2007-2008 - Annual Audit and Inspection Letter -  Shepway DC v1.0
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2007-2008 - Annual Audit and Inspection Letter - Shepway DC v1.0

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Annual Audit and Inspection Letter Shepway District Council Audit 2007/08 March 2009 Contents Key messages 3 Purpose, responsibilities and scope 5 How is Shepway District Council performing? 6 The audit of the accounts and value for money 16 Looking ahead 20 Closing remarks 21 Status of our reports The Statement of Responsibilities of Auditors and Audited Bodies issued by the Audit Commission explains the respective responsibilities of auditors and of the audited body. Reports prepared by appointed auditors are addressed to non-executive directors/members or officers. They are prepared for the sole use of the audited body. Auditors accept no responsibility to: • any director/member or officer in their individual capacity; or • any third party. Key messages Key messages 1 The Council was assessed as 'good' in the corporate re-assessment carried out in 2008. This is a notable achievement and demonstrates the progress the Council has made in strengthening its corporate effectiveness. The Council was found to have clear and realistic ambitions, which were shared with partners, and addressed the broad needs of the community. Prioritisation was effective, with strong political and managerial leadership highlighted. Performance management was found to be developing still. As a result, whilst there have been some significant achievements, improvements have been from a low base and often internally focussed. 2 Despite this, the Council ...

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Annual Audit and Inspection Letter
Shepway District Council
Audit 2007/08
March 2009
Contents   Key messages Purpose, responsibilities and scope How is Shepway District Council performing? The audit of the accounts and value for money Looking ahead Closing remarks  
Status of our reports The Statement of Responsibilities of Auditors and Audited Bodies issued by the Audit Commission explains the respective responsibilities of auditors and of the audited body. Reports prepared by appointed auditors are addressed to non-executive directors/members or officers. They are prepared for the sole use of the audited body. Auditors accept no responsibility to:  any director/member or officer in their individual capacity; or  any third party.  
 
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Key messages
Key messages 1 The Council was assessed as 'good' in the corporate re-assessment carried out in 2008. This is a notable achievement and demonstrates the progress the Council has made in strengthening its corporate effectiveness. The Council was found to have clear and realistic ambitions, which were shared with partners, and addressed the broad needs of the community. Prioritisation was effective, with strong political and managerial leadership highlighted. Performance management was found to be developing still. As a result, whilst there have been some significant achievements, improvements have been from a low base and often internally focussed. 2 Despite this, the Council has not improved as much as others and was ranked 388 out of 388 authorities for the percentage of performance indicators that improved between 2006/07 and 2007/08. In addition service quality was well below the average for all district councils, with only 15 per cent of performance indicators in the best 25 per cent of performance nationally. 3 The Council is making progress in its priority areas, having successfully delivered a number of initiatives and projects, either on its own or in partnership. Benefits performance is a good example where improvement in speed of processing has been achieved, from a low base. 4 The appearance of the district is being improved, although the Council's own ambitious targets related to street cleanliness have not yet been achieved. Crime rates are falling overall, although comparative performance is still below the average. There has been effective promotion of economic regeneration and the Council has successfully facilitated the delivery of housing for the more vulnerable in the community. Quality of the housing stock continues to improve and the Council is on track to meet the decent home standard by 2010. The Council's approach to preventing people from becoming homeless has been successful, particularly for younger people. 5 The customer experience is improving through for example, the new customer contact centre, and effective partnership working is contributing to better health and well being outcomes, such as affordable warmth schemes. 6 The Council continues to make adequate use of its resources, achieving level 2 (out of a possible 4) in the use of resources assessment. Twenty nine per cent of district Councils achieved this level of performance in 2008. Financial standing though remains tightly drawn, and the Council's balances and reserves continue to be at a minimum level. The Council once again achieved an unqualified audit opinion and value for money conclusion.
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Key messages
Action needed by the Council 7 The Council needs to maintain its focus on improvement to drive up the quality of services to ensure that performance compares more favourably to other councils, particularly in its priority areas, and that improvements on the ground for local people are delivered as a result. 8 The Council has made good progress over the past year but faces a number of challenges, including progressing its plans for joint management arrangements with Dover District Council, alongside the move to shared service provision amongst the four East Kent Districts. The Council will need to ensure that robust governance and performance management arrangements are in place to support its partnership working. This is particularly important given the financial pressures which the Council currently faces and the low level of balances and reserves which provide limited contingency should plans not be achieved.
   
