Durham’s new super council is off to a strong start

Grounds of Durham County Hall

Grounds of Durham County Hall

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A NEW super council has won praise for its strong progress in the three years since it was set up.

Durham County Council, which was turned into a single-tier council – known as a unitary council – in 2009, excelled in a peer challenge review in July that looked at performance in leadership and governance, financial viability and organisational capacity.

The 2009 shake-up saw Durham’s county council and several district councils merge into one super authority serving everyone in the area.

The review looked at its approach to community engagement, partnership working and economic development.

In their report, the review team said: “The challenge of bringing eight councils together to form a new single-purpose authority was significant.

“It is a tribute to all concerned that the transition was successful and that we see a self-confident authority dealing effectively with the massive challenges which face it and wider local government.

“The leadership of the council, both member and officer, all of the political groupings and the staff of the organisation deserve great credit for the position which now exists.

“The council has strong political leadership, with a clear vision for the future.

“The leadership is supported by an effective corporate management team. The council is well regarded by partners.”

There were some minor points made by the review team on improvements, including in IT.

The review panel stated: “Although there have been recent improvements, IT needs to be better enabling and supporting the delivery of the council’s ambitions. This should continue to be focused on the ongoing improvement to ensure a seamless approach to customer service.”

The reviewers also stated the council “needs to work on an ongoing basis to ensure its vision is consistently translated through to officers, members and communities.

“The future national public sector funding reductions will also require wider political support for ongoing future change.

“To further mature the approach, the council is likely to benefit from countering a perception by some members that politics is not as inclusive as it might be, for example, by encouraging more open debate in full council meetings or involving more political parties in lobbying.”

Council leader Simon Henig said “It is heartening to know that our peers have found the council to be in good shape.”

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