Best Value report savages Harlow

3 May 01
Harlow District Council in Essex is one of the worst-performing local authorities in the UK, according to the Best Value Inspectorate.

04 May 2001

Normally the ever-growing mountain of reports emanating from the Best Value inspectors are garnished with careful phraseology like 'fair and will probably improve', 'meets the needs of some people well', or occasionally 'poor and unlikely to improve unless…'. But this time they are not mincing their words.

Harlow, they say, 'costs local taxpayers more per head of population than any other district in the country, and has one of the worst performances across a range of its services'.

Moreover, its 75,000 citizens are lumbered with an authority whose 'performance has been getting worse rather than better'. Many of its services, the report sums up, 'are high cost, low performance and do not seem to be improving'.

The report orders Harlow to use the private sector to deliver services such as street care, waste management and building repairs, to aim at a performance in line with the top 25% of councils by 2005, and to produce a clear financial strategy by 2001. It also recommends that the council complete a programme of Best Value reviews and invest in a training and development programme for councillors.

Central region Best Value Inspection Service chief Paul Kirby said: 'Harlow must make significant improvements in cost and performance as a matter of urgency. They have made a start with a new management team but they have a huge agenda and must further increase their capacity and abilities to change.'

But council leader Alan Jones is indignant that the inspectors have failed to take account of progress already achieved. 'We are very concerned about the lack of objectivity in this report,' he said. 'Sweeping statements are made without comprehensive evidence to back them. Views are based on performance information which is 13 months old.'

He added: 'We acknowledge that Harlow has a long way to go to be the kind of council which residents are proud of, but we have already put in place many of the mechanisms which lead us down that path.'


Did you enjoy this article?