Headlines: August 21st, 2003

A substantial majority of senior figures in local government are not satisfied with the freedoms and flexibilities they are offered by government. The finding comes from a unique survey of the councils that went through the first round of Comprehensive Performance Assessment.It shows that less than a quarter of local authority chief executives and under a third of council leaders were happy over the issue of promised greater freedom but found that more than three-quarters of the surveyed chief executives of the 150 councils, assessed under CPA by the Audit Commission, found that the process had been useful in judging performance.

The research was undertaken by the polling organisation MORI on behalf of the Local Government Association. It found that 77 per cent of chief executives, who responded to the survey, found the CPA process had been useful in providing an overall snapshot of their authority’s performance but that only 23 per cent of chief executives and 31 per cent of leaders were satisfied with the promised greater freedoms and flexibility’s.

More than half of chief officers and more than four in ten council leaders felt CPA had been weakened by a lack of skilled inspectors. The majority of leaders and chief executives – 87 percent and 74 per cent – believe the most important change to the CPA process should be to make it more reflective of local priorities.

The study showed that both chief executives and councilors had high hopes of the CPA process and a third did worse than they expected. In those cases 78 per cent of senior officers felt that CPA was not an accurate reflection of the authority’s performance. The results also show that chief executives are five times more likely to describe the process as a ‘fairly effective’ use of resources than a ‘very effective’ use.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, who chairs the LGA, said: “This survey strongly reinforces our belief that CPA would be more effective if councils with high performance and improvement properly triggered greater freedom and flexibility. Unless government is able to deliver more freedom more quickly, the goodwill and momentum councils have displayed will be lost.”