Hackney goes up a grade
Today's CPA (Comprehensive Performance Assessment) ranking of local authorities has my own council, Hackney, listed as "a Council that is improving well and demonstrating a 2 star overall performance."
This may not sound like big news, but only 4 or 5 years ago Hackney was a zero star authority, the worst performing in the country.
The Audit Commission now says:
"Hackney has established arrangements to support continued improvement and in some areas is among the fastest improving councils in the country. More than three-quarters of performance indicators show improvement, but in a number of areas overall outcomes remain low in comparison to other local authorities, for example, the length of stay in bed and breakfast accommodation. The Council has made good progress against its key priority areas. It has improved its services, including the cleanliness of streets. Hackney scored well in the 2006 review of services for children and young people and has provided effective community leadership which has increased civic pride in Hackney. Resident satisfaction and education performance are improving. The Council is making effective contributions to wider community outcomes, for example increasing recycling performance. The Service First programme is improving access to services. Hackney can now continue to improve the way it works and the services it provides. It has increased its capacity to improve and there are no significant weaknesses in corporate governance. There are grounds for confidence that improvement will continue."
Back in 2000 - the last year of Hackney being a hung council before Labour took control - it was rated "Poor Service - Uncertain prospects for improvement" and the Commission was saying:
"Hackney is not a well run council and has not been for too long. There are some good services in Hackney and there are many staff who are working hard and doing a good job. The council has pioneered some excellent initiatives. However, Hackney’s weaknesses are fundamental and considerably outweigh its strengths:
- The council has very serious financial problems and has not yet got these under control. It cannot meet its anticipated financial commitments without significant expenditure reductions. These problems are so serious as to threaten the council’s ability to function satisfactorily. The Council faces a deficit of up to £40m in 2000/1 if urgent action is not taken. Resolving financial difficulties has not been given sufficient priority. In the past the council has been poorly served by the financial information and advice it has received from its officers.
- There has not been clear political leadership and it remains too difficult to identify how decisions are made and how to challenge them. Councillors in all parties lack the information and advice they need to make well-founded judgements on how well the council does its job; how much it should spend; what level of taxes and charges are right; what changes will make the most difference and what type of partner or employer it wishes to be.
- The council does not have a strong team of top managers to play a key part in leading it out of trouble. It has recently appointed a new Managing Director and Director of Social Services which is a start. The other top posts covering education, environment, housing, finance and other services are vacant or soon will be. New recruits are being sought. Interim managers have been recruited to cover some essential posts. Nevertheless, the lack of a full team of talented experienced and committed top managers remains a major gap. The financial management function is particularly under strength and this is a vital area given the problems facing the council.
- Some essential services are failing the council’s citizens. 17,000 housing benefit claims are awaiting assessment. Tenants face eviction and social landlords face financial losses. A by-product of this failure is that the deficit in the council tax collection fund will increase in 2000/1 and the council faces a cash shortfall. The waste collection and street cleansing services are not meeting even basic standards though they are among the most expensive in the country. While improvements have been made the council’s care for children at risk remains below required standards. Hackney is among the highest spenders in local government but many services remain below acceptable standards.
- There is a culture of depressed cynicism amongst many of the council’s management. Years of structural change and uncoordinated innovation have undermined staff energy and enthusiasm and created suspicion about necessary change. Sound financial management and some basic services have suffered as a result. One of the borough’s strengths – its racial and cultural diversity – has been turned into a problem as the Council has failed to learn better ways of tackling racism and discrimination and become mired in the fall out from high profile disputes and past mistakes."