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Being Labour, Cotterill on the Council

West Lancs Borough Council: presentation vs. performance

12.21.09 | Comment?

I’ll no doubt be covering the council’s very worrying Comprehensive Area Assessment report a lot in the coming days and weeks, as it and the Tory council’s response to it raises enormous concerns and reveals a lot about the council’s mix of ineptness and arrogance, but for starters here’s the complete press release about it.  It didn’t get printed in full in the local papers last week:

Response to West Lancashire Borough Council CAA

 The Audit Commission’s latest assessment of West Lancashire Borough Council’s performance has revealed once and for all major failings by the Conservative administration.

 Last Christmas, the Conservatives were spending taxpayer cash putting ‘five stars’ on all the council’s bin wagons, despite no such rating existing.  This Christmas, the very Audit Commission whose rating they were so willfully abusing has exposed some of the reality of their shoddy performance.

 Far from being the ‘five star’ authority it claimed to be last Christmas, the report finds that in many areas of its service the council ‘meets only minimum requirements’, ‘could do more’ in others, and that in some areas the council is simply failing the people of West Lancashire.

 Just a year ago, this Tory council was spending taxpayer money in an effort to sell itself in a competition as one of the best in England.  At the time, the Labour group said that this was a waste.  A year on, we have ample proof that the administration was indulging in delusional behaviour, and that time and money would be much better spent putting right the mistakes already made.

 While there are a wide numbers of concerns within the report, the biggest council failings identified by the Audit Commission come in its housing service.  The catalogue of failings in the Housing Department include a failing repairs and maintenance service; delays in safety checks on gas appliances; long waits for tenants on the phone; delays for families in temporary accommodation; delays in letting homes; increasing rent arrears.  Finally, the council has simply failed in its duties to provide anywhere near enough affordable housing for the people of West Lancashire.

 The assessment demonstrates the administration has failed to properly fund housing services, and that tenants are not receiving the services to which they are entitled.  Labour will seek an urgent meeting of the Tenants & Residents Forum to discuss the assessment, and what the administration intends to do about it.

 The report also finds that the council has not done enough to help West Lancashire withstand the recessionary period.  This is hardly surprising, given the way jobs and capacity have been slashed in the Regeneration Division responsible for this area.

 In terms of leisure services provision, it does seem that the council has ‘gotten away with it’, and managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the Audit Commission.  The report fails to address the massive inequalities in the provision of leisure services since privatization, and the weakness of the contract with Serco, which means that the council still has to shell out for major repairs like that to Nye Bevan pool roof while still paying Serco more than a million pounds a year in subsidies.

 The most revealing figure is that only 42% of residents are satisfied with leisure facilities in the area; this very low figure is almost certainly linked to the council’s decision to refuse government grants for the provision of free swimming for young people.

 The Audit Commission report is based on the performance of the council before it announced its programme of savage job and service cuts.  The prospect of what is now in store for us, under a Conservative administration more focused on hoarding reserves than using taxpayer money properly, is not an attractive one.

Overall, the Labour group hopes that this report will act as a wake up call for the current Tory administration.   It has spent far too long believing its own PR; now is the time for it to get real about the problems it has created.

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