Newport City Council is at a pivotal point as it begins to address longstanding weaknesses in the way it plans for improvement.
That is the conclusion of a report, published today, by the Auditor General for Wales. His Corporate Assessment report says that, with wider ownership and strengthened capacity, the Council has the potential to achieve the scale and pace of change required.
Today's report notes that the Council has a clear vision and the Chief Executive is beginning to create the culture, conditions and strategic direction to deliver the Council's vision for Newport. However, it also concludes that the Council has been slow to address weaknesses in the governance arrangements that underpin its decision making to support improvement but is now putting arrangements in place to strengthen scrutiny and its change programme.
The report also says that, whilst there are improvements in some areas, the Council recognises that it has not managed its resources well enough to support the delivery of its planned improvements. The Council's work with partners is also improving but it is as yet unable to demonstrate the impact of its collaborative work.
Other conclusions are that the Council recognises that it has not managed performance and risk well enough, and is putting some better arrangements in place to drive improvement. And, while the Council's education service mostly performs at or above expected levels, the Council is not achieving everything it set out to do in some other key services, such as housing, leisure and culture and benefits.
The report makes a number of recommendations and proposals for improvement, including:
The Council should address weaknesses in its people management arrangements with more urgency to tackle long-term deficiencies to ensure it has the capacity and capabilities necessary to change and improve;
Put in place arrangements that enable the Council to formulate, scrutinise, approve and publish its improvement objectives in a timely way to meet its statutory obligations;
The Council should develop and implement an appropriate engagement and communication strategy that both communicates the new mission and organisational framework, and also supports cultural changes within the organisation.
Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said today:
'After a period of instability within the leadership team, it is encouraging to see a new management structure at Newport City Council that recognises the pace and urgency with which it must act in order to improve. If the Council can further strengthen its capacity and secure wider ownership of its change programme, it has the potential to deliver its ambitious vision and plans. In the light of recent steps taken, I am satisfied that the Council is now likely to comply with the requirement to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement.'
The purpose of this Corporate Assessment Report is to provide a position statement of Newport City Council's capacity and capability to secure continuous improvement. It reports on the Council's track record of performance and outcomes as well as the key arrangements that are necessary to underpin improvements in services and functions.
The corporate assessment sought to answer the following question: 'Is the Council capable of delivering its priorities and improved outcomes for citizens?'
From 2013-14, the Wales Audit Office is undertaking a rolling programme of corporate assessments of improvement authorities in Wales, based on a four-year cycle.
This means that, in addition to an annual programme of improvement studies and audits of authorities' approach to improvement planning and reporting, each authority will receive an in-depth corporate assessment once during a four year period.
The Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 requires the Auditor General to appoint external auditors to audit the accounts of local councils.
The Auditor General and the auditors he appoints in local government are the independent statutory external auditors of most of the Welsh public sector. They are responsible for the annual audit of the majority of public money spent in Wales, including the £14 billion of funds that are voted to Wales annually by the Westminster Parliament. Elements of this funding are passed by the Welsh Government to the NHS in Wales (over £5 billion) and to local government (nearly £4 billion).
The Wales Audit Office mission is to promote improvement, so that people in Wales benefit from accountable, well-managed public services that offer the best possible value for money. It is also committed to identify and spreading good practice across the Welsh public sector.
For more information please contact Communications on 02920 320 521 or 029 20320 520