Headlines: March 2nd, 2006

Local councils have been told they can learn from Britain’s leading businesses when it comes to delivering improved services and better value for money. The message came from Sir Simon Milton, the Local Government Association’s improvement spokesman at the ‘Improvement Summit’ in Gateshead, where councils were urged to challenge the view that they naturally lag behind the private sector in the use of customer data.The meeting was told that research had shown councils could learn from leading firms such as Tesco, Virgin Holidays and First Direct in understanding the kind of services people want and their satisfaction with those services. The LGA and the Improvement and Development Agency want such an approach to be central to finding a replacement for the inspection system used to assess council performance at the moment. The Association is in talks with the National Consumer Council to develop the plans as part of its framework for replacing the Comprehensive Performance Assessment

Sir Simon said local authorities should aim for the same understanding of people’s needs as the best in the private sector. “Local authorities do have to take tough political decisions and are obviously different to everyday businesses, but that does not mean we should not strive to have a better understanding of people’s needs and aspirations,” he said.

Sir Simon said the LGA wanted local people to act as judge and jury for their councils and said the LGA/IDeA framework would empower citizens while ensuring there was still the right level of inspection.

Key elements of the framework would include an annual assessment conducted by councils and partners; robust peer challenge with councils measuring their performance against each other, partner organisations and the private sector; inspection based on areas of national concern; an annual audit to safeguard standards and public money and intervention from the local government sector to ensure councils perform effectively and to find improved ways to delivering quality services.