Courier 7 February 2003 Letters

Not surprised at the Council's bad report

The Audit Commission's judgment of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's woeful performance will come as little surprise to many residents. That it comes as a surprise to senior officers and councillors is worrying for us all.

In business, I speak to chairmen and chief executives who describe under-performing colleagues as: "A nice enough person, but not really up to the job as it now is." That judgment can be applied to Rodney Stone.

We need someone who can set a sense of vision and purpose for the council. This means defining and constantly challenging both business and cultural imperatives, what it needs to do and how it is going to do it. Politicians may shape the overall direction, but the council, led by its chief executive, has to set its own standards and style.

We need someone who overtly owns the success or failure of the council to deliver a quality service. It is about saying: "This is down to me; I feel this personally." Without ownership, there is no passion, no sense of personal responsibility and, all top often, abrogation of accountability and tolerance of blaming others.

We need someone who can work with others to address the issues raised by the commission, not to brush them away as "all the nasty things said have now been addressed and I am reasonably confident that there won't be any problems"; that is a pathetic response. Embracing partnership means admitting you welcome others' ideas and opinions. Mr Stone fails to meet some key criteria of a chief executive. The councillors, too, have failed us by not recognising this fact.

Rather than a campaign highlighting the perils of changes to the county's grammar schools, why isn't the Courier mounting a campaign highlighting the perils of having an under-performing council?

Hugo Pound
Court Road Tunbridge Wells

Short-changed shareholders

It is most pertinent that Archie Norman should launch a Private Members' Bill which aims to amend the law so compensation to a departing director must take into account the company's performance, in the light of the damning Audit Commission's report on the borough council, especially as a council tax leaflet declared that the tax for the area is rising in some part to pay for salary increases to retain staff. Will he please further this to include salaried officers?

There needs to be a balance between contractual protection and total remuneration. We are the shareholders and we would like to know about these enhancements, renumeration in the light of the "scathing assessment" by the commission and decide whether these are justified. My council tax has risen dramatically. As a shareholder, I am being short-changed vis a vis a hospital on a site the majority do not wish, the ruination of Hawkenbury, bi-monthly rubbish collections, and being told I was wasting council time by asking somebody to look into the incessant late night barking of a dog.

Nicola M Vitlello
Lambourn Way Tunbridge Wells

Tired politics no good for town

The report on the borough council makes abysmal reading (Courier, January 31). The council seems to have no imagination on what should be done to make this town a joy to residents and visitors. - Compare this spa town with Cheltenham, which has a festival almost every month for visitors. What does Tunbridge Wells have? The Pantiles. While this is a gem, it is tired and needs new energy - like the council.

What if there was a civic party that crossed traditional party lines to attract people that feel the town deserves something better than tired old politicians?

Christopher Skelton,
MCSD Managing Director
Technetivity Ltd
Nevill Street Tunbridge Wells

Wake-up call comes at last

After seeing the report regarding the apparent gross mismanagement of the borough council (Courier, January 31), 1 am unable to resist announcing my sheer joy that an independent government body has recognised what I and many others in the borough have known for ages.

For too long the administration has behaved as though it is accountable to no one. Those responsible for creating this embarrassing mess should he dispensed with as soon as possible. Would a private company keep on managers who had failed?

The council must now realise that its actions will be the subject of scrutiny, not just by the inhabitants, but by this government watchdog.
At last the wake-up call has come.

Martyn Davis
Chandos Road Tunbridge Wells

The ranks will simply close

HOORAY for the Audit Commission (Courier, January 31). At last they have echoed what a number of us have felt for years about the service levels at the borough council. I have no doubt that ranks will simply close.

Jonathan M Balcon
Queens Road Tunbridge Wells

At least others might listen

We who have had to put up with failing services know only to well that it is the mis-management of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and its arrogant attitude which has brought us to this Audit Commission report (Courier, January 31). People only need to go to one of the council's meetings to hear what goes on.

It's not just about the refuse collection scheme, but planning permission, parking restrictions and a host of other things. Next we will be hearing how much our council tax is going up and the council will blame someone else for doing it.

What is happening about the money the council is making on recycling our waste? My concern is the waste scheme fiasco. Over Christmas we had weekly collections. Now we go back to the new waste scheme.

This is a service the council has paid for with our cash. Every suggestion that has been made to revise it has been rejected as too costly.

Vote this mismanaged, smug council out. The others may be no better, but at least they might listen.

Christine Cottenham
High Street Pembury

Council has to decide balance - by Councillor Roy Bullock

It achieves the objective of selling your paper, but neither the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister nor the Audit Commission have said Tunbridge Wells is a failing council, as per your inaccurate headline (Courier, January 31). On the statement: "Forty four per cent of council services are below average" the figure is nearer 35 per cent. The best value indicators that are collected by the commission do not cover most council services.

For example, we are below average hi percentage of staff employed from ethnic minorities, as 1.9 per cent against national average of 4.6 per cent. The percentage of women in senior management is 18.8 per cent against 24.4 per cent nationally. Staff leaving our employ voluntarily is 15 per cent (nationally 10.8 per cent).

Are the above outcomes really a commentary on the standard of service we provide?

As far as service-related indicators are concerned, we are below average in the percentage of invoices paid in 30 days, which is 86.7 per cent, on a national average of 87.6 per cent.
The percentage of business rates collected is 97.6 per cent, against a national average of 97.9 per cent.
Average processing time of new housing benefit claims is 50 days against the national average of 36. Percentages of overpayments of housing benefits recovered is 48.7 per cent against 52.9 per cent nationally.

The questions arise, what priority do residents wish the council to allocate to bring those service indicators above average? And do they want the council to put more resources into improving those indicators?
Both the 2000/01 and the 2001/02 planning indicators showed that we were not performing well in the speed of delivering decisions on applications. This was mainly attributable to a high turnover of staff.

We have improved the employment package and have a full staff who have improved the decision-making process. But planning is not only about speed: it is also about the quality, added value and its cost. Yet the government's drive is about speed. The council must make a decision on the balance between speed, quality, cost and added value of the service. Do readers have a view?

Cllr Roy Bullock
Old Town Hill Lamberhurst

EDITOR'S note:

The headline was not inaccurate. It was an objective assessment by us (and, we predict, any right-thinking resident) of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council based on the Audit Commission findings. If the correspondent believes we are sensationalising in order to sell papers, he is in danger of dismissing the problem and failing to recognise the feeling of unease among taxpayers over the council's performance. The figure of 44 per cent comes from the range of indicators the Audit Commission analysed.

TWBC Development Control Manager, David Prentis' role in the Telephone House Saga

What went wrong with the Telephone House Planning Applications ?
The uneasy questions to the Chief Executive Rodney Stone and other senior officers of TWBC

2003, the questions are still unanswered - they are as intriguing as in 2001.
April 2002 - CALA Homes bought this planning application.
With an ever increasing awareness of the flaws in the design? - Foundations for sustainable and viable development?

A guide through Tunbridge Wells Local Press since January 2003 - "Failing Council under Scrutiny"