Headlines: August 5th, 2006

PAPER AIMS TO OPEN DEBATE ON FUTURE OF LOCAL SERVICE ASSESSMENT

The Audit Commission is beginning consultations on the future shape of the inspection regime for local authorities. It has issued a discussion paper, “Assessment of Local Services Beyond 2008”, which it hopes will stimulate debate among local service providers and the Government.

The document builds on principles laid out in an earlier paper, “The Future of Regulation in the Public Sector”, which was published in March. The new paper poses challenging questions on the future of regulation and looks at how a new framework for performance assessment, assurance and accountability can continue to raise standards and deliver value for money.

Significantly the paper acknowledges the primary responsibility for managing the performance of local services lies with those who deliver or commission those services.

The questions set by the Commission are how a future approach can reinforce the core responsibility of councils and their partners to manage their own performance; how a new framework can ensure assessment activity is directly related to risk; how local government can contribute to the success of a future performance assessment framework and how the framework can ensure an emphasis on value for money and the interests of taxpayers?

In the discussion document the Commission also explores the potential of area-based rather than institution-based assessment as a way to reflect effectively local people’s perspective on service delivery. To inform the discussion, it also looks at sources of information for assessing risk at area level. These include audit reports, peer review, citizens’, service users’ and taxpayers’ views and performance information. The document also suggests there should be no place for rolling programmes of inspection in the future, inspection should be focused instead on areas of risk.

Sir Michael Lyons, the Acting Chairman of the Audit Commission, said Comprehensive Performance Assessment had gone a long way in promoting improvement in local services and it would be the baseline for the new approach, although everyone now accepted a more risk-based approach to assessment would be needed to reflect national and local priorities.

“We should not underestimate the huge challenges that lie ahead, and the discussions we have now will be key in delivering a carefully considered, robust and flexible new assessment framework. With this report we hope to stimulate debate between local service providers and central government, so that the resulting framework continues to promote improvement and value for money in public services long into the future,” Sir Michael said.