The Audit Commission and other wathdogs have published a plan to reduce the inspection and performance monitoring burden on local councils, health bodies, police forces, fire and rescue authorities and others responsible for local public services. The plan, which is available for consultation until February 2008, provides for new national indicators to start in April 2008 with the first results published in October 2009.
The new Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) will provide the first holistic independent assessment of the prospects for local areas and the quality of life for people living there. It will put the experience of citizens, people who use services and local taxpayers at the centre of the new local assessment framework, with a particular focus on the needs of those whose circumstances make them vulnerable. Reducing inequalities and discriminatory