We produce an annual report as we consider, like many organisations, both in the public, private and voluntary sectors, that an annual report is an important channel of communication to a range of stakeholders. However, we are very conscious that many of the public see our glossy reports as a waste of taxpayers' money. We have, therefore, produced this report primarily to be a document that is accessed through the web site and also one that links through to other information that is already published.
We cover the largest area of any district in England. We serve a small population of just over 50,000, spread over 216,000 hectares in eastern Cumbria. We are the most sparsely populated district area in all of England and Wales.
All of our blue collar services (refuse collection and street sweeping) and leisure management are provided by private sector partners under long term contracts. Our staff is, as a result, very small and we had a permanent staffing establishment of 168 full time equivalents during the year.
There are 38 elected councillors (Members). We are a 'hung' council, meaning that no one political group has overall control. We have 'all-out' elections: the next elections are in May 2011.
Our Executive implements the policy agreed by Council. It is made up of six portfolio holders who have a range of delegated powers. The Executive is made up of an alliance of councillors from three political groups, the Conservative Group, the Independent Alliance and the Independent Group. The Chairman of the Executive is the Leader of the Council. Our leadership has changed twice during the year. It is currently led by Councillor Gordon Nicolson.
Two regulatory committees deal with licensing and development control matters. A Standards Committee and an Accounts and Governance Committee deal with standards and governance matters respectively.
All Members not on the Executive sit on a range of Scrutiny panels. These panels scrutinise our activities to ensure we are delivering efficient and effective services to the community.
Our Priorities in the Year
Following extensive consultation with the public, elected Members, staff and other stakeholders, four priorities were agreed in February 2008 for the 2008-2011 Corporate Plan. The priorities are:
- Affordable Housing
- Quality Environment
- Economic Vitality
- Quality Council
The priorities are supported by fourteen detailed strategic actions. These priorities will be revisited and consulted upon again in autumn 2010. They will form the core of the new Corporate Plan for 2011-2012.
Progress against the priorities are:
We recognise that more affordable homes are required in the district. Although affordable homes were delivered in the district in 2009-2010, we have set ourselves more demanding targets for the future, working closely with both the Homes and Communities Agency and private developers. In addition, 2009-2010 saw us adopting a Core Planning Strategy, which clearly sets out targets for affordable housing and a more detailed housing planning document is being developed, working with communities, developers and other partners. This will conclude during 2010. A new post of Affordable Housing Officer was created and filled.
We have continued to maintain our high recycling figures in 2009-2010, with a rate of 44.8%, despite difficulties in collections over the winter period and a reduction in collections from one of the third party recycling businesses.
Antisocial behaviour, including environmentally damaging acts, continues to be monitored by our Community Wardens. They have a full programme of work with the Police, Housing Associations and so on, to raise awareness with community groups, such as parish councils. In addition, the Wardens continue to undertake enforcement work, particularly focussed in those areas where residents have identified a problem, in particular, dog fouling.
We have a key role in maintaining and developing economic vitality in the Eden area. In the main town of Penrith, a 'Vitality of Penrith' group has been established, with a focus on enhancing the town. The Vitality of Penrith group has established strong links with local retailers and has focussed on increasing visitor numbers to the town and facilitating popular events to promote the area for both local people and visitors. Tourism continues to play a key role in the economic sustainability and development of Eden. In response, we are actively promoting Eden using various methods, including our web site. We provide grants for small business promotion and expansion and have continued to support the development of business parks to provide suitable premises for higher paid jobs. As a result, further organisations have set up their offices within the Eden area, including Cumbria Vision and Cumbria NHS.
Residents, businesses and visitors of Eden have an ambitious vision for the area and, as such, we recognise we have an ever-increasing role to enable the ambitions to be met. In 2008-2009, we put in place a new Corporate Plan called 'Taking Eden Forward', which concentrates solely on the priorities the people of Eden have said are most important to them. At the conclusion of 2009-2010, of the 80 actions contained within the Plan, 84% were either on target, or had been met. In such a large, rural area, we have continued to improve the accessibility of our services for all residents and have expanded the services offered in the Customer Contact Centre, including the hosting of Her Majesty's Revenues and Customs enquiry desk at the Town Hall. It has enhanced our web site facilities and has established an award-winning joint facility with partners in Alston, called Alston Links. This provides library, tourist information and general customer services from one combined facility.
Managing Your Money
We use taxpayers' money to provide services which the public need. It is important that we are an effective steward of these monies. In February 2008, we agreed an action plan to reduce our ongoing expenditure by £250,000 per annum, so that we operate with a balanced budget on an ongoing basis. We have achieved our target savings.
We are pleased that, during the year, the Audit Commission has assessed us as 'performing well' in managing our finances.
