For years, many of us have been arguing that the London borough of Newham is rather better at talking up its achievements than actually delivering them - which may explain why one of the poorest boroughs in the capital spends more on publicity than any other London council. And for years, the Labour government has believed what it has been told about the successes and innovation under the leadership of the Great Helmsman, Mayor Sir Robin Wales.
But eventually, even in Newham, the chickens must finally come home to roost.
Back in 2007, the government introduced a new system for assessing local public services in England called the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA). It aims to examine how well councils and other public bodies, working together, meet the needs of the people they serve. According to the Audit Commission website:
Local public services will be held collectively to account for their impact on improving quality of life for residents. This means that CAA will look across councils, health bodies, police forces, fire and rescue services and others responsible for local public services, which are increasingly expected to work in partnership to tackle the challenges facing their communities.Since April, six different inspectorates have been gathering evidence locally and on 26 November, the final report for Newham was presented to the borough's Partnership Board.
However, to the indignation of its chair, Sir Robin Wales, a number of services had received 'red flags', meaning that there is "significant concerns about outcomes and future prospects for outcomes, which are not being tackled adequately". A red flag means that the inspectorates have jointly judged that something needs to change in the local delivery of employment initiatives, community engagement and the borough's Children and Young People Service.
But rather than take this on the chin, Wales and his pals on the Partnership Board spluttered and huffed and then, astonishingly, "expressed its displeasure with the incompetence in the production of the CAA report and took the view that the entire exercise was a waste of time". The Chief Executive, Joe Duckworth, even plans to ask the council's "Legal and Finance departments to review the value for money of the CAA process".
The Audit Commission plans to publish its assessments on a new Oneplace website next Wednesday. Quite how the Great Helmsman plans to wriggle out of this one should be fascinating!