Update on general context
General changes include: a slight increase in deprivation (link ); outline planning permission
granted, and our pro-active support for the new District General Hospital Gary’s letter; further
pressures on affordable housing (25% increase in average terraced house price to £212,854) and
difficulties in delivering new units (128 completed, on site, or granted planning permission);
Inspector’s report and housing targets awaited on the Local Plan Review and SE Plan district
requirements respectively; priority to deliver the Local Development Framework; new policy
development and action planning (link); new research into economic development, particularly
through increasingly productive joint working arrangements with the West Kent Local Strategic
Partnership and sub-groups (link),(link); an increasingly enviable track record of the Community
Safety Partnership (see evidence folder); and a growing programme of community development
and social inclusion work( Showfields,Wesley Centre and Cranbrook. Sherwood )
The Council has a new Leader and the Chief Executive is stepping down. An interim Chief
Executive has been appointed and Tribal Resourcing are assisting with the recruitment of a
permanent replacement. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Audit Commission and
Shared Intelligence consultants are all helping us to identify the way forward. Targets for re-
organisation have been set (see evidence folder).
Shared Intelligence have helped us to develop priorities aligned to the Community Plan and to
map a ‘golden thread’ integrating our business planning processes (link to evidence note and
Melvyn’s report). In what is still a transitional period we have begun to refocus resources – at this
stage away from leisure and tourism events and services, to a wider economic development
agenda, housing, environment, law and order, community development and social inclusion,
engagement and communications (see evidence folder). Some growth is to be funded by cuts in
management and support costs through organisation review. This review will be complemented
by rationalisation of accommodation, introduction of Customer Relationship Management (link),
and pilots into new ways of delivering services (link). A major service change is the transfer of
most Highways functions to the County Council (link) which has also caused us to reassess our
role in delivery of the borough’s Transport Strategy (see evidence folder).
Inevitably our relationships with those stakeholders who have an interest in the areas of cutback
have been damaged, but overall we have made major step change improvements in stakeholder
engagement and partnership work. We understand many will attest to our progress (link). As
we start to prioritise work with Hard to Reach groups (link)(link2)and as a network of forums ( link )
and partnerships develops, the scope for the community and neighbourhoods to influence
expenditure and other choices will increase, as will the sense that others can – and must - play a
part in improving and tackling priorities. We want to be full partners with business, the voluntary
sector, other agencies and community representatives, and will prioritise initiatives which bring
responsibility and commitment from the community. We also want to ensure our voice is heard by
regional bodies such as SEERA, SEEDA and GOSE. As a member of the pilot Local Area
Agreement (LAA) and our involvement in the Public Service Board we are reviewing how we
can align our priorities and targets with those developed through the LAA and Public Service
Agreement 2 and by the County.
Our financial strategy (link to report) is to ensure a balance between revenue and expenditure.
Government constraints on tax levels and residents’ desire for affordability mean we continue to
have the lowest general expenses tax in Kent. We had already committed to an efficiency and
savings agenda but Gershon is driving us to explore joint procurement opportunities and we will
work with the South East Centre of Excellence to this end.
Key Challenges and Opportunities?
The CPA Inspection was a sobering process for the Council, making us face up to the
weaknesses that others saw in us. These weaknesses ran right to the behaviours and values as
well as prioritisation, leadership, track record in engagement, areas of service delivery and
performance management. We accepted fundamental changes were needed, impacting on
culture, structure and processes. We have sought extensive advice and embarked on systematic
learning which is paying dividends in a number of areas.
Each weakness has been recognised (link) and progress achieved in 98% of cases. There is
encouraging progress towards improvement in poorer performing services (link ,link ) and user
satisfaction has increased (link)but we recognise there is still more to do. Resident satisfaction
with how the Council runs things overall is the second highest in Kent and generally satisfaction
indicators are very respectable (refer to evidence folder). Royal Tunbridge Wells has been voted
the best town in Kent (link). The perception of the Council generally has improved: being seen to
admit when we are wrong, keep promises and learn from mistakes (link). Together with our
partners we have achieved 87% of the actions proposed in the Community Plan (link) and
technological advancements continue to be exploited to deliver improvements (link,link).
Performance management is being addressed with the help of the Audit Commission.
A challenge for the new Chief Executive therefore is to help the organisation revisit its values: to
help us celebrate success, engender and promote teamwork, and to constructively manage
negative feedback and weaknesses. We need to be more disciplined, rigorous and focused on our
priorities, whilst valuing the best of what is already here.
Teamwork within Cabinet has progressed, but further work is needed with Corporate
Management Team and in clarifying respective roles. The latest staff survey (refer to evidence
folder) shows significant improvement in internal communications, but, worryingly, growing
concerns about Member/Officer relationships and bullying and harassment have emerged and are
due to be discussed by Management Team on 15 March.
We face a period of uncertainty and change; people will feel threatened and insecure. Re-
organisation will be implemented once a permanent Chief Executive is in place. This timescale
means the period of unrest may be protracted and we are aware of the need to act positively to
limit any damage.
Other challenges include ensuring our readiness for, and involvement in, emerging agendas.
Examples include: the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, the Choosing Health White
Paper, the South East Plan, a range of government papers on Sustainable Communities, People,
Places and Prosperity and Homes for All. We must continue to develop our roles in community
leadership and representation, sharing others’ agendas (link,link).
There is still much to do and the challenge is to maintain momentum on many fronts. We must
move quickly to rectify the failure to produce a new constitution, for example, and have appointed
external help to expedite this in order to achieve a number of benefits, not least improved decision-
making and delegations and broader Councillor involvement. Whilst the lack of progress is
disappointing there is nonetheless general agreement about what needs to be achieved and some
learning exercises have taken place. In addition, gains in Performance Management must be
embedded and work in poorly performing areas must be consolidated and developed further.
Despite increased and improved printed ( see evidence folder) and electronic (eg link,link )
communications, fewer people believe we keep them informed (link). Additional communications
resources have recently been approved.
Our good staff and sound financial position mean we have the scope to build capacity. We can
demonstrate that we have begun to develop improvements in the quality of life locally and to the
Council’s operations. We have constructed many building blocks, and are establishing goodwill
with partners. Our programme remains ambitious and will continue to need sustained investment,
but our drive is a commitment to deliver tangible outcomes and benefits to our local community.
We believe there is every likelihood of continuing improvement.