Action needed by the Council
How is Rushmoor Borough Council performing?
The audit of the accounts and value for money
1 Rushmoor Borough Council's performance indicators continue to show that it is performing well in comparison to other councils. It is not surprising therefore that its 2006/07 performance indicators did not improve at as significant a rate as for most other councils. This was mainly a reflection of starting from a relatively high level of performance.
2 Our overall conclusion is that the Council is performing well and is making good progress against its strategic priorities. The Town Centre redevelopments of Farnborough and Aldershot have been progressed, contracts are in place and work has already started in Farnborough. These schemes will act as an important catalyst for the future of the towns, provide improved facilities and be a benefit to the whole local economy.
3 The Council continues to prepare its accounts on a timely basis and performs well within our use of resources assessment. Further improvements can be secured but may require significant investment of resources. The cost of these improvements needs to be weighed against other pressures for resources.
4 The main actions arising for the Council from this letter for the coming year are:
• to develop and monitor a revised recycling strategy to improve recycling rates;
• to ensure that the savings and efficiency programme is delivered;
• accountability for data quality needs to be formally defined and promoted, including the checking of data for accuracy before being submitted; and
• to prepare for the change in emphasis and the tougher test within the new Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) process which will provide a new framework for the next use of resources assessment.
5 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 2006/07 and from any inspections undertaken since the last Annual Audit and Inspection Letter.
6 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.
7 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 at www.rushmoor.gov.uk.
8 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.
9 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.
10 We have listed the reports issued to the Council relating to 2006/07 audit and inspection work at the end of this letter.
11 Rushmoor Borough Council was assessed as good in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment carried out in 2004. These assessments have been completed in all district councils and we are now updating these assessments, through an updated corporate assessment, in councils where there is evidence of change. The following chart is the latest position across all district councils.
12 Rushmoor Borough Council continues to make good progress against its strategic priorities. Forty one per cent of Rushmoor’s performance indicators are in the best 25 per cent of all councils. This performance is well above the national average.
13 Good performance is shown in meeting the Council’s five local priorities and wider community outcomes, particularly the redevelopment of Farnborough and Aldershot town centres, building new homes, and community safety initiatives. Harder to reach groups have been a focus for the Council, with initiatives such as a new customer service centre, work with older people and improved online access to services. However, further work remains to be done to improve access for all citizens.
14 Improvement, as measured by performance indicators, is at a slower rate for Rushmoor than for other councils. This may be due to the higher than average number of indicators for which Rushmoor was already assessed as performing well. Initiatives such as the process and service efficiency reviews have so far been slow to yield results. Benefits performance dipped during 2006/07 but this was dealt with immediately and performance is now in line again. Currently, 86 per cent of the Council’s targets for this year are on track to be delivered.
15 The Council is increasing capacity by working well with its partners, such as the local strategic partnership and community safety and learning partnerships. It also continues to be financiall sound and offer good value for money. Overall, the Council continues to demonstrate a positive direction of travel in its priority areas.
16 In 2006/07, the Council’s performance was very good, with 41 per cent of performance indicators in the best 25 per cent of councils. Although this is a fall compared with the previous year’s performance of 48 per cent, it continues to compare favourably with the national average of only 32 per cent.
17 However, it has not improved on its performance during the past year as much as other councils have. In fact Rushmoor had the lowest improvement rate for all districts. Only 35 per cent of indicators demonstrated improvement last year compared to an average of 58 per cent. This can be explained by the Council starting from a very high base and so it can be expected for it not to have improved as much as the others. Of the Council’s 120 BVPIs, local indicators and actions for 2007/08, 86 per cent were on target as of October 2007. This strong performance, an improvement on last year’s, is shown in the progress against its five priority themes explored below.
18 The Council has aimed to help people feel safer through reducing crime, identifying the needs of young people and improving residents’ health.
19 The Council has worked with the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership (CDRP) to introduce patrol officers to the borough and to encourage the reporting of offences. The officers have recently attended 300 incidents of fly tipping, over 200 incidents of graffiti, inspected 803 reported abandoned vehicles and issued numerous fines. The Council has also held successful crime reduction weeks to make town centres cleaner and safer and has worked in more deprived wards to hold community information days, including liaising with young people to address
their concerns. Vehicle crime and robberies have increased and burglaries and crimes against the person have fallen. This shows a mixed picture on reducing crime, although anti-social behaviour is now being tackled more effectively.
