An independent review has found that Breckland Council ‘is doing a good job for residents’ - do you agree?
- Credit: IAN BURT
An independent review of Breckland Council has found it is 'doing a good job for residents', 'has strong and effective leadership', and demonstrates 'sound financial management.'
A Labour councillor, however, has argued that the council could do more to engage with residents.
The findings come from a Corporate Peer Challenge report, which was presented to Breckland Council members on Thursday.
The report has been written by a team of Local Government Association (LGA) peer reviewers, comprising senior officers and councillors from other parts of the country.
They spent five days in December scrutinising various council plans and interviewing council staff and members, as well as representatives from businesses and partner organisations which work with the councils.
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The review covered Breckland Council and its partner council, South Holland District Council, in Lincolnshire, with which Breckland shares a senior management team.
Leader of Breckland Council William Nunn said: 'We have worked hard to protect and improve our services and made significant progress with initiatives aimed at supporting the districts to grow and thrive.
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'However, we strive for continuous improvement and getting input from experienced peers will be invaluable in helping us to consolidate our good progress and build on areas in which we can improve.'
Harry Clarke, a Labour councillor on the Conservative-dominated Breckland Council, said: 'In the main, I don't disagree with the review too much.
'But I think the best peer review is what the actual residents think of the council.
'The only way of telling that is if councillors get voted back in and on how many complaints the council receives.'
He added: 'I certainly think the council could do more to engage with residents and to look out how information from town and parish councils is gathered and dealt with.
'A lot of people don't fully understand what the council does and has responsibility for and more could be done in this area.
'I know some people would like to see more meetings held in evenings, so more members of the public can attend, and also to have open sessions where the public can ask questions, rather than just a few representatives.'
Conservative Cliff Jordan was leader of Breckland Council between 1998 and 2005 and is now leader of Norfolk County Council and is also a Dereham town councillor.
He said: 'A peer review is undertaken by a group of people who know nothing about Breckland, but it does give a fairly accurate snapshot into how things are and it does hold some weight.
'Some people may have issues with Breckland Council, but like in most aspects in life, you can't please everyone. That's especially the case for a local authority.
'Planning was always a big issue when I was leader of Breckland Council and it still is now, but there is only so much control the council has in this area.'
What the review found:
• Both councils are doing a good job for their residents, with a range of good quality services and involvement in a number of major projects central to economic growth.
• Both councils have good quality elected members and there are positive relationships between councillors and officers at all levels.
• It is clear that significant progress has been made in relation to many of the areas that the councils have sought to improve over recent years and elected members and staff of both councils should be applauded for this.
• The two councils demonstrate sound financial management. Whilst they face an on-going financial challenge… they have adopted a positive approach...'
• It is really positive that, even beyond those service areas and functions that operate under shared management, there is good networking, sharing and cross-fertilisation of ideas between the two councils.
Areas for future development:
The report also highlighted some areas for future development.
These included clarifying how the growth agenda is going to be shaped and a need to ensure the ambitions are clear.
It also added: 'There is still a sense that the potential benefits of the relationship between the two councils have yet to be fully capitalised upon.
'There are back office functions where there could be greater integration of systems and approaches.
'The complexity of the councils' operating models are a challenge here but things are moving forward.
'In relation to the talk of the two councils seeking to extend the shared management arrangements to include a third party, the conclusion we have come to is that there is greater benefit to be gained at this time from focusing on consolidating the existing partnership and, through this, putting themselves in the best possible position to capitalise on any third party opportunities as and when they arise.'
What happens next:
At its meeting on Friday, Breckland Council will be asked to agree a recommendation for the chief executive to work with the leader to develop an action plan based on the findings of the Peer Challenge report.
Mr Nunn said: 'I'm pleased that the review has recognised the investment we have made in developing our staff and our commitment to adapting how we work to best meet the changing needs of local residents and businesses.
'The peer reviewers noted the financial and knowledge benefits that our unique shared management arrangement has brought so far and highlighted that this has the potential for even greater rewards in the future.
'The review has also helped to identify some other ways in which we can improve – which is exactly what we were hoping for – and we will now consider how this can help shape our ongoing development.'
Do you agree with the findings? Leave your comments below.