Headlines: September 23rd, 1997

The message from the Audit Commission, which encourages auditors to bring better value for money from their audits, is that in 1995/96 local authorities did well in improving efficiency, but could do better. The Commission’s third annual survey of overall performance shows that the worst performing authorities in individual services had improved significantly. The 15 authorities which took longest to re-let empty council homes have improved their performance over the three years from 13.5 weeks in 1993/94 to 9.6 weeks in 1995/96. Overall, this is almost a 30% reduction in the length of time properties are left empty by those authorities.The average performing authorities have also improved. Processing of claims for council tax benefit has speeded up with claims processed within 14 days increasing from 80% to 84% compared to the previous year.

There are still big differences in performance between authorities of the same type and some authorities are falling behind the rest in the performance of individual services. Some authorities in London and metropolitan areas processed l00% of land searches for home buyers within 10 days. Others only processed 20%. And some authorities with poor performance charged higher fees for this service than better-performing authorities. Similarly, some authorities assessed over 90% of children with special educational needs within the target time of 18 weeks. Others did not assess any children within the target time.

Andrew Foster, Controller of the Audit Commission, said: “Many local authorities have targeted their efforts on raising the standard of services that they provide to local people. But there are still some that are falling behind similar authorities in individual services. They need to investigate what lessons they can learn from better performing councils.”