20 To date the Council has not had much success with its traditional approach for engaging young people in democracy. It is now looking at other ways of working with the Rushmoor Youth Forum. However, there was an increase in online and text voting this year.
21 Healthy living initiatives are increasingly popular. As part of the Council’s work through the Rushmoor Local Strategic Partnership (RSP), over a hundred senior citizens took part in a ‘Stay Active and Independent’ event. This involved the Council working with other partners such as a local housing association and the police, in order to help older residents keep in good health. Activities included a ‘Spot the Hazards’ quiz, demonstrations and taster activities, such as line dancing and a short healthy walk. Community exercise classes for older people have increased from 80 to 200 attendees over the past year. This has all helped to improve overall residents’ health.
22 The Council has aimed to regenerate town centres, tackle traffic congestion and promote learning opportunities.
23 The regeneration of Farnborough and Aldershot town centres is the Council’s biggest and most ambitious priority. Development of these town centres is going ahead as planned, with work at Farnborough already underway. The Council has helped to progress a £60 million development for Aldershot town centre. This Westgate development has a family-friendly focus, with a seven-screen cinema and restaurant complex due to be started in 2008. This is an important catalyst for the future of the town, as well as being an asset to Aldershot and its economy.
24 The Council has also granted planning permission for a cinema in Farnborough as part of the redevelopment there and supplementary planning guidance has been agreed to help steer future plans. It is also consulting residents on plans for these town centres and the major Aldershot urban expansion scheme. For example, there are prominent articles on the website and in the Council’s
magazine asking for views. Although outcomes have yet to be completed, these long term plans are progressing well.
25 The Council continues in successfully enabling the building of new homes and exceeded its target, with 825 built in 2006/07 - the highest level amongst the Hampshire district councils. Of these, 221 were designated as affordable homes, with the Council on track to ensure 485 by 2009. This work helps residents access quality, reasonably-priced homes.
26 The Council has completed a schools and council cycle plan and agreed a strategy for street parking, as part of its aim to reduce traffic congestion. This, for example, aims to regulate on-street parking and enforce fines, although the work has yet to deliver outcomes.
27 The Council has worked well with local schools and through the Rushmoor Learning Partnership, to improve educational attainment, as the borough currently has a lower than average GCSE level. For example, it is hosting an extended schools manager post this year and has received an £87,000 grant to help broaden school facilities strategically across the borough, rather than on an individual basis. This means that extended facilities such as study assistance, after-school clubs and family support can be offered in a more effective way.
Clean – looking after your environment
28 The Council set out to improve the cleanliness and appearance of the borough, encourage recycling and protect the environment.
29 The appearance and cleanliness of the borough is good and has improved further with initiatives such as a free collection for end-of-life vehicles, the South and South East in bloom awards which the Council won, and removing over 10,000 pieces of chewing gum from Aldershot as part of a clean-up campaign. Planning applications continue to be processed in good time with best 25 per cent performance, with for example, 97 per cent of ‘other’ applications processed on time.
30 The Alternate Weekly Bin Collection (AWC) six-month trial involving 6,500 residents was completed as planned in July 2007. While this increased recycling rates in the trial area to 36 per cent compared to 22 per cent elsewhere in the borough, consultation showed residents did not support the approach, and so AWC is not being continued. This has meant that recycling targets are still not being met, and are at 22 per cent at October 2007. This represents only a one per cent increase on last year. The garden waste scheme has not been as successful as hoped either, and composting rates are low. The Council understands the need to increase its relatively low recycling rates and is developing a strategy to tackle this. In the meantime however, the overall amount of waste collected remains low and in the best 25 per cent of all districts.
31 The Council has started some in-house work to help the environment and has produced a climate strategy. It is now working to ensure climate change initiatives are featured in planning documents, awareness is raised and that sustainable procurement is carried out. Initiatives this year include cutting gas use by 32 per cent by installing energy efficient water heaters and cutting electricity costs by £900 by introducing new lighting systems in the Farnborough Community Centre. A new biomass heating system is also being installed in these offices, which runs off locally supplied wood pellets and is carbon neutral. Fuel costs for this should be half the cost of gas or electricity. Other areas, such as travel to work plans, remain limited. Overall, the Council has made a positive start to protecting the local environment.
