Courier 10 October 2003 Front Page


By Mary Harris

Bosses at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council are radically overhauling the entire operation in a bid to "shape up" and deliver what the public wants.

The authority's direction, along with the service it delivers, is entering a new era with the admission lessons have been learnt from past failings.
A radical reorganisation at the Town Hall which has seen three top jobs axed including the head of the much-criticised planning department has nearly concluded its first phase.

Phase two which will be unveiled to councillors in secret on November 5, will put further managers under the spotlight.
Independent troubleshooters could be hired to investigate the inner workings of the organisation and its 450 staff. The purpose of this is to get the council in the "right shape" to deliver the agenda, while also making initial savings of around 200,000, said chief executive Rodney Stone who has masterminded the "fundamental reassessment".

The work of the troubled housing department, which in past years was almost crippled by a backlog of benefit payments and staffing problems, is likely to be contracted to an outside body.

Employees were said to be "understandably apprehensive" but morale was holding up.

The moves seen by many as long overdue, were largely forced by a damning Audit Commission report earlier this year which exposed the council as failing. Nearly half of council services were below average and aspects of housing and the entire planning department in the bottom quarter of the country.
The council was also criticised for its continued lack of a corporate plan, a document detailing how money will be used. But now with the emerging Community Strategy, which will influence policy on all areas from crime to the economy, and the Corporate Plan, the council claims it is in a "strong position" to bring about positive changes.

Mr Stone told the Kent and Sussex Courier - - :
"The intention is to focus the council's resources on what the public has told us they want and to continue providing the best value council tax bills in the county. We had learned lessons about the Corporate Plan and some processes and we are now moving rapidly into the position we ought to be in. The way staff and council members are organised is a vital part of this exercise."

Managers leave
Three senior managers, head of planning and building control Nigel Eveleigh, head of environmental health and housing Stephen Collins and finance services manager Stephen Straw have taken early retirement or redundancy.
Those departments have been split: planning and building control will become separate entities, as will environmental and health.

Labour group leader councillor Ronnie Ooi said his party would help the council achieve its goals but its strategies needed to be more integrated. "Recently there has been a plethora of new policies and plans and they don't seem to be integrated. They need to be organised as a cohesive framework of policies. Whether they are in a new era or not is still in the balance. They need to build concrete steps to prove this."

Lib Dem leader councillor David Mills said: "A series of very critical reports clearly needed drastic action but perhaps not the panic reaction we have seen. "Some of the measures taken suggested that the problems were at the officer/staff level whereas the more important failures were of political leadership and management."
He added: "Of course we are glad to see that problems are at last being addressed. The council remains a relatively rich authority. While we are very much aware of the imperative need to be prudent with public money we do regard some recent decisions as unnecessarily penny-pinching."

MP Archie Norman said: "Tunbridge Wells needs a dynamic and imaginative council, something with leadership for the town and a vision for the future. I hope this signals a change of gear."

David Prentis is the new TWBC Head of Planning
David Prentis' role in the Telephone House Saga, then TWBC Development Control Manager

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"