 
 
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Purpose, responsibilities and scope
Purpose, responsibilities and scope 9 This report provides an overall summary of the Audit Commission's assessment of the Council. It draws on the most recent Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA), the findings and conclusions from the audit of the Council for 2007/08 and from any inspections undertaken since the last Annual Audit and Inspection Letter. 10 We have addressed this letter to members as it is the responsibility of the Council to ensure that proper arrangements are in place for the conduct of its business and that it safeguards and properly accounts for public money. We have made recommendations to assist the Council in meeting its responsibilities. 11 This letter also communicates the significant issues to key external stakeholders, including members of the public. We will publish this letter on the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk . (In addition the Council is planning to publish it on its website). 12 As your appointed auditor I am responsible for planning and carrying out an audit that meets the requirements of the Audit Commission’s Code of Audit Practice (the Code). Under the Code, I review and report on: the Council’s accounts;    whether the Council has made proper arrangements for securing economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources (value for money conclusion); and  whether the Council's best value performance plan has been prepared and published in line with legislation and statutory guidance. 13 This letter includes the latest assessment on the Council’s performance under the CPA framework, including our Direction of Travel report, and the results of any inspections carried out by the Audit Commission under section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999. It summarises the key issues arising from the CPA and any such inspections. Inspection reports are issued in accordance with the Audit Commission’s duty under section 13 of the 1999 Act. 14 We have listed the reports issued to the Council relating to 2007/08 audit and inspection work at the end of this letter.
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How is Shepway District Council performing?
How is Shepway District Council performing? 15 Shepway District Council was assessed as 'Good' in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment re-categorisation that was carried out in June 2008. This was an improvement on the assessment carried out in 2004 when it was judged to be 'weak'. These assessments have now been completed in all district councils. The following chart is the latest position across all district councils. Figure 1 Overall performance of district councils in CPA  
 
 Percentage figures may not add up to 100 per cent due to roundings Source: Audit Commission
The improvement since last year - our Direction of Travel report 16 The Direction of Travel report sets out progress against local priorities, considers comparable performance for 2007/08 and comments on current plans for improvement.
  
