Local Government Guide: South Tyneside - One of the best, against the odds ...

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LAST year a "geography of misery" survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation named South Tyneside as the eighth worst place to live in the country, just below in the innerLondon district of Lambeth. Now its council has come top of the Independent on Sunday's local authority league tables, writes Paul Lashmar.

This in an area whose constituent towns - Jarrow, South Shields and Hebburn - are inextricably linked with poverty and unemployment.

But the council is quietly improving the quality of life in the area with a crackdown on crime. Last week 13 people were arrested by police in a dawn raid on Riddins Mound and Codsall estates at Cradley Heath. More than pounds 50,000-worth of drugs were seized.

Now the council has warned that any tenant convicted of drugs offences will be automatically evicted.

According to the police, vital information for the raids was provided by people in the area. Council chiefs say that before their offensive against anti-social behaviour was launched tenants were afraid to complain in case of reprisals.

Regeneration funding is also beginning to make its mark. The council has recently had access to millions of pounds of regional funds. Recent changes in central government funding of local government has also enormously benefited the area.

At the core of South Tyneside's success is its social services department, which, according to the Audit Commission, provides one of the fastest and most efficient services in the country.

Until recently the council has had an enormous albatross around its neck in the shape of a Second World War destroyer, HMS Cavalier. It had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on maintaining the vessel in dry dock but did not have the cash to renovate it as a tourist attraction.

Earlier this year lottery funding of pounds 830,000 was awarded to provide for Cavalier's relocation to Chatham in Kent, where it will become a memorial for the men who died in destroyers in the war.

South Tyneside's success must be seen as a triumph of council employees over the ruling local Labour Party which has been racked by in-fighting for years. Despite the political shenanigans they have managed to provide a service better than most in the UK.

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