The impact of the recession has severely affected the finances of district councils by reducing their income from interest receipts and increasing demand for some of their key services. Because of this, we face a major budget deficit and we will need to reduce our ongoing revenue expenditure by £1.1m by April 2013. We have agreed how we will identify the required savings and detailed proposals will be agreed in November 2010 to feed into the budget.
Our Achievements in the Year
2009-2010 has seen considerable achievements for us:
Audit Commission Assessment - we were subject to an external Organisational Assessment by the Audit Commission. This assessed how effective we were. We were assessed as 'Performing Well' - no other local authority in Cumbria reached this level.
Penrith New Squares - this major scheme was stalled in October 2008, with the international financial collapse. The scheme is now to progress with Sainsbury's taking on the role of developer.
Web Site - we view our web site as one of the main channels for information about our activities and, increasingly, our services. We continue to be rated one of the best local authority web sites for ease of navigation and accessibility. We were recently rated one of the best 25%.
Flooding - a number of areas in Eden are prone to flooding. We worked with the Environment Agency to provide advice and funding for households in Appleby so that they could protect their properties. These measures were tested in November 2009 and proved to be very successful. We are now working on a similar scheme for Eamont Bridge.
Planning Framework - we agreed our Core Strategy in the year. This replaces the previous Local Plan. This is a very important document which, amongst other things, will enable us to progress affordable housing provision more effectively. We are the first rural council in the north west to agree our core Strategy.
Mystery Shopper Results - councillors undertook anonymous testing of our services to test the published customer care standards, focusing on services which are most important to the public and are a priority for us. Very positive results were produced, with the vast majority of services tested exceeding the published standard.
Housing Development - we secured a £50,000 grant from the Government to develop a master plan for rural housing. Our success in securing a grant reflects our good track record in this area.
Environmental Award - we were awarded the silver award by the Cumbria Business Environment Network for how we address environmental issues in our own operations.
Areas for Improvement
Despite being a very small council, we undertake a large range of functions, some of them statutory and some of them discretionary. Whilst we believe that we perform well overall, there are a number of areas where we have not performed as well as we would have wished and acknowledge that there are areas to improve on.
Improvement Areas Addressed in 2009-2010
In last year's Annual Report, the following required improvements were highlighted:
'Overall Satisfaction with the Council' - this remains an important improvement area and is one of the stated aims of our Leader. We set up an 'Engage Eden' group with officers, Members and other stakeholders to improve engagement with residents. We recognise that the consultation on the Penrith New Squares scheme and the consequent decision in 2009 damaged our reputation. We also believe that the forthcoming period of expenditure reduction and its impact on services will create a number of reputational issues.
'Penrith New Squares' - restarting the development was a key aim in 2009-2010: this has been achieved through Sainsbury's 'stepping-in' to the scheme.
'Affordable Housing' - the number of affordable houses approved and built needs to be improved: this remains a long-standing issue. It is hoped that the newly adopted Core Strategy will give a framework for policies that, when applied, will deliver increased levels of affordable housing.
'Financial Deficit' - our financial deficit puts at risk much of what we do and it is acknowledged as the most important area to tackle during the year. Progress on this has been delayed by the need to resolve whether, or not, Penrith New Squares was to proceed, given its importance to our finances.
Improvement Areas for 2010-2011
Some of the main areas that we are seeking to improve are as follows:
'Overall Satisfaction with the Council' - this remains an important improvement area.
'Affordable Housing' - the number of affordable houses approved and built needs to be improved. We need to maintain our focus on this area.
'Financial Deficit' - our financial deficit is the most important area to tackle during the year. The impact of reductions in national expenditure will make this particularly challenging.
Local authorities are expected to perform a leadership role on climate change. A prerequisite is that the we have put our own house in order. We have been accepted on the Carbon Trust's Carbon Reduction Programme. This has led us to put in place an ambitious target to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by 2014.
Properly addressing diversity issues requires a number of concrete steps:
Knowing our Customers - we have a good understanding of the make-up of the district and how this impacts on our various services. We are supplementing this by building up customer profiles through information gathered in our Contact Centre.
Attaining Standards - during the year we have been progressing plans to meeting the 'Achieving' level of the new Equality Framework for Local Government, in partnership with the other Cumbrian authorities.
Dealing with Particular Issues - Appleby Fair is our biggest diversity issue. We continue to successfully address this by working with the varied communities involved. There is a general consensus that the management of the Fair has improved and continues to improve.
You can access our Summary/Shortened Accounts or our Full Statement of Accounts 2009-2010 (1Mb / 65 pages)
Other Useful Information
Our Performance Indicator Outturn (PDF: 434Kb / 19 pages)sets out our detailed performance in 2009-2010. This provides more detail than included in this Annual Report.
We welcome feedback on the Annual Report. Whilst any general comments will be gladly received, readers' views would be particularly welcome on whether it is worth having an Annual Report and, if so, is it appropriate to produce it in this summarised web-only format?
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We hope you find this report informative and useful.