Shepway District Council 6
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How is Shepway District Council performing?
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17 The Council has a corporate plan which covers the period 2006 to 2009. This document describes the Council's overall objectives for this period and specific priorities to be delivered under some of these objectives - they are:  improve the appearance of the District;  improve service to customers and be a well managed council;  regenerate our communities;  improve benefits performance;  improve opportunities for sport, leisure and culture; and  strengthen the Council's financial position. 18 The Council has made progress against its objectives and priorities but in some cases from a low base. The following paragraphs summarise overall performance and progress against priorities.
Performance overview for 2007/08 19 The Council has not improved as much as other councils during 2007/08. Between 2006/07 and 2007/08, 37 per cent of indicators improved compared to the average range for all district councils of 57 to 59 per cent. As a result, the Council was ranked 388 (bottom) out of 388 councils for improvement. The number of its key indicators of performance among the best performing 25 per cent of English district councils at 15 per cent was well below the average of 33 per cent. 20 Overall resident satisfaction with the Council was last measured in 2006/07 and showed a slight deterioration since the previous national survey was completed in 2003/04. Comparative ranking with other councils remained the same at below average. 21 The Council is now at level 2 of the Equalities Standard for Local Government 1 , a standard achieved by 54 per cent of councils. The Chief Executive and the Council Leader are appointed as the diversity champions, with the responsibility for ensuring diversity cascading down to all staff within the Council. A number of diversity targets have been set including the aim to reach Level 3 of the Equalities Standard by April 2009.
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How is Shepway District Council performing?
Improving the appearance of the District 22 The appearance of the district is being improved, although the Council's own ambitious targets related to street cleanliness have not yet been achieved. National performance indictors that relate to the appearance of the environment such as levels of littering and graffiti show improvement over a three year period. The indicators were qualified 2 in  2006/07 and as a consequence figures for 2007/08 cannot indicate improvement or deterioration in comparison to 2006/07. The indicators for 2007/08 show that performance compared to other councils is average. Levels of recycling and composting have marginally deteriorated since last year although the three year trend is very positive, showing substantial improvement in levels. The Council's comparative performance for recycling and composting has declined from among the best performing councils in 2006/07 to above average in 2007/08. 23 The Council is working effectively to improve the appearance of some parts of the district. In line with the sustainable community strategy, improvements were made to the Lower Leas Coastal Park to achieve green flag status. The improvements won the Council a Royal Town Planning Institute Award for its work. In 2007/08, the Housing Department set aside £20,000 from its capital improvement budget to create an environmental improvement scheme. The scheme offers residents the chance to bid for project funding for ideas which will benefit their neighbourhoods. The first project appraisals will take place by Spring 2009, with decisions being made by a residents’  board. The scheme has generated worthwhile local interest and the Council is considering an increase to £50,000 in 2009/10, subject to budget availability. 24 The Council has put in place management changes to drive improvements in streetscene services. The first stages of the Council's plans have been implemented, with the management of street cleansing services being returned to the Council in October 2007, and a new service standard agreed. The Council achieved a key improvement milestone in March 2008, when it adopted a new integrated service standard that covers waste collection, recycling, street cleaning and public grounds (i.e. public and roadside planting) maintenance services. New environmental quality standards were also agreed for East Folkestone, one of the most disadvantaged wards in the district, and implemented in October 2008. The Council believe that these measures will improve the appearance of the district through better street cleansing and maintenance programmes.
 2 Qualified means we were unable to confirm that the figures were fairly stated   
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How is Shepway District Council performing?
Improve service to the customer and be a well managed council 25 Council aims within this priority area include launching the customer contact centre, reducing customer waiting times and reducing the number of abandoned calls. 26 The Council has delivered a number of projects which have improved the customer experience. A new customer contact centre became operational in June 2008 and a customer relationship management system (CRM) was implemented at the same time. A new staffing framework has been introduced which amalgamates what were previously separate customer service functions such as cashiers, parking, streetscene and reception, into a single front desk function. The result is a multi-skilled team which can be called upon to handle peaks of demand across a number of service enquiry areas, as required The CRM system represents a major milestone in the performance management abilities of the Council as it allows the Council to track customer queries as they are processed, compile information on the types of queries raised, manage staff resources, and collate information about staff training needs. The infrastructure investment means that the Council is now in a better position to implement improvements to the customer services function. Un-audited Council data indicate improving customer service through reduced waiting times. 27 The Council has invested in developing the customer care skills of its frontline staff. A training programme has been undertaken to ensure that all staff have received customer services training. This training has been provided in partnership with some other Kent councils and this provides an opportunity for sharing good practice across a number of authorities. The Council is seeking to improve its ability to deal with customer queries at the first point of contact which not only improves the customer experience but avoids repeat queries. Success in this aim will also increase the capacity of staff to work more efficiently. The training programme is to be modified in 2008/09 for delivery to other frontline staff such as street cleaners in environmental services. 28 The Council has developed strategies to support future improvement in access to its services and information. It published the Customer Service and Access Channel Strategy in 2007/08 which sets out how the Council intends to improve access to its services and information. The strategy seeks to ensure that services accessed by electronic means are designed around the citizen and not the provider. A number of changes have been made to improve the website as a result. Un-audited Council data indicates that satisfaction rates for the improved website rose from 39 per cent of users who found the website easy to use in 2006/07, to over 70 per cent in 2007/08. Although the Council has improved public access to the website, it still recognises that not all users will have access to computers or the necessary skills to use them. There is still a need for face to face contact particularly in the rural communities. The Council is working with its partners to enable these services to be provided as a shared resource, maintaining a public presence while maximising efficiencies.
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How is Shepway District Council performing?
29 Performance arrangements that allow robust assessment of 'how well the Council is being managed' are improving, but from a low base. The Council has established a performance management framework for measuring service delivery and has adopted a balanced scorecard approach to reporting progress against key performance indicators. Traffic light colour coding is used and explanations provided when indicators fall within the amber and red categories, describing the action to be taken to address the issue as necessary. However, performance reporting focuses on progress towards meeting priorities, but it is not prompting early action to ensure that all targets will be achieved. It is not consistently applied across the Council and the culture to support it is not yet fully understood or embedded throughout the departments. Many achievements are internally focused and support the changes needed to give the Council a foundation for future improvement. Although the improvements are essential to improve the Council’s performance, the impact of this work has not had a tangible impact on local residents as yet. 30 The Council continues to provide adequate value for money as judged by the use of resources assessment in 2008. Regenerating communities 31 Council aims within this priority area include improvements to housing provision and positively developing the image of Shepway. 32 The Council has been effective in promoting economic regeneration. It is using its landholdings and using statutory powers effectively to bring about physical improvements to regenerate the district. It was a key partner in developing the Bouverie Place shopping centre in the centre of Folkestone. This opened in 2007, creating 1,100 jobs and it is projected to retain £250 million of spending within the local economy. The Council has also worked closely with the Creative Foundation to transform a rundown part of town into a key cultural hub for the south east. These improvements have provided local residents with improved shopping, cultural, environmental and community facilities. 33 The Council is successfully facilitating the delivery of housing for the more vulnerable in the community. The Council is on schedule to exceed its target of 180 affordable homes for the period 2006 to 2009. Some will be funded using developer’s payments and others will be reliant on the disposal of sites to housing associations that are in a better position, due to the economic downturn, to compete for available land. An additional 121 empty homes have also been brought back into use since 2005. The Council partly addressed the empty properties issue in 2007/08, when it brought Marine Crescent and 108 Guildhall Street back into use and also eliminated much anti-social behaviour in the vicinity. It has already met 43 per cent of its empty homes re-occupation target for 2008/09. Recognising the important role that private sector rental housing plays, the Council has helped to upgrade 200 private sector homes to a decent standard within the past three years, of which, 44 were improved during 2007/08. The Council’s relationship with local landlords has improved and local residents now benefit from a wider choice of accommodation that meets decent homes standards.
 
