Room 123, Wandsworth Town Hall
Room 123, Wandsworth Town Hall
Days of my life have been wasted spent productively in Room 123

I was thinking about the Shaftesbury Ward report back next week, and specifically the leaflet containing facts and figures about the ward and the area. One thing it doesn’t contain is any real information about the councillors. However, I do publish some information already on my open data page so I spent an idle few minutes assessing my meeting attendance.

I will caveat this post: I don’t think meeting attendance is a very good measure of the quality or otherwise of a councillor. Frankly, what they do outside the formal meetings can be a lot more meaningful to the day-to-day lives of residents. And while it’s easily measurable, it’s binary; you were either at a meeting or you weren’t, it says nothing of the contribution you made.

The following relate to the 2010-2011 municipal year, and basically include all the meetings that run from the 2010 annual council meeting up to the 2011 annual council meeting. It details ‘public’ meetings, those that are formally minuted and feature on the council website, and those I attend as a council nominee.

Overall performance
Of the 60 meetings I listed I managed to attend 49, an overall rate of 82%. I could argue that was pretty good, but then I’d be a little hypocritical given what I’ve said about meetings not being a good measure of a councillor!

What might be a little more revealing is why I missed 18% of meetings.
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Today’s news that all the Labour councils in London are to freeze council tax next year (I say all, they only have eight) came as something of a shock.

First of all, I don’t think London Labour have a particularly good track record of keeping council tax low. If you take the inner London Labour boroughs at band D they charge an average of £1,276. Conservative authorities charge an average of just £899. And those bald figures hide other facts. The most expensive Conservative borough, Hammersmith and Fulham has only been Conservative controlled since 2006, and in each year since then has actually reduced the council tax. And I would hope I don’t need to point out that Wandsworth has the lowest council tax in the country.

But what really gets me is that all eight find themselves in a position to declare no increase, when a year ago almost to the day they all rejected exactly that suggestion.

Conservative policy is to freeze council tax for the first two years of an administration. A popular policy you might think… but not, unfortunately, with London’s Labour councils who all declared they would not participate.

Apparently when the Conservatives suggested it (along with extra funding to help councils manage the freeze) such a freeze would result in “years of misery” as Labour leader’s across the capital second guessed what funding they would get from central government. This year, however, at exactly the same place in the budget setting process, with no promise of cash from the government they can all announce a freeze as a celebration of Labour efficiency.

The only conclusion you can draw is that when it comes to using council tax to buy a few votes for the beleaguered Prime Minister different rules apply.

The Audit Commission‘s place survey was published the other day and makes good reading for Wandsworth, especially as they reflect public opinion rather than the results of an external assessors checklist. Basically, it’s what you think of Wandsworth.

Of course, the temptation is just to highlight what you might think are the ‘top two’: value for money and quality services. In both Wandsworth came top in the country – more people in Wandsworth think the “council provides value for money” and were “very or fairly satisfied with how [the] council runs things” than in any other authority.

But there were a number of other good results. For example, by my reckoning we came fifth on parks and open spaces – impressive when you consider we are an inner London borough. And overall 85% of people think Wandsworth is a good place to live.

There were the odd results. 37.9% of people feel they can influence decisions in the area, but only 13.8% of people have been involved in decision making recently. It would be interesting to see if we can tease out more information to explain why the first figure is so low and why there’s such a difference between it and the second figure.

And there are, of course, results that show there is work that needs to be done. Wearing my community safety hat I was astounded that only 11% feel they would know what to do if there were a major incident. When you consider the government’s nationwide resilience campaign and the strong emergency planning we have locally along with the disproportionate fear of a major incident in Wandsworth (the latest survey showed around half the Wandsworth population feared a major terrorist attack within the borough) it’s very surprising that number is so low.

But these shouldn’t detract from those top two. The primary function of a council is to provide quality services to its residents, so it’s great to be told by residents that they think we are number one for service and value.

It was great to have confirmation that the audit commission have, once again, given Wandsworth’s services a top rating of 4* as an authority – the seventh successive year our services have been given the highest rating.

It gets even better that we’re still assessed as ‘improving strongly’ and that we’ve got top marks for ‘use of resources’ (essentially, we’re good value for money).

But when you add to all that our position as the UK’s lowest council tax it proves that we’re not idly boasting when we say we’re number one for service and value.

You can read more in the press release on the council’s website.

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