32 The Council aimed to improve customer services, ensure the Council was financially sound and offer value for money. Customer services are improving. The customer service centre was opened as planned this year, with a fully refurbished reception area and customer relationship management (CRM) system to improve call handling. This highlighted a problem that 15 per cent to 25 per cent of calls were being missed. The Council addressed this by recruiting more staff which has reduced missed calls to around 10 per cent.
33 The CRM has increased sign-up for council tax by direct debit via the telephone, as well as for benefits customers to be paid by electronic transfer. The latter initiative has helped the Council be rated as 39th out of 353 councils for satisfaction with the service, according to the national benefit survey. However, in spite of this, all five benefits performance indicators dipped during 2006/07 due to staffing difficulties. Performance has improved again in the last six months. Overall, the initiatives are making the Council's systems easier to access for many residents.
34 The Council continues to be financially sound and offer good value for money. It again scored level 3 (performing well) for its Use of Resources assessment, including financial standing and value for money, Council tax remains relatively low and overall performance is good. This achievement demonstrates continued improvement as the criteria were more difficult than in previous years as the Audit Commission 'raises the bar' on the assessment process each year.
35 Overall, costs remain around the average although waste costs are high. While the Council's financial position has remained sound, the programme for savings and efficiency in 2007/08 has not delivered fully. Action is being taken to ensure this work is more robust and structured. This includes an estimated £80,000 saving from the imminent closure of the Aldershot Visitor Information Centre. The Council is continuing to work to identify further savings, including £1.4 million for next year. It has updated its priority setting and budget making processes with actions including presentations to councillors, identifying service savings areas, setting up a ‘task and finish’ group and conducting a citizens’ survey. This should help ensure effective use of resources is maintained despite increasing financial pressures.
36 The Council aimed to promote a sense of community pride, encourage greater public involvement, communicate and consult with residents, work on community issues through the strategic partnership, and to support voluntary groups.
37 The Council has encouraged public involvement in a variety of ways. For example, it consulted widely with residents on agreeing future objectives for the Council, and is currently asking for views on the town centre redevelopments. It also encourages citizens to take pride in Rushmoor by nominating areas of the borough to be tidied up and by reporting environmental offences such as dumped rubbish and graffiti online. Last year, residents reported 25 cases of fly-tipping,
79 abandoned vehicles and 9 incidents of graffiti online. It has also worked hard to encourage local democracy. This year, it promoted voting via the internet, a new registration process and workshops at Aldershot Garrison to encourage armed forces registration. This led to a 9 per cent increase in people registering to vote and 18 per cent of votes were cast via the internet. However, turnout decreased slightly and did not increase by the 5 per cent targeted. However, this
project offered alternative access methods and helped to support greater public involvement.
38 The Rushmoor Local Strategic Partnership (RSP) continues to work on wider community issues, for example by improving educational attainment in more deprived wards and encouraging local businesses. It also works effectively through the crime and disorder reduction partnership, for example in developing local tactical groups with greater public engagement and work with residents and voluntary groups.
39 Harder to reach groups have been a specific focus of the Council. The customer first programme continues to enable easier access to services. A major consultation and partnership project with the Government Office for the South East, Police, local schools and voluntary groups is being implemented with the local Nepalese community. In addition consultations have taken place with disabled groups and other representatives such as local colleges to form an action plan to improve access and community cohesion.
40 Practical work carried out includes an audible website and the installation of induction loops. Internally, all staff have had equality awareness training, and the Council held a seminar on customer service for councillors, which implicitly covered equality and diversity issues. However, there was limited attendance for the seminar, and more explicit work needs to be done to develop councillors’ roles in this topic.
41 An equality impact assessment for customer services has been completed – though not yet actioned – and the Council is investigating the use of detailed data sets to target harder to reach groups more effectively. The Council remains at level 2 of the equality standard and has increased its performance against the race equality checklist to 61 per cent in 2006/07, although this is still below average. Overall, quality of life is improving for some harder to reach groups but further work remains to be done.
