Council In New Drive For Transparency & Openness

Aim to give residents transparent information on performance

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Wandsworth Council

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Under a pledge to become Britain’s most transparent council, the south west London authority is publishing information how it compares with other London boroughs on the services that matter to its residents the most.

It has launched an ‘Open Council’ section of its website where residents can easily see how the Council performs on issues ranging from the progress of pupils in maths and English to roads maintenance. Where council performance is below average compared with other boroughs a Cabinet Member explains why – and potentially what they are doing about it.

The performance data sits alongside previously published information on how much the authority spends, where all invoices over £500 are listed.

In terms of major presentation, Wandsworth is concentrating on the top 27 performance indicators which it thinks touches the lives of its residents the most, although there is a link where people can easily see the full set that is published. Residents can vote on other indicators it would like to see in the top 27.

The information ranges from major roads in need of repair, educational attainment and number of library books issued right through to how long it takes to re-let an empty home and how the authority supports carers.

Cllr Ravi Govindia, Leader of Wandsworth Council, said: “The quality of services that we deliver affect the lives of around 300,000 Londoners and our residents deserve to know what we do well and areas for improvement. Transparency and openness will drive us to become an even better council. There is no bigger critic than ourselves.”

The data that Wandsworth is publishing is already in the public domain but often buried deep within central government or local government websites. Even if people can find it, it is usually presented in a way that can make it impossible to make meaningful comparisons. “Our residents should not need the skills of Poirot to find out how their Council is doing,” said Cllr Govindia. “We are being open about how we are doing, warts and all, in a way that is easy for everybody to understand, contrast and compare."

Cllr Govindia said that publishing information on performance will spark a debate on value for money as residents compare the quality of services they are receiving against how much council tax that they pay. With the lowest council tax in the country and some of the most satisfied residents, Wandsworth claims to be “number one for service and value”.

While the information published by Wandsworth includes data from other London boroughs, the primary purpose is to compare and not to judge others.

“We know there are a variety of factors that affect performance, including levels of deprivation,” said Cllr Govindia. “We are only interested in how we are doing, but in order to assess that we need to know how others are doing too. Personally I hope that other councils will follow suit. More openness and transparency makes more effective and better government.”

The publication of performance data in Wandsworth fills a gap following the abolition of the Audit Commission which previously published all agreed national indicators and awarded stars according to how good or bad a Council was.

Cllr Govindia continued: “We should not need the red tape and expense of the Audit Commission to tell us how good or bad we are. Our residents should be the ones that judge us, not faceless bureaucrats. Our openness makes a reality of the armchair auditor."

February 1, 2012