HYNDBURN Council's official rating has been downgraded to only "fair" following its financial crisis.
The long-delayed Audit Commission report, finally released this week, identifies a number of weaknesses including "ineffective financial management and budgetary controls", which led to a significant overspend.
The council believed it was set to receive a "good" rating until the bombshell revelation in January that it was £1.8M in debt.
That crisis was overcome by a series of emergency measures including the selling-off of some assets.
Disappointed council leader Peter Britcliffe, whose Tory group was re-elected earlier this month, stormed: "I really feel that in this case 'fair' is unfair and we have been misjudged."
He added: "I strongly disagree with this extremely disappointing verdict after the initial report said we were good."
"The financial crisis was obviously the main reason we were knocked back to 'fair'. We already have improvement plans in place for the identified weaknesses and we are well on the way to resolving them."
"The assessment underestimates the good services that we provide day-in day-out and the hard work we put in to improving them. But the report does confirm that we have made significant improvements in the majority of our services, such as the cleanliness of the local environment, regeneration and renewal projects and benefit services."
Other criticisms state:
- The housing repairs service is not efficient and cannot demonstrate value for money.
- It is not always clear to residents what standards of service they can expect.
But the council is praised for having a clear vision and working with partners to tackle crime and the fear of crime.
The Audit Commission carries out a Comprehensive Performance Assessment of councils each year.
Senior manager Mike Thomas said: "Hyndburn Council is making good progress in improving services and delivering its long-term aims."
"But financial management and controls need to be further developed and strengthened."
"We have recommended the council uses the report to help it work out how to tackle its weaknesses. The end result should be better services."
Councillor David Myles, deputy leader of the Labour opposition, said he felt the fault lay firmly in the Tory corner, as they had been in control for four out of five years.
He added: "One of the most important things for a council to do is have good financial management; if that isn't right nothing else can be."
"Clearly, the financial systems the council had in place were not good enough and hadn't been for some time."