Courier 24 March 2006


The Controversial axing of 18 jobs, including directors and department heads, at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is to go ahead.

The majority of councillors voted behind closed doors for the overhaul at the Town Hall which could cost as much as 1.6million in pensions and redundancy pay-outs.

Staff morale was described by one party leader and an employee as "low" and "badly affected" by the sweeping changes.

The reorganisation follows the Audit Commission's damning Comprehensive Performance Assessment report in 2004 which labelled the council "weak" and placed it in the bottom quartile of authorities across the country.

The radical changes aim to make the troubled authority "fit for purpose", by delivering newly- defined priorities following the CPA and creating a net saving of more than 500,000 a year.

The public and press were barred from a meeting to vote on the restructure, but Lib Dems councillors had fought to keep the debate "in the open".

Before the Kent and Sussex Courier was asked to leave, Lib Dem Cllr Alf Baker said: "We are a service to the public of Tunbridge Wells and they should know what we are doing and why we are doing it."

Earlier in the meeting new chief executive Sheila Wheeler, a former Government trouble- shooter who along with council leader Cllr Melvyn Howell has driven the changes, said: "We have come on a long journey and have arrived at a place which is for a lot of people very difficult." Behind closed doors there was a vote of 28 to 11 in favour of the proposals.

The following morning interviews with affected staff began. One long-serving officer, who the Courier agreed not to name, spoke of disappointment and frustration at not now being able to see projects come to fruition.

In January the Courier revealed the extent of the biggest review ever undertaken by the council after leaked internal communications.

But on Wednesday, 22.03.06, the council released the consultation documents sent to all staff, which showed the redundancies. They include director of operational services, finance director and deputy chief executive, head of strategy and development, head of marketing and tourism development, head of corporate marketing and communications and head of highways and transportation services.

Leader of the Lib Dems, Cllr David Mills said the financial cost of implementing the proposals would be "significant and immediate".
He added: "Any benefits will emerge over a lengthy period and remain questionable at present."
He said that through the redundancies the council was losing the services of "a number of extremely able people" and this would "adversely affect its ability to operate effectively in the future".
"Morale is already badly affected and serious efforts will need to be made to rebuild it."

TWBC Chief Executive's and Senior Officers' Attitude towards Residents and Rate Payers - A failing Council under Scrutiny

Tunbridge Wells Local Press reporting: "A failing Council - confirmed by the Audit Commission"

The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells
The aims are to heighten peoples' awareness and concern for the high-density development on Telephone House site, Church Road / York Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1.