Conservative government frees Council from target-driven strait-jacket

At the Overview and Scrutiny meeting on Thursday evening (10th March), Conservative Councillors welcomed the end to many of the targets which the previous Labour government had set to measure the efficiency of Councils.

In a report titled ‘Greenwich Local Area Agreement – Progress and Next Steps’ (which does not do justice to the important changes it contained) Councillors learnt that the whole bureaucracy of government control for Councils had been abolished under the ‘Localism’ agenda.  While this might sound unimportant, it is absolutely vital in allowing Councils to set their own priorities and stop wasting time trying to meet a plethora of government targets (which often involved a lot of measurement but not a lot of performance).  Some of the targets being abolished include:-

  • Protection against terrorist attack (for which there was never actually a measurement agreed because there really aren’t that many terrorist attacks in Greenwich but it was still a target).
  • Under 18 conception rate – Greenwich was supposed to reduce the number of conceptions per 1,000 females aged 15-17 from 56.5 to 28.2.  The main way of trying to achieve this appeared to be giving our condoms in schools and increasing the number of abortions which were spectacularly unsuccessful as the rate for 2008 hit 66.5 conceptions per 1,000 females aged 15-17 and in 2009 (there is a substantial time lag) remains around 58.3. 
  • The participation of young people in ‘positive activities’ – this relied on a survey and presumably a government set definition of what was a positive activity, but unfortunately for Labour the young people of Greenwich seem remarkably resistant to their attempts to make them do what the government want and the actual level fell from 70.6% to 62.4% when the target was 81.6%.

Unfortunately the target to increase the level of obesity among 11 year olds remains (in Greenwich 22.6% of 11 year olds were obese in 2007/8, but our target is to increase that to 23.5% 2010/11) but from the briefing it seems that it is for the Council to decide whether it wishes to continue to measure this.  There can be no doubt that the removal of these unwieldy and centralising Local Area Agreements is a real step forward for residents who want their local Council to respond to their requirements not those of central government.

The meeting also included updates on the Council’s Modernisation programme, where Conservative Group Leader Cllr Spencer Drury explored the progress in building on green space in the Kidbrooke development and after several questions was informed that the second stage of the development (which will involve some building on old blocks should be complete by 2013.

Among a range of other reports planning business for the next year, there was a contract report, which the Chair of the panel took the officer to task over as it appeared that due to a technical error, the Council had ended up paying a firm £40 per lamppost to test them when they should have been paying £19.  This is a substantial loss of revenue.

Conservative Councillors attending the meeting were Spencer Drury and Nigel Fletcher from Eltham North and Eileen Glover from Eltham South.