42 The Council is developing plans to improve its services. This includes joint working through the Rushmoor strategic partnership (RSP). For example, the Council is consulting with residents on priorities to update the community strategy and Local Development Framework. It then plans to integrate these to include shared outcomes and better performance monitoring.
43 Work with officers and councillors has led to a number of proposed new priorities and re-allocation of resources as the basis for next year’s corporate plan, with, for example, a greater focus on stronger and safer communities and reflecting better existing priority areas such as community facilities. The Council is also part of a Hampshire-wide project to introduce a recruitment portal to encourage applicants from a wider community. In addition, the Council is working on a waste strategy to attempt to reach its recycling target of 40 per cent by 2010, although it is unclear what the plans for this will be.
44 Key objectives are being achieved within the Council’s improvement plans. Indicators at October 2007 showed that 86 per cent of the Council’s targets were on track, such as increasing benefits take-up and adopting town centre planning guidance.
45 Targets that are not being met include reducing the time taken to process benefits claims, and composting which remains at 4 per cent against a target of 6 per cent. Some priorities, such as promoting healthier lifestyles, do not have clear targets or do not have regular information available to easily assess what has been achieved. This is particularly the case with the Rushmoor Strategic
Partnership's aims, although this is now addressed within the full programme which has been put in place. Overall, good progress is being made in most areas.
46 Financial capacity is strong and staff resources adequate, with the Council having recently gained Investor In People (IIP) re-accreditation and restructured its services. Sickness absences have caused service disruptions in benefits and in customer services, although this has now been addressed.
47 A new member development charter has increased councillor capacity, for example, by an agreed programme of training in topics such as IT and finance. Savings efficiencies are behind target but the Council has drawn up plans to increase its capacity to develop a wider-ranging efficiency programme and is introducing other plans.
48 Many IT enhancements over the past year have increased capacity, such as e-procurement, a customer relationship management system, a new disaster recovery plan and mobile technology tests.
49 The Council continues to work effectively in partnership. For example, the Council is playing a leading role in developing new governance arrangements for the Hampshire Local Strategic Partnership and its local area agreement. Working with the LSP has resulted in a clearer shared understanding of the community’s issues at both county and at district level, such as the need to focus on educational attainment. It is also leading and participating in a range of improvement projects across Hampshire including collaboration in personnel and customer services. It is continuing to pursue a joint waste contract with a neighbouring council, which is being part-funded by the South East Centre for Excellence. This increased capacity should help the Council deliver its priorities more effectively in the future.
Other performance work
50 The Hampshire Local Area Agreement (LAA) is progressing well with good engagement and cooperation from all partners, including District Councils. The LAA runs from April 2006 to March 2009. The original agreement and action plan was signed in February 2006 and the outcomes, indicators and targets have been updated for 2007/08. The LAA helps focus the attention of partners on eight priority outcomes and four Flagship initiatives drawn from the Hampshire Sustainable Community Strategy and the eleven District Sustainable Community Strategies.
51 Hampshire Partners are setting up a Hampshire Senate This will bring together and streamline LAA and Hampshire Strategic Partnership (HSP) governance and is intended to improve leadership and accountability. The HSP with partners is currently refreshing its Sustainable Community Strategy – ‘Shaping our future together’ 2007-2017 to be signed off by June 2008. District Councils are engaged and contributing effectively to this.
52 Once again I am pleased to report that the Council's annual accounts were produced on time, were supported by a high standard of working papers, and complied with recommended accounting practices.
53 As your appointed auditor I have reported separately to the licensing and general purposes committee of 27 September 2007 (nominated as those charged with governance (TCWG) for the purpose) on the issues arising from our 2006/07 audit and have issued:
• my audit report, providing an unqualified opinion on your accounts and a conclusion on your vfm arrangements to say that these arrangements are adequate on 27 September 2007;
• my report on the best value performance plan confirming that the Plan has been audited; and
• an unqualified opinion on the Whole of Government Accounts consolidation pack.
54 The Council took a positive and constructive approach to our audit and there were no issues arising to report to those charged with governance.
