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Camden News - by RICHARD OSLEY
Published: 8 May 2008
High point: 'Major achievements' include the new deal for King's Cross, initiated before 2006
High point: ‘Major achievements’ include the new deal for King’s Cross, initiated before 2006
Top marks all round for the Town Hall but is it simply the best?

IT might not mean much to someone stranded on the 15,000-long waiting list for a council home. Not much either to parents struggling to find a secondary school for children in the south of the borough.
Or to anyone who has cursed the council when hit by one of the thousands of parking fines incorrectly issued each year.
But, stop rubbing your eyes, when it comes to the local authority league tables Camden, it was revealed on Tuesday, is ahead of all the rest. Top of the heap. A-number one.
In the eyes of inspectors from the government-appointed Audit Commission, the Town Hall is not just the best council in the country but effectively its best council ever.
It may seem like a bold boast but never before have inspectors been so generous with their marks, doling out the maximum four stars in every discipline following a two-week inspection just before Christmas. It’s like a figure skater seeing the judges unveil a rack of straight sixes.
Chief executive Moira Gibb has gifted all the council’s staff an extra day’s holiday on top of their normal allowance of annual leave by way of thanks.
While council staff in offices throughout the Town Hall are delighted with the results, union members have warned that the scores should act as a warning that cuts to staff numbers would put government laurels at risk.
Hundreds of jobs have been cut in the last two years in a streamlining exercise, known as the Better and Cheaper programme, which had the ultimate goal of freezing council tax.
Mandy Berger, a housing convener with trade union Unison, said: “We are the only borough in the country to get the results. It says the staff are going the extra mile for Camden and have a ‘can-do’ attitude.
“Well, it will become increasingly impossible for staff to be like that if they carry on the way they are. It will be ‘can’t do’ because the staff won’t be there. Better and Cheaper has made us all very demotivated and demoralised.”
The council insists it will try to build on the success by maintaining close links with residents.
Officials are to encourage members of the public to send it YouTube-style video diaries of their day-to-day experiences – and possible problems – in the borough. And the leaders of the ruling Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition, an alliance formed only two years ago, are trying their hardest not to appear smug.
The scoring system – known as the corporate performance assessment – is carefully watched by the country’s most competitive chief executives and local politicians. More than one councillor has intimated that neighbouring Westminster will be highly envious of the achievement.
Inspectors examined services, spoke to groups that have regular contact with the council and fired questions at senior staff and councillors.
Liberal Democrat council leader Keith Moffitt said: “This is a great result for Camden but what matters most to us is what residents experience and getting it right for everyone that uses the services. Almost eight in 10 think we’re doing a good job now.
“We’ll keep listening and innovating until we have the top-possible score from residents, as well as inspectors.”
Conservative chief Councillor Andrew Marshall said: “The inspectors praised everyone for ambition and drive. We’ll keep putting ourselves in the shoes of local people and businesses, as we continue to drive service quality up.”
Officially, Labour, now occupying the opposition benches, is happy to share some of the glory. The results were compiled from inspections over four years, so for two years of the survey Labour’s record was being tested.
Group leader Councillor Anna Stewart said: “Camden has long been viewed as one of the highest performing councils in the country. This is due to long-term decisions that looked beyond raw government targets to face the day-to-day challenges experienced by local people.”
When in power, Labour was often charged with reading too much into awards. Now the opposition councillors who berated them are rejoicing at their table-topping achievement. The tension has been worsened by an apparent decision to stop Labour members giving speeches at a party inside the Town Hall later this month.
“There is an element of fair dos but there is a danger the Lib Dems will actually believe what they say,” said one well-placed Labour source. “If you look at the major achievements, they were all things initiated by Labour before 2006 – the deal for King’s Cross, the new Swiss Cottage Library and the improved record on anti-social behaviour.”
The Audit Commission’s scoring system makes allowances for Camden’s housing crisis and other difficulties but it has stuck in the craw of some that Camden has been commended for coming up with rescue strategies – whether they have public support or not.
For example, Camden has been praised for making the “tough” decision to open its city academy in Swiss Cottage and for plans to sell council homes to raise money – both hugely controversial.
The final report instead credits the council for “taking difficult decisions”.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Ms Gibb, the council’s non-elected chief official, batted away a question over whether she thought the coalition had performed better than its predecessors. She said tactfully: “I think the new council had the wisdom to build on what had gone before rather than dismantle everything.”

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