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Councils hit back after The Times release list ranking ‘worst local authorities in the country’

A number of Greater Manchester councils have hit back following a list ranking each local authority in the country.

A list from media outlet The Times was compiled using data from the Office for Local Government (Oflog) – which dubbed Nottingham City Council the worst in England and Torridge District Council in Devon the best. 

A number of councils in the GM region have joined the Local Government Association (LGA) in blasting this use of data as ‘inaccurate’ and ‘ill-timed’ considering the article was released during a pre-election period – when councils are limited in what they can respond with.

Manchester Council came out the worst ranked authority in the region in a position of 279th. Rochdale Council was dubbed the best in the region with a national ranking of 57th.

The list used Oflog data and council performance in the sectors of waste management; corporate and finance; planning and roads; and adult social care. The Times’ methodology explained that it chose these categories as the council can control the outcome, such as the number of planning applications completed on time.

In a letter penned by Coun Shaun Davies, chair of the LGA, to Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, he said: “I do not want to be labelled as a Cassandra figure, but our warnings about the use of data and Oflog’s ability to advise and brief the media about what the data does and doesn’t show have now come to pass. The fact that this happened during the pre-election period when the ability for councils to adequately respond is curtailed has made this situation worse.

“While I appreciate that the league table was compiled by a media organisation, we are very concerned that neither Oflog, nor DLUHC, stepped in swiftly to correct inaccuracies and misleading content.”

Coun Davies went on to list a number of grievances with the list and how data does not always reflect council performance. He demanded an urgent meeting with the Levelling Up department between him and the LGA Vice-Chairs, to discuss the matters raised.

List of how each council ranked on The Times list:

  1. Rochdale: 57th
  2. Wigan: 93rd
  3. Bolton: 97th
  4. Bury: 119th
  5. Oldham: 129th
  6. Trafford: 140th
  7. Tameside: 153rd
  8. Stockport: 174th
  9. Salford: 194th
  10. Manchester: 297th

 

How Greater Manchester councils reacted

A number of GM councils have seconded this message after not ranking favourably in the list put together by The Times. When contacted for a response, most GM councils referred the Local Democracy Reporting Service to the statement provided by the LGA.

Here are the responses from some councils that wanted to add further comment:

Manchester

A spokesperson for Manchester Council said: “Our understanding from OFLOG was that the data they have collected wasn’t intended to be used to draw comparisons between local authorities – not least because differences in spending on some services is often driven by factors outside the control of individual councils, such as deprivation and demographics.

“It’s disappointing therefore to see this rather narrow set of data – some of which is already out of date – used in this way, particularly when the numbers themselves mean little without any local context and also don’t reflect the huge financial challenges faced by councils.

“We’re determined to continue to do everything we can here in Manchester to provide quality services for our residents and to deliver inclusive growth that benefits everyone in the city.”

Oldham

A spokesperson for Oldham Council, said: “The Local Government Association (LGA) has raised concerns with central Government over the accuracy of Oflog’s data, which it says may have led to the Times publishing ‘inaccuracies and misleading content’.

“We also have concerns about the metrics used being out of date. However, we are well aware of the challenges that affect our residents.

“When you compare our funding now to 2010, we’ve lost an equivalent of 56 per cent. Cuts from central Government coupled with the cost of living pressures, have hit areas like Oldham the hardest and impacted on Council services. 

“We remain committed to improving and delivering value for money for our residents, and in some areas we are clearly performing amongst the better local authorities.”

Rochdale

A Rochdale Borough Council spokesperson said: “It is pleasing to be recognised as one of the strongest performing councils in the country and a testament to our hardworking staff who deliver high-quality public services in often challenging circumstances.

“We are proud to serve our borough and will continue to do our very best for our amazing residents and businesses.”

Stockport

A Stockport Council spokesperson said: “Along with many other Local Authorities, we share the Local Government Association’s concerns about the methodology used and we’d caution against using this to compare councils.

“It’s like comparing apples and pears – we need to compare councils with those that are comparable to each other in terms of things like size, demographics, deprivation,  and responsibilities.

“Alternative metrics like peer challenge reviews offer a more comprehensive assessment. Our recent review highlighted our strong partnership working, high performing services, and ‘strong financial position’.

“However, like many councils, we face significant financial challenges due to reduced government funding and rising social care costs, as well as the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

“We are committed to tackling these challenges through strong leadership and collaboration with our communities and businesses to provide the best service we can for our residents.”

The Times have been contacted for a comment.

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