Courier 14 February 2003 Letters

The worst of both worlds - poorer services at a higher cost

Should dismissals and early retirement occur following the Audit Commission report on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (Courier, January 31, 2003), would Archie Norman MP use this opportunity to advocate his concerns regarding failed directors and executives leaving with unjust sums of shareholders' money?

M Neve
Elm Road, Southborough

The worst of both worlds

The Audit Commission's report on the borough council came as no surprise. Reports over a number of years had noted inadequacies and poor performance. They had also noted that performance continued to deteriorate. Causes the commission identified were "complacency" and "lack of leadership".
This year's report was more critical; partly a reflection by the District Auditor that his warnings had been ignored.
The responsibility for the shambles rests with the conservative administration which has been in control of the council since 1998. When the Liberal Democrats were in control, Tunbridge Wells was, said the annual review by the Independent on Sunday, in the top 15 per cent most efficient councils.
Now we have the worst of both worlds - poorer services at a higher cost.

Cllr David Mills - Liberal Democrat Group
Ridgeway, Pembury

No one escaped on the issues I raised

How unfortunate for Cllr Nicholas Fairrie that he accused me of being invective and erroneous because I dared ask Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and its officers to display accountability and performance on their decision-making and that it was published at the same time as the Audit Commission report (Courier, January 31, 2003).

The report was damning on every issue I have raised - far more than I have been. Nobody escaped.

Cllr Fairrie is a new councillor and can be excused for allowing some of the older councillors to use him as their bullet, but he states that Cllr Stanley Ward is not a chairman of anything at the council, yet he chaired the controversial council meeting on October 16, 2002.

Rodney Stone does not answer questions, but makes statements to protect councillors and salaried officers; to obtain an answer is like trying to get blood out of a Stone. I do not single out Cllrs Roy Bullock and Paul Oliver-Smith; they do it themselves. The ruling cabinet which the commission report is critical of is headed by Cllrs Bullock and Oliver-Smith.

Perhaps Cllr Fairrie can understand why I ask about accountability and performance. It was reported recently that the chief executive of Kent County Council's salary rose to £128,000 a year. When he retires in tinder three years a pension of £90,000 a year will require funding of at least £lmillion. I can only assume that the residents of Kent are paying for it, but who sanctioned it?

Is it those in the queue for their own financial security? What will we be paying for town hall salaries and pensions over the next five years?

The majority of councillors are let down by a minority.

Brian Green
Maryland Road Tunbridge Wells

Trying to get through to him

Cllr Nicholas Fairriie - recently elected- suggests that the simple solution for Brian Green to obtain specific answers to his questions, is to telephone Rodney Stone, the chief executive of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (Courier, January 31, 2003).

Have any readers tried communicating with the chief executive during the past three years?

M. Neve
Elm Road, Southborough

Looking to the average

Cllr Roy Bullock is right, (Courier, February 7, 2003), there is a balance to be found between speed, quality, cost and added value of the service Tunbridge Wells Borough Council provides.
He finds a figure of 35 % of council services performing below average more acceptable than 40 %. Well, I and many other residents don't.
He says that staff turnover is running at 15 per cent against a national average of 10 % I can show him how that is costing the council up to £200,000 a year in recruitment, advertising, management, administration and training costs.
He says that 18.8 % of senior management posts are held by women against a national average of 24.4 % - there's a lot of difference between one-quarter and one-fifth.
He says that "most best value indicators that are collected by the commission do not cover most council services". What does he say to the most recent Audit Commission report on the borough's leisure services provision which states "the lack of corporate plan, community plan and cultural strategy has resulted in an ad-hoc approach to performance management, risk management and social inclusion".

Ad-hocism, lack of planning, poor performance management, lack of strategy, lack of challenge, all cost money, Cllr Bullock. Look to the average and look what you get.

By the way, who is the council's best value officer? Yes, Rodney Stone, also the chief executive.
Who tests whether he is "best value for money"?

Hugo Pound
Court Road Tunbridge Wells

Concentration of power

Cllr Roy Bullock defended the executive performance (Courier, February 7, 2003) yet Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has failed its voters according to the Audit Commission and no amount of propaganda can camouflage this.

Concentration of power into a cabinet system is a major problem. Originally councillors contributed their time to enrich the democratic process. Now there is a financial side for the ambitious few. So how much power or how many portfolios should one councillor have?

Can an individual be effective at discharging duties and obligations as a cabinet member at the same time as serving as a Kent County Council member?

The recent move to add "planning tsar" to Cllr Bullock's responsibilities appears fraught with danger. When the system goes wrong people can be isolated and left to fight possible injustice alone. Bayham Abbey Estate, Slade Farm, Hawkenbury and the sit- ing of the new hospital are examples.

Voters will have their say in the forthcoming May elections. Let us safeguard our democratic process and avoid perpetuating a system which has just been found wanting.

Edward La Coste
The Down, Lamberhurst

Failed to control council officers

At long last, the Audit Commission has highlighted what a shambles the borough council has become.

Since the change to cabinet-style control, the effect has been to concentrate power into fewer hands. With one or two exceptions, the remainder have failed abysmally to control the machinations of the council officers.

Nick Wardrop
Whyboume Crest, Hawkenbury

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"