In 2004, Trafford Metropolitan Council became Conservative controlled after 9 years of Labour control. In those years, it had gone from ‘Council of the year’ in 1999 to being judged as ‘weak’ by the audit commission by 2002. Before taking control of Trafford, we had done some extensive work with local residents to ascertain just what the top priorities were for them and this yielded no surprises- crime, education, improvements to roads and pavements and improvements to our town centres.
However, inheriting an organisation that had managed to go through £19m of reserves in 2 years, mainly to prop up overspends, was going to require some serious financial management from day one, both to be able to deliver on our priorities and to rid the organisation of the culture of mismanaging its budgets in driving forward the efficient delivery of services. Financial efficiency and management was the number one corporate objective for me, as without it nothing could be achieved.
A rigorous system of budget monitoring was introduced very quickly, as was a review of senior management structure. As I saw it, there did not appear to be a structure in place and I therefore suspected that in terms of accountability, roles and responsibilities were probably ill defined. This turned out to be correct, as did my suspicion that there was no performance management or monitoring in place.