Headlines: April 4th, 2003

The Local Government Association is warning that while some action is needed to stabilise the regime of inspection of local councils, this must not be allowed to condemn authorities to poor performance ratings which fail to reflect and reward improvement. The Association was responding to the Audit Commission’s new proposals for assessing the performance of each of the 150 largest councils in England.At the end of last year in the CPA process the authorities were rated in five categories ranging from poor to excellent. In its report the Commission says councils with strengths in people management, procurement and understanding of diversity, are more likely to deliver high quality services.

It has analysed the results of the assessments as part of the process of trying to share the lessons learned about performance and improvement in an effort to help all councils reach higher standards. Now the Commission is proposing annual or biannual improvement reports until 2006. These would allow councils to move up a grade when there is a measurable improvement in services. New frameworks would then be implemented in 2006 and again in 2010.

But the LGA fears this plan will leave some councils languishing with poor scores that fail to reflect their improved performance. The Association chair, Sir Jeremy Beecham said this would be demotivating and counter-productive. “We are not advocating an intensive round of annual inspections – far from it. Councils need to be left to get on with their jobs. But for those authorities that can demonstrate that they have improved rapidly – they deserve a proper opportunity to show that. That may mean for some that they can show a fast progression from being a poor or weak authority to being a good or excellent one,” he said.

The LGA has welcomed the Audit Commission’s plans to involve and consult local government in decisions about the inspection regime and the promises of a lighter touch hands-off approach and stability. “The last thing that local government needs is more upheaval and uncertainty. But that stability must not become stagnation – especially for those councils that feel either that their performance was unfairly assessed last time or for those councils that are getting better quickly,” said Sir Jeremy.