Headlines: February 18th, 2002

The Local Government Association has criticised new plans to pigeonhole local councils as ‘top performing, striving, coasting or failing’.It fears that councils will be stigmatised by their alloted label, rather than recognised for their action plan to improve.

The new regime brings together audit, service inspection, and an overall corporate assessment to deliver a single annual ‘report card’ for every authority. The scheme will be tested in ten pathfinder councils: Bolton, Camden, Havering, Hertfordshire, Kent, Leeds, Telford & Wrekin, Wiltshire, Wigan and Windsor and Maidenhead.

It is expected that the first teams will go on-site at the pathfinders in mid-April, with feedback to councils expected in early May.

By the end of 2002, the Commission plans to announce findings for all 150 of the bigger or ‘upper tier’ authorities in England.

The government’s white paper, ‘Strong local leadership, quality public services’ proposes extra rewards or interventions for councils based on the findings.

The report cards will bring together auditors’ work on financial systems; performance indicators; results of individual service inspections, such as education or social services, and a corporate assessment.

Because regulation has been fragmented in the past, it has been hard to tell whether a council overall is improving – this new scheme should bring much-needed clarity.

Further information: www.audit-commission.gov.uk.