Courier 24 December 2004

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's dismal performance

A harsh reminder was given this week of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's dismal performance in a rigorous country-wide analysis of district councils.

Figures published by the Audit Commission show the council came 218th out of the 237 councils - and to rub salt into the wounds - Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council came top.

The official confirmation of the failings of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which employs 450 people, were no surprise for staff and members.

Asked how it felt to be placed so low, chief executive Rodney Stone said: "It isn't unexpected but as we have already reported, we are making efforts to improve things and already these changes are beginning to take effect."

The stark contrast of the success at Tonbridge, a town five miles away, left many residents hoping Tunbridge Wells could learn from its counterpart.

Mr Stone said: "They have a more robust management and committee system than we do and they are clearer about their priorities than we have been.
"They have a very strong cabinet that works together well. We have been very fortunate that Tonbridge and Malling has given a lot of time recently to work with us on improving the way we work.
"We are unsurprised and delighted for them to learn they have been rated the highest in the country and are grateful they are happy to share their experience with us so we can learn from them and improve."

The five main areas the council is focussing on to improve its performance area:

  1. Review of its corporate plan and best value performance plan to produce one definitive document with clear objectives; both were criticised by the commission.

  2. Review its decision-making processes; learn from other councils which are operating effectively; cabinet and overview and scrutiny committees will be overhauled.

  3. An action plan to engage with partners like business community and voluntary organisations.

  4. Improve performance management; improve systems to manage the council's commitment to its community; look to other councils to learn how they do this.

  5. Some services like recycling and leisure were judged to be very good but some were not.

Radical changes will be made in the way services are delivered. Housing was an area highlighted as needing urgent attention. New appointments have been made including a new head of housing.

The Audit Commission will inspect again in 2007 and while the council is "not underestimating the challenge ahead" it hoped to be rated as "at least good", said Mr Stone.
The council has regular meetings with the office of the deputy prime minister which has agreed its improvement plan and will monitor progress.

When asked of the general mood at the council following the report, Mr Stone said: "CPA has always been viewed as a wake-up call for the council and the officers and councillors are working hard to make the improvements necessary to not only achieve a better score next time but to provide the best service we can to our council taxpayers."

23.07.04 - Fresh Blow for 'Weak' Council
and Note written by a Tunbridge Wells Resident:
" I wonder whether he considers he has done a satisfactory job so long as there are more positives than negatives ? Whatever the balance in the opinion of Mr Stone, there have been so many of the latter that any sensitive Chief Executive would have long since resigned.
Stone has not done so and should now be dismissed. "

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

2005, the questions are still unanswered - they are as intriguing as in 2001.

2001 - Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's Internal Inquiry into the Telephone House Debacle

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