Council Report: “Work in Progress”

Introduction

The Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) is a new way of assessing local public services in England.

It examines how well councils are working together with other public bodies to meet the needs of the people they serve.

It’s a joint assessment made by a group of six independent watchdogs.

There is a lot of information there, so we have trimmed it down to bite-size chunks.

Over the next few days, we will be interviewing a variety of key people to gauge their views on the report.

Our overview on Community Cohesion and Educational Attainment can be found on:

http://www.yourthurrock.com/2009/12/09/community-relations-and-education-slammed-by-audit-commission

Explaining the Score

The “Organisational Assessment” score is 2/4 because the Council delivers a mixed range of quality in its services and its use of resources is adequate.

The “managing performance” score is 2 because the quality of Council services is mixed.

Leadership

It has undergone some significant organisational changes and is addressing weaknesses and services are improving. Work is underway to put in place effective political arrangements.

Leadership is improving. A new Leader and Interim Chief Executive are making a positive impact and increasing stability.

The capacity of senior management has been enhanced with additional senior staff to deliver sustainable improvement.

The Council has developed a programme of improvement for services which is being implemented.

However some political relationships are still developing. Although progress is being made, it is fragile with much remaining to be done.

Health

Results for improving children’s health are mixed. The number of primary-age children who are obese is well above other areas and increasing.

Teenage pregnancies have reduced significantly

Adult Social Care

Adult social care is improving. The Council is supporting people well to exercise choice and control of the support they receive to help them live independently.

The number of people using assistive technology which helps prevent accidents has increased over the past 12 months. This is delivering a better standard of support for individuals as well as improving value for money by reducing interventions.

Service users influence the way services are provided so that they meet their needs and expectations.

Thurrock has made good progress introducing personal budgets. As a result services are tailored to meet the personal needs and choices of users.

Thurrock Council has improved its day programmes for younger adults with learning disabilities.

It has set up a community company called Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions, which is run by seven directors who have learning disabilities (supported by staff) to run the services. This helps deliver the services that the users need.

Use of Resources

The Use of Resources score is 2 because the 2008/09 accounts have been presented on time and are of a much better standard than last year.

However, the Medium Term Financial Strategy is not sufficiently developed. It highlighted a budget gap but did not show how it was to be closed.

Links to priorities are unclear and there is no strategic asset management plan in place, although one is currently being developed.

The Constitution has not been reviewed since 2007 and work is underway to address this.

There is a good framework to monitor costs and performance.

Cumulative efficiency targets are being achieved.

Financial and other information is accessible to the public through the Council’s website.

The Council has spent the last 18 months developing policies and strategies to improve the management of natural resources. There is now a clear understanding of the current position and challenging targets have been set by the Council.

Procurement Remains Weak

The Council is addressing this but it is still early days and there are few tangible signs of improvement.

There are some good examples of commissioning services in Adult Social Care and Children’s Services. However, effective commissioning is not consistent across all areas.

The Council is looking at its procurement and contract management arrangements following inappropriate awarding of some significant contracts.

Housing services are improving.

Repairs are now being carried out more promptly. Thurrock is progressing well to meet the decent homes standard by 2010 and tenant satisfaction is good.

Compliance with gas safety standards has improved with current performance at 99.5 per cent.

Safety checks are also being undertaken during evenings and Saturday mornings, thus improving customer access. As a result, the backlog has been removed and a better service is being provided.

Health

Thurrock is becoming healthier. Smoking cessation activities are effective and the gap in mortality rates between the most advantaged and disadvantaged areas of the Borough are narrowing.

Successful joint working to help prevent falls amongst old people has led to fewer people being admitted to hospital with fractures, down from 183 in 2007 to 139 in 2008-09.

Safer Environment

Thurrock is becoming a safer place to live. Crime is reducing. Effective working between the Police and Probation Service has led to fewer offences committed by young people,

Lower rates of re-offending and a large fall in the proportion of young people appearing in court receiving custodial sentences.

The Council has set up a new community protection team to address anti-social behaviour, together with focused work in specific localities to address concerns of anti-social behaviour.

As a result, there has been a 15 per cent fall in reports of anti social behaviour.

However over the last six months there has been a slight increase in the crime rate, especially domestic burglary.

However, too few young offenders take part in education, employment or training.

The Drug and Alcohol Action Team is effective. Performance against the 2008/09 Treatment Plan has been positive. As a result there has been a sustained increase in take up of treatment by drug users and an increase in the number of alcohol interventions.

In a recent survey young people reported how often they use alcohol and drugs which is lower than elsewhere.

Cleaner and Greener Environment

Recycling is improving. In 2008/09, 30 per cent of waste was recycled compared to 28 per cent in the previous year.

A new civic amenity site and re-use centre has been built with funding from Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation (TTGDC) and land from the Council.

A new three-bin recycling scheme is being rolled out across Thurrock which is helping to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

Partnership working is helping to improve open spaces. For example in the Mardyke Valley the Council has improved biodiversity and opened up cycle routes.

