think of Suffolk Coastal council and the way it is run? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

n Council reports – see page eight.