On Monday morning councils will receive performance information from the Audit Commission which will tell them whether they should prepare to proclaim their success on Assessment Day, 12th December, or whether they should be ready to explain how they are going to improve. On Assessment Day the performance of the larger councils will be classified as excellent, good, fair, weak or poor. The smaller district councils will be assessed in a similar way a year later.The publicity machines of the Audit Commission and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will move into overdrive to make sure that all stakeholders, including council tax payers, are aware that assessments have been made. Local publicity will take over at this point to present each council in the best possible light. The publicity challenge will be exceptionally tough for those councils in the weak and poor categories. There will be a particular threat to staff morale.
The assessments are based on the ‘balanced scorecard principle’ to give an overall view of organizational performance. Scores are given for each of the main areas of activity such as social care, education and environment. In addition an assessment is made of how well resources are used. This includes how financial resources are managed, how the workforce is managed and the way capital is used.
Comprehensive Performance Assessment is the latest in a line of ‘big ideas’ to drive up performance in local government. Earlier ‘big ideas’ include compulsory competitive tendering, best value and local public service agreements. The assessment process will be used in combination with the new freedoms, particularly in relation to borrowing, that will feature in the Local Government Bill to be announced in the Queen’s Speech next week. Councils with an ‘excellent’ rating will be given the greatest freedom.