Northampton Conservatives – Spinning Success and Denying Failure?

SPIN cannot hide the Failure of Borough Council to deliver front line services

Northampton Borough Council Performance – Spin of Failure

If there is one subject that is guaranteed to send Councillors and the Local Media into a stupor of lethargy and disinterest it is that of Performance Management, or to put it in real language, how the Council are performing in delivering services to the taxpayers.

Most people will be aware that there is a very simple and common means of recording performance, first of all you set the targets, in itself something that can be false and in no way related to reality and then using a RAG system of performance management.

The RAG system for the uninitiated is Red (Failure to meet the target), Amber (failure to meet the target but scared to admit it) and Green (on target).

Northampton Borough Council has taken it one step further by adding a fourth flag.

Blue (Exceptional or Over Performing) which makes the system available to the Conservative Borough Council the BRAG system.

I can almost sense the mist of boredom already descending which is why perhaps when the Councillor David Mackintosh (Conservative) was asked recently by the opposition whether he was concerned that the Borough Council had failed to meet 67% of their targets in the last year he absolved himself of responsibility and passed it on to the Cabinet Member for Finance.

The explanation for their dismissive attitude and complete lack of interest was that the Conservative administration only reported on services they considered important, those that were Green or Blue and effectively those that made up only 33% of targets achieved in 2011/12.

It is spin along the lines of “look at us and what we’re doing well. Aren’t we great”?

Which might make sense until you look at what they say and compare it with the services that they have failed to deliver and most importantly services that the Northampton taxpayers have paid for?

Take for example the areas in Green, ‘Visits to the Leisure Centres’, ‘Numbers enrolled in swimming programmes and street football’ (all of which are delivered by the Trilogy Trust) and ‘the number of buildings where the condition is good or satisfactory, (seriously it is a performance measure) and services that were Blue, ‘the number of events delivered in the Town Centre’, ‘the average days to deal with the Ombudsman and the time to ‘process Housing Benefit’ all I’m sure important but something to hold up as a demonstration of the success of the Borough Council?

I think not.

We also need to look at other declared areas of success, if that is the right word.

In Blue is the number of families who had to face the indignity and unacceptable situation under the homeless legislation of being placed in Bed and Breakfast, a situation that fortunately the majority of us will never have to experience but because the number of families in Bed and Breakfast in April was 38 and the target was 75 it is recorded as Over Performing.

Tell that to the families in Bed and Breakfast and their children who don’t have a home and whose schooling and links with their friends has been disrupted and which from past evidence leaves them with permanent anxieties.

In the words of Jim Royle in the Royle Family, “Success my Arse”

One family in Bed and Breakfast for any longer than 6 weeks is a failure in anyone’s terms and in fact I would argue that any longer than a week is not only a failure but a dereliction of duty to the families and children involved.

Now compare the targets met with the services that have failed to meet their targets, the amount of Council Tax collected, the fall in the number of people who visited Northampton ( a footfall target that was missed by 8.41% with a fall in visitors of 6.41% which continues into the first 3 months of this year when the numbers fell by over 486,000 between April and June this year),serious acquisitive crime, violent crime, and perhaps what impacts on everyone all of the targets for waste collection and the environment services such as grass cutting.

Now forgive me for being picky but as a taxpayer I’m of course interested in the areas that were Green and even some that were Blue last year, but and it’s a big BUT the majority of the failing services are what I and many other people across Northampton would consider to be priorities.

What ever happened to the promise “We will make Northampton a Safer and Cleaner place”?

What happened to the promise to stop the decline and regenerate the Town Centre?, and with the failure to meet the Vacant Properties targets with the number increasing to a record 77 is it surprising that the number of people visiting the town is continuing to fall?

It seems that the Borough Council administration is pursuing a policy of de-generation rather than regeneration and are relying on nothing more than making announcements and re-announcements of projects that may or may not see ‘cranes on the skyline’ in the future.

The problem is that the majority of the proposals are actually down to other agencies (but that’s another blog) for which the Borough Conservatives will start to try to take credit for whilst ignoring and failing to recognise that Northampton is about people not projects.

Performance for 2011/12 clearly demonstrates that the Conservative Borough Council administration is failing to deliver essential front line services, and sadly they give no impression of understanding that people have to come first.

Which is why Labour is the only party who are Listening to Northampton and the only party who put people and not self-interest first?