 
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How is Shepway District Council performing?
34 Effective partnership work is contributing to improved housing conditions. The East Kent Housing Partnership was formalised in 2007/08. This was a key milestone achievement for the Council and enabled £4 million of funding to be drawn from the Regional Housing Board to provide loans for local landlords to improve the private sector housing stock in the District. The Partnership has also jointly commissioned a private sector stock condition survey which will inform an updated private sector housing strategy that will be published for consultation in early 2009. East Folkestone is the most disadvantaged ward in Shepway and has the poorest housing stock in the area. The Council is forming local Community Partnerships to focus on issues and three workshops have been held for statutory partners, the voluntary sector, local residents and community representatives to discuss solutions and the way forward. Partnership work is helping to improve living conditions for private rental tenants living in Shepway. 35 The Council is providing good landlord services. There is an extensive programme of refurbishment and upgrades taking place for the Council’s own housing stock. The Council has invested in both internal and external refurbishments and is working with the councils in Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Ashford, to look at possible efficiencies through joint working and the joint procurement of repair services. Only 12 per cent of the Council’s housing stock fell below the Decent Homes Standard in March 2008. The Council is on target to reduce this to 9 per cent by March 2009, and zero by 2010. The Council has strong relationships with tenant groups. Consultation has been carried out and the tenants have said that they would rather stay with the Council than be transferred to a housing association. Council tenants enjoy good living conditions as a result of the Council’s ongoing commitment. 36 The Council continues to provide successful intervention to prevent homelessness. National performance indicators show that numbers in temporary accommodation have reduced steadily over the last three years. However, comparable performance with other councils remains below average The Council’s approach to preventing people from becoming homeless has been successful, particularly for younger people. The Housing Service recorded up to 200 homelessness assistance cases in 2007/08. It accepted 60 to 80 cases and managed to prevent approximately 76 per cent of the homelessness cases for under 25 year olds by the third quarter of 2008. This was above the Council’s own target of preventing homelessness in 75 per cent of cases by the end of the year. The Council is working with Kent County Council and other Kent districts to deliver a major PFI project which is providing 39 apartments for older people requiring extra care and seven units of one bed accommodation for people with learning difficulties. A homeless hostel has been converted to provide 18 accommodation units in collaboration with a Registered Social Landlord. 37 Partnership working is supporting improved community cohesion. The Boulogne and Shepway Co-operation Association (BOSCO) of which the Council is a partner, has secured £5 million from the European Union for schemes targeted at young people suffering social and economic disadvantage. Sport has been used to reintegrate disaffected 11 to 16 years olds back into society and a civic education programme, Youth on Board, is helping young people who have been excluded from school to gain confidence and improve their social interaction.
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