Use of Resources
55 The findings of the auditor are an important component of the CPA framework described above. In particular the Use of Resources score is derived from the assessments made by the auditor in the following areas.
• Financial reporting (including the preparation of the accounts of the Council and the way these are presented to the public).
• Financial management (including how the financial management is integrated with strategy to support council priorities).
• Financial standing (including the strength of the Council's financial position).
• Internal control (including how effectively the Council maintains proper stewardship and control of its finances).
• Value for money (including an assessment of how well the Council balances the costs and quality of its services).
56 For the purposes of the CPA framework we have assessed the Council’s arrangements for use of resources in these five areas as follows.
58 Considerable weight is attached to published performance indicators as the basis for reducing the burden of regulation and awarding freedoms and flexibilities. This has made reliable performance information, and the quality of the underlying data, significantly more important. Regulators and government departments need to be assured that reported information reflects actual performance. This will provide confidence that they are focusing on the key areas for improvement.
59 The council's overall management arrangements for ensuring data quality are demonstrating adequate performance. Systems are in place to help secure the quality of data and to use it effectively in managing performance.
60 However, explicit some arrangements that define or document senior level commitment to data quality cannot be demonstrated. The council has not set out its expectations in relation to data quality in a formal strategy and risk analysis although some operational procedures are in place. Although resources have been improved to achieve quality data, a skills analysis has not been carried out to identify training needs.
61 Our analytical review and spot checking of performance indicators (PIs) identified that the PI values reviewed were substantiated by evidence. However, we found some errors in the PIs and changes were made to them as a result. In most PIs that required a change in figures, this was due to simple errors in calculation, rather than issues with the underlying data collection systems.
62 The Commission consulted on the changes to the key lines of enquiry for the 2008 use of resources assessment during April to June 2007. The Commission's response to the consultation can be found on its website. The key lines of enquiry for 2008 reflect some of the changing priorities for councils as they respond to the major challenges facing them and the higher expectations of them. Making further improvements in efficiency will be critical for councils in responding to the changing demographic profile of communities, increasing public expectations of
public services and expected constraints on funding from Government.
63 The key lines of enquiry give more emphasis, mainly at level 4, to areas such as: sustainability, working in partnership and using IT to secure service and value for money improvements; strategic asset management and joint procurement. These areas signal the changes which will be given more emphasis in the use of resources assessment under Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA), the new performance framework for local services.
64 CAA will provide the first holistic independent assessment of the prospects for local areas and the quality of life for people living there. It will put the experience of citizens, people who use services and local tax payers at the centre of the new local assessment framework, with a particular focus on the needs of those whose circumstances make them vulnerable. It will recognise the importance of effective local partnership working, the enhanced role of Sustainable Communities Strategies and Local Area Agreements and the importance of councils in leading and shaping the communities they serve.
65 CAA will result in reduced levels of inspection and better coordination of inspection activity. The key components of CAA will be a joint inspectorate annual area risk assessment and reporting performance on the new national indicator set, together with a joint inspectorate annual direction of travel assessment and an annual use of resources assessment. The auditors’ use of resources
judgements will therefore continue, but their scope will be widened to cover issues such as commissioning and the sustainable use of resources.
66 The first results of our work on CAA will be published in the autumn of 2009. This will include the performance data from 2008/09, the first year of the new Local Area Agreements.
67 This letter has been discussed and agreed with the Director of resources and discussed at the March Board. A copy of the letter will be presented at the cabinet meeting on 22 April 2008. Copies of this final letter will be provided to all Council members.
68 Further detailed findings, conclusions and recommendations on the areas covered by audit and inspection work are included in the reports issued to the Council during the year.
Table 2 Reports issued: Report Date of issue
Audit and inspection plan March 2006
Annual Governance Report September 2007
Opinion on financial statements September 2007
Value for money conclusion September 2007
Final accounts memorandum September 2007
Data Quality report October 2007
Use of resources feedback December 2007
Annual audit and inspection letter March 2008
69 The Council has taken a positive and constructive approach to our audit and inspection work, and I wish to thank the Council's staff for their support and cooperation during the audit.
Availability of this letter
70 This letter will be published on the Audit Commission’s website at http://www.auditcommission.gov.uk/, and also on the Council’s website.
Relationship Manager and District Auditor