Headlines: July 24th, 2006

Many district councils will face a less intensive inspection regime under new Comprehensive Performance Assessment arrangements announced by theAudit Commission. The new framework for district councils signals a more targeted approach to inspection in the future.The framework has been unveiled following extensive consultation with the councils and other stakeholders since last autumn. The Commission says the changes reflect the improvements made by local authorities under the previous framework.

Under the new measures Performance Assessment categories will be re-assessed only through a corporate assessment, at those councils where there is evidence of a significant shift in performance. Councils will also be able to request a corporate assessment in cases where they believe they can demonstrate a significant improvement. The Commission will require a corporate assessment only where there it has evidence of significant worsening in performance.

The new measures mean that a decision on whether or not a council should undergo corporate assessment will be made by a panel whose members will look at evidence of changed performance and the case put forward by the council. Each panel will include a council peer representative and Commission staff from within and outside the relevant region so there is a balance between local knowledge and national consistency. The panels will consider if there is a realistic prospect of the council changing its CPA category as well as taking into account quantitative and qualitative evidence of improvement or deterioration.

All district councils will still face an annual use of resources assessment and a direction of travel statement to encourage ongoing improvement. The results of these, says the Commission, will also contribute to decisions on the need for corporate assessments. The methodology for corporate assessments has also been streamlined with a reduction from 10 to 5 in the number of themes used in assessments. The five – ambition for the community; prioritisation; capacity; performance management and achievement and improvement – will be underpinned by key lines of enquiry which have been updated to reflect recent developments in district councils. The categories for district CPAs will remain as excellent, good, fair, weak, and poor so that results are still comparable with other councils even though not all districts will be re-assessed.

Audit Commission Chief Executive Steve Bundred said, “Our extensive consultation over the last nine months has helped us to develop a consensus about which aspects of CPA for district councils could be improved and which are already functioning well. As a result we have developed a framework which not only enables the Audit Commission to help drive improvement in public services in a more efficient and targeted way, but also reduces the burden of regulation on district councils