Headlines: December 18th, 2003

More than half of England’s largest councils are now rated as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ and there has been a marked overall improvement in the performance of authorities, according to the second year of the Audit Commission’s Comprehensive Performance Assessment, which is published today.For the first time the Commission has been able to measure improvement in councils’ overall performance. Key findings in its report show twenty-six councils have risen at least one performance category compared with only nine that have dropped. It reveals that progress has been fastest among the worst councils, with 14 of the 34 that were ranked as ‘poor’ or ‘weak’ in 2002 moving up a category. Improvements have been concentrated in services for the young, and older and vulnerable people.

CPA was launched last year to benchmark each of England’s 150 top-tier local authorities – county, metropolitan, unitary and London councils. They are scored on the quality of services and on their ability to improve. Each authority is then classified as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘fair’, ‘weak’, or ‘poor’.

Today’s report shows two councils, East Sussex and Windsor and Maidenhead, have risen by two categories from ‘weak’ to ‘good’ after significant improvements in their social care services. In total four councils rise to ‘weak’, eight to ‘fair’, nine to ‘good’, and five to ‘excellent’.

Nearly 55 per cent of councils are now classed as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, which means they will qualify for significantly lighter inspection, bringing substantial savings in both time and money. Twenty-six councils are rated as excellent, compared with 22 last year and 56 are rated as good compared to 54 last time. The number of councils in the ‘poor’ category has fallen from 13 to 10 and there has also been a drop of three, to 18, in the number rated as ‘weak’. Forty councils are categorised as ‘fair’, the same number as in 2002.

The results also reveal a regional pattern with as many as three-quarters of councils in the North East scored as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. They also show that the strong improvement in services such as education has not been matched by environmental services where there has been an overall decline nationally.

The report also points out that some councils are making significant progress in spite of their low rankings. Bury made the biggest jump in terms of marks scored, climbing from ‘weak’ to ‘fair’. Hackney remains in the ‘poor’ category but is showing signs of improvement. Other big improvers in terms of marks are Bristol and Liverpool, which are now classified as ‘good’, and Stockton-on-Tees and Telford and Wrekin, which are now classed as ‘excellent’.

The Audit Commission compiles CPA in partnership with local government, Ofsted, the Social Services Inspectorate, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate, and the Government. Full reports for all councils are available through the Commission’s website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk/CPA