Headlines: November 29th, 2005

A consultation paper has been launched to gather opinions on the future of inspection for local services. It is designed to start a debate on the role of local services inspection, including the Audit Commission, beyond 2008, when a number of existing programmes come to an end.The consultation was announced by Local Government Minister Phil Woolas and it will build on the document “Securing better outcomes: developing a new performance framework”, which was published last March. The Government wants to see a new performance framework that drives the delivery of services and that better balances national pressures and priorities with stronger local accountability and partnership delivery. It believes this is an essential part of progress towards clearer lines of accountability, more power for local people and less bureaucracy.

Mr. Woolas said the consultation paper would take forward the commitment to refocus inspection and reduce its cost and burden on public bodies. It would, he said, look to build on the successes of inspection and reflect the significant improvements already made by local authorities in local services. The paper also highlighted the need to consider alternative forms of external challenge, involving users, peers or partners.

The Chancellor’s 2005 Budget Report announced the re-organisation of inspectorates, reducing the total number from 11 to 4. The consultation paper sets out proposals for one of these, the new local services inspectorate, which will bring together the functions of the Audit Commission and the local authority inspection responsibilities of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate. It proposes doing this by amending the existing Audit Commission, rather than abolishing it and setting up a new body.

Mr. Woolas said he was inviting discussion on the future role inspection should play within a more flexible framework. “Our proposals will reform inspection, making it more proportionate, risk-based and effective. They aim to free-up councils, giving them further freedoms to deliver services that are tailored to local circumstances. This is another significant step towards bolstering public services,” he said.