A REPORT into the performance of the Isle of Wight Council has said political leadership at the authority is well regarded, but found capacity is stretched at every level.
The Corporate Peer Challenge has been written by a group of representatives from other local authorities.
The report stated: "Political leadership is well regarded at the council. The wish to be transparent and inclusive is widely recognised and valued and the active representation of Island interests with principal partners is evident.
"However, as an Independent administration operating without a group whip, uniting behind the issues can be difficult and affect the council’s ability to make decisions. It is potentially damaging if the delivery of priorities is weakened by local issues taking precedence over corporate priorities and this will have to be an area to manage in the future."
During the visit the team heard the root and branch review, undertaken by the Independents to shape policy and calculate this year’s budget, described as disappointing, with insufficiently robust planning, insufficient leadership, commitment, time and resources.
It added: "The team has identified stretched capacity and capability at all levels of the organisation. There is an urgent need to ensure the council has the necessary and operational skills and capacity to deliver savings and corporate priorities."
The report said there was evidence of strong social capital and enterprise arrangements on the Island, with examples of community ventures operating various facilities.
But the team raised concern they did not find a long-term economic vision, covering the skills base for economic development, the aspirations of young people and housing.
Council leader Cllr Ian Stephens, said: "This has proved an extremely valuable exercise, with the peer review team casting a fresh pair of eyes over the work of the council and the many challenges we face."
The review’s recommendations will go before the full council in September.
• Isle of Wight Council leader Cllr Ian Stephens is highly regarded, showing leadership through engagement with the likes of Solent LEP and Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH).
• The new administration was described as a breath of fresh air, by staff, who welcomed a commitment to transparency, enthusiasm and energy.
• The desire for consensus can delay and confuse political decision making.
• The reduction in staff should be coupled with a realistic set of priorities and workloads.
• There is an urgent need for member/officer protocol to provide clarity, as the current working arrangements are not well understood by members and officers.
• The council receives a good deal of damaging and negative messages particularly from local media. It would be worth considering the re-introduction of One Island if it was cost neutral.
• Despite a great deal of energy and activity there can be a lack of coherence and completion.
• The council has been involved in many proactive actions to drive growth, for example the Solent Ocean Energy Centre (SOEC).
• The council does not gather information and intelligence of business activity and does not have a detailed understanding of the various sectors within the local economy — essential to understanding the needs of businesses.
• The council recognises the need to update the tourism offer but this is not always being seen through. The report highlighted plans for a new Premier Inn in Lake, which were recommended by officers but turned down by members.
• The important commitment to growth’s importance is evident in its corporate plan, but there is no economic growth strategy to support it and there may be insufficient staff focussed on it to deliver results.
• The link between economic growth and housing has not been effectively made by the council.
• The council would benefit from a better understanding of local economic impact of its own spending on services and goods, which amounts to around £19 million a year.
• A bold and difficult decision was made to increase council tax by 1.99 per cent, along with a strategy to use reserves to ease the impact of funding cuts.
• Restructuring has meant there is an over reliance on the goodwill of staff working long hours — for some this is leading to unsustainable pressure.
• The commitment to external partnerships is commendable, but partnerships should be reviewed to ensure they are still productive.
View the full report below:
Isle of Wight Council Corporate Peer Challenge