Thurrock is working with police to stop motorcycles causing nuisance in public areas. This is helping to improve safer access to these areas for local people.

The Council has developed a range of policies and strategies to improve its use of environmental resources.

These include the Sustainable Development Strategy, Tree Strategy, and the Greengrid Strategy.

The Greengrid strategy is one of the first in the country and is recognised as best practice for ensuring that green spaces are linked together.

Energy usage and carbon footprint baselines have been established across all services.

A carbon reduction action plan is in place with challenging targets for the future (a target of 35 per cent carbon savings within six years).

The Council is establishing systems and processes to manage its own performance to reduce its use of energy. However it is still too early to report on the impact of these activities.

The Council has made limited progress to date in improving the energy efficiency of its buildings.

Most Council buildings are not energy efficient. However, there have been some energy efficiency gains as part of library refurbishments.

All schools have green travel plans but the green travel plan for the council offices remains to be implemented.

Cycle allowances and hire bikes are made available for staff to encourage alternative modes of transport.

Transport

Progress is being made in developing key transport projects. Plans for Thurrock’s part of the South Essex Rapid Transit are now well advanced, supported by £17m external funding.

The Council has produced a transport strategy which includes green travel and ways to get people to switch to public transport.

Partnership working in transport is delivering financial and service benefits.

The joint management of passenger transport with Essex County Council has led to an increase of 20 per cent of the number of bus journeys made in the in the last year.

Delivering Excellence and Achieving Value for Money

Thurrock has the fourth lowest rate of band D council tax for any unitary council.

In 2008/09 £2,692,000 of efficiency savings were achieved.

The Council has an effective reporting mechanism on value for money and is looking at a range of its contracts, with negotiations well advanced for a more cost effective waste collection service which is due to start in April 2010.

This is part of the new Municipal Waste Management Strategy to meet the Council’s future requirements for managing waste.

Asset management remains under-developed. There is no proper asset management plan in place. This means that the Council is not fully aware of all the assets that it owns.

A draft property asset management plan is scheduled to be considered by councillors in September 2009. However, this means that at the present time the Council is not making effective use, or getting value for money from, its asset base.

The Council has taken successful action to minimise the effects of the loss of funding from the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation (TTGDC).

In March 2009 £400,000 per annum was lost by the Council when TTGDC withdrew the agreement for development control services. In response, the Council has entered into a new agreement with TTGDC for specialised planning services. For example, advice on historic buildings and it has reorganised development control services to cover the reduced income.

Planning

The speed at which planning applications are decided is improving. More planning applications were considered within eight weeks during 2008/09 than in the previous year.

Improvements to achieve this include a new telephone system and the ability to make applications on line.

Housing Benefits

Housing benefit is being paid more quickly.

The Council and its partner have successfully taken action to improve the processing of benefit claims.

Last year they reduced the time it took to make payments and this has continued to improve in 2009/10.

The council is improving the delivery of benefits claims despite increasing workloads brought about by the economic downturn.

Actions taken include moving staff from back to front office, changed reception arrangements, dealing with papers at first point of contact and improving technology. As a result, people are waiting less time for their payments.

Partnerships

Areas of focus include developing relations between senior officers and councillors, improving governance arrangements, communications and people management, strengthening Overview and Scrutiny to provide a better challenge and improved management of the Vertex partnership.

However some political relationships are fragile which is slowing the rate of progress. Although progress is being made, it is fragile and it is early days with much remaining to be done.

Relationships with the Development Corporation are much better. It is seen by the Council and other partners as being central in delivering the regeneration ambitions of the area, although on occasions some tensions persist when identifying potential development sites.

The Development Corporation is helping to shape some key Council strategies and projects including the new recycling facility in West Thurrock. This is helping to ensure that plans are coordinated and are aiming to deliver the best outcomes for Thurrock.

Key regeneration projects are starting to be delivered. Work has started on the new Royal Opera House set construction site and the new civic amenity site is open.

Consultation with local people about the proposed new community hospital in Grays is now underway. These projects are helping regeneration in Thurrock.

Shaping Thurrock

A greater clarity is emerging around the role and work of Shaping Thurrock. It is developing its arrangements so it becomes more effective in delivering shared priorities.

It has recently established action plans to deliver its key local area agreement targets to improve outcomes for local people. The effectiveness of the partnership is being reviewed as the decision making processes are not clear and some partners do not feel fully involved. As a result, Shaping Thurrock is developing its role to meet the ambitions for local people.

Business

The Council is undertaking a range of initiatives with its partners to address problems resulting from the economic downturn, including the Thurrock Business Association.

Examples include support for small businesses such as a careers’ fair to encourage recruitment and providing starter business units.

There is an improved take up of the small business rate relief scheme and £100,000 is available for social enterprise schemes through the Thurrock Business Association. However, there is no coordinated approach to bring these initiatives together and deliver a coordinated sustainable solution.

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