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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 16:31 GMT
England's worst councils exposed
Children in class
Education is one of the services taken into account
Councils across England have been ranked according to the quality of the services they provide.

The study by the Audit Commission has been described as the most thorough assessment of council performance yet.

Councils have been given one of five ratings, ranging from excellent to poor.

The top performers - 22 councils - have been promised new freedoms from government control, while the 13 at the bottom will be offered help to recover.

'Poor' councils
North-east Lincolnshire
North Tyneside
Waltham Forest
But some councils are challenging the findings.

Salford City Council, rated a "weak" authority, is planning to seek a judicial review of the assessment.

The Audit Commission's performance table ranks all of England's 150 unitary authorities and county councils.

Its aim was to pull together all the previous, disparate inspections to provide a definitive account of council performance.

Councils were placed in one of five brackets - excellent, good, fair, weak and poor - based on their provision of key services, their use of resources and their ability to improve.

All councils not rated excellent now have a month to draw up a plan to improve their public services.

The Audit Commission judged 22 councils as excellent, 54 as good, 39 fair, 22 weak and 13 as poor.

By region, the North East has the highest proportion of excellent councils (25%), while Yorkshire and Humber notched up the highest proportion of councils rated poor (20%).

Excellent councils will get no more inspections from the Audit Commission beyond the statutory requirements over the next three years.

They will also be given more freedom in how they raise and use their cash.

Liberal Democrat leader Sue Proctor at Cheshire County Council, one of the 22 excellent performers, said the rating was an achievement of which everyone involved should feel proud.

"It reflects consistently high performance over a number of years with all political parties and our hard-working staff being able to take some of the credit," she said.

Salford City Council was dropped from a "fair" to a "weak" authority just days before the publication of the scores.

Children in class
Some 150 councils were assessed
Council leader Bill Hinds said the assessment was flawed and the downgrading could be "devastating".

"We have taken legal advice and believe we have sufficient grounds for a judicial review," he said.

"We don't believe we are a weak authority, and the inspectors who actually came to Salford said they don't feel we are a weak authority."

'We will intervene'

Eileen Salloway, leader at poorly-rated Torbay Council, added her objections to the findings.

'Excellent' councils
Blackburn with Darwen
Corporation of London
Hammersmith & Fulham
Kensington & Chelsea
West Sussex
"The commission defines poor and weak councils as offering inadequate services or low standards of service.

"Yet this is not how Torbay is described in the reports on individual services published by the Audit Commission."

Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said the government would be working with all the poor authorities.

"If we believe there is a need for additional intervention, we will not hesitate to intervene," he said.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities in England and Wales, said the figures showed a significant number of local authorities were doing an "excellent" job.

'Government listened'

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the LGA, said: "It has been a challenging time for local authorities.

"CPA (comprehensive performance assessment) has been a burdensome period of form-filling and inspection.

"But we are pleased that the government has listened to our calls for less inspection and more freedom to develop services that address the needs of local people," he added.

An assessment of district councils will start next year.

How does your council perform? We want to hear your experiences. Use the form below to give us your views.

Have your say

There's nothing we can do to change the culture of failure within the council

Pete Lucas, Wiltshire, UK
I'm unlucky enough to live in the Swindon council area. Last year we saw a council tax hike of around 15%, and it looks like this year we're in for at least another 10%. The council's reputation is rock-bottom with everyone I know. It can take months to get a simple hole in the road patched. But there's nothing we can really do to change the embedded culture of failure within the council - except, perhaps, by wholesale privatisation?
Pete Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

I used to live in Gateshead and was constantly impressed with the local council's performance but recently I moved to Salford and its like the Third World, the gyms are sparse and foreboding the roads are absolutely atrocious, so bad that I get headaches from being shaken around so much. I used to think different political parties have different priorities but was surprised to learn both are Labour!
Jacob Cope, England

I'm not surprised that North Tyneside is in the poor category. Its Labour and Tory members have been squabbling for years and as for funding an expensive fish quay festival when there's a substantial 2m bill to care for the elderly, holding the local hospital and its elderly patients to ransom - WOW. If this were a novel it should be Pride and Penurious by the councillors and chums.
Sophia, North Tyneside

I think it would be a good idea if central government departments were subjected to the same tests.

I live in Hull and you cannot argue with the findings on the report. It is very apparent that the council is made up of many individuals who are there for their own agendas, not the city. They would rather spend 3m on fancy railings and granite slabs at pedestrian crossings (ripping up the special surfaces for blind people in the process) than a new much needed CCTV system.
Richard, UK

If my council, Portsmouth is so good, why is it being penalised? As we face a 16-20% hike in council tax increases next year. Oh and our Labour MP suggests we should stop whingeing about it!
Ian Brown, England

The BBC's Denise Mahoney
"The government will not hesitate to intervene"
James Strachan, chairman of the Audit Commission
"This is the most comprehensive analysis that has ever been done"

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Ratings by region
See also:

12 Dec 02 | England
09 Dec 02 | Education
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