Headlines: April 5th, 2006

The Deal for Devolution, which is now under discussion, will move power down from Whitehall to the Townhall and on to local communities and it will result in the scrapping of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment regime by 2008. The Audit Commission has published a paper to open up a debate about how regulation might be achieved beyond CPA and how it might fulfil its role of ensuring that public money is well spent,.The Commission plans to use the CPA in 2008 as a baseline assessment from which it will be possible to differentiate between individual local councils. It believes that a number of high-performing councils will by then have demonstrated their ability to sustain this performance over a period of several years, while the direction of travel of councils not yet performing at the highest levels will be clear. This should then make it possible to exclude a large number of councils from its more onerous provisions. This approach will depend on finding ways of spotting councils where performance starts to deteriorate.

With the shift away from targets set by Whitehall, local auditors will need to find out how well the expectation of residents in each locality are being met by all the public bodies and private and voluntary sector delivery partners. A key element of this work will be the development of area profiles which provide a wide-ranging picture of the quality of life and public services in a local area by bringing together data, information and assessments for every council area in England.

The Commissions argues that because citizens will require more than their access to the ballot box to ensure the accountability of public services for the spending of taxpayers’ money, regulation will continue to have an important role to play. But assuming that the performance of public services continues to display the recent rapid rates of improvement it will be possible for the overall scale of activity to be reduced.