Headlines: July 23rd, 2003

The best-performing local councils are to face lower levels of inspection. The four largest Inspectorates of local authorities have announced a major reduction in site-based inspection in councils. Instead, inspection programmes for single and upper-tier councils for this year will focus on the councils and services where most improvement is needed.A database launched by the Local Services Inspectorate Forum brings together the forward programmes for the Audit Commission, Benefit Fraud Inspectorate, Ofsted and the Social Services Inspectorate. The idea is that good performers will have the least inspection, freeing them to deliver better services in line with public service reform principles.

The database shows that the number of days inspectors will spend in councils this year will fall by approximately a third compared with last year, and by approximately a half compared to the year 2001-02. Authorities which scored best in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment will see the biggest falls. Councils rated as ‘Excellent’ will, on average, have only a tenth of the inspection visits they faced last year. The inspection bodies say this puts into practice the commitment, announced at the end of last year, to free them from almost all compulsory inspection.

Denise Platt, chair of the Local Services Inspectorate Forum said inspection was an important tool for driving improvement, but it had to be well targeted. The inspectorates, she said, had also developed ways to gather evidence that would not depend on site-based inspections.

The reductions in inspection activity for excellent and good authorities have been calculated by comparing average numbers of inspector days for councils in each of the relevant categories this year against the average number of inspector days for all authorities in the previous year. This is the first year in which councils have been categorised by CPA.

The Local Services Inspectorate Forum databasecan be accessed at