Headlines: December 15th, 2005

Most English councils are performing well according to the latest assessment by the Audit Commission but it says some authorities are finding improvement a challenge and ten have gained only one or no stars at all. The report, “CPA – The Harder Test, Scores and Analysis of Performance in Single Tier and County Councils 2005”, published today, is the fourth annual assessment of councils.The Commission says Comprehensive Performance Assessment has helped drive improvement in councils – and it is warning that assessment may be even tougher next year. The Assessment shows two-thirds of councils have achieved the top two categories of 3 or 4 star performance, demonstrating consistent performance in all the assessed elements.

At least half the councils in every region are judged to be either ‘improving strongly’ or ‘improving well’ and there are 3 and 4 star councils in every region. Five councils that are ‘improving strongly’ gain 4 stars, the top possible score in the improvement category.

Although more than half of councils are judged to be delivering above minimum requirements in their use of resources, only three achieve top performance in that category. County and London councils perform best in this area with more than 60 per cent at or above minimum requirements.

The Audit Commission Chairman, James Strachan, said the annual assessment showed 70 per cent of councils were improving strongly. Over the last four years, he said, the Commission had seen some outstanding success stories where councils had transformed their ability to deliver services valued by the public. “Fewer councils than ever before are in the lowest two CPA categories despite this being a harder test than last year, but still ten councils are failing to deliver services of an adequate standard,” he said.

This is the first report since the implementation of the new Harder Test Framework.

The revised methodology was brought in after an extensive consultation with key stakeholders and reflects the new challenges facing councils, the rising expectations of service users and taxpayers and the need for continued improvement. Under the new test the Commission has introduced a two-dimensional scoring scheme of direction of travel labels and star ratings. The labels show the direction of a council’s improvement and the star categories judge its overall performance.

The Commission says CPA is not static and there will be further changes after it has evaluated lessons from the first year of the new framework. It is warning that the value for money element of use of resources may get tougher and it will look at whether the thresholds for service assessment are at the right level. There will be consultation in the spring on changes it intends to implement in the 2006 reporting.