The Auditor General for Wales has today published a new report on Ceredigion County Council looking at how well the Council is improving its services.
The Auditor General for Wales set out some important messages on how Ceredigion County Council is planning to improve its services in his 2009-10 annual improvement report. The report is the first of its kind, following new legislation in April 2010, which requires councils to make arrangements to improve their services and the way that they work. This first year has been a period of adjustment, and this report is a starting point for the Auditor General to make much fuller assessments of how councils are performing in future years.
The report's main message was that the Council needed to change the way it manages and delivers improvement but it has recognised the need for change and embarked on a programme of transforming its services to be more efficient and effective for citizens. A summary of the key conclusions is set out below.
The Council has had quite a traditional approach over recent years; there was a need to strengthen its corporate management of key areas, including its people and projects, and it had not identified clear priorities. It is facing up to the changes needed and making good progress with its programme of transformation.
The Council also has to face economic challenges, although budget reductions are less than the Council had anticipated; with estimated savings of £6 million required over the next three years. The Council has recognised that to deal with these financial challenges it needs to change substantially the way it works.
The Council agreed its improvement objectives in July and formally published them in September, but we think they should be published earlier next year. The Council should make it clearer to the public where it is performing well and areas that are priority for improvement. It also needs to demonstrate more clearly how its improvement objectives will benefit local people.
The Council faces significant challenges to develop more affordable housing, a difficulty shared by many councils in Wales. It is rightly prioritising services to vulnerable people, given weaknesses identified in the past, particularly in relation to adults and the high levels of older vulnerable people in the county. Good progress has been made in improving adult mental health services and relationships with health and other partners have continued to improve. However, the Council needs to demonstrate more clearly that improved processes are delivering better outcomes to vulnerable people and service users.
Education in Ceredigion is generally good with examples of excellent practice. Educational attainment in Ceredigion compares well with the rest of Wales. Estyn judged that the Council's education services included good features in all the areas that were inspected which outweighed shortcomings and rated improvement prospects as good. A major issue facing the Council relates to surplus school places; however the Council has moved quickly to cut the large number of spare school places and is making good progress.
The Council is prioritising protecting and providing a sustainable environment but needs more and better information to demonstrate how it will deliver improvement. The Council is a leader in recycling and is working with other councils to find solutions so that it can further improve. Coastal erosion and flooding issues are also being prioritised as of long term importance to this coastal authority in order to help communities become more resilient to flooding.
The Council can show it has a strategic approach to regeneration. The regenerating of Aberystwyth is a priority that has grown from concerns about economic, environmental and social problems currently facing the town. With substantial funding from the Assembly Government, the Council is working in partnership with other bodies to implement the project. The Council also supports regeneration in other parts of the county and needs to develop ways to demonstrate whether plans and projects have achieved better access to services for all communities and citizens of Ceredigion.
The Council's Planning Service has a key role in the delivery of several of the Council's improvement objectives and makes an important contribution to the regeneration programme. However, the information available gives a poor picture of the Planning Service's performance and points towards a number of areas for improvement.
The Council's accounting statements present a true and fair view of the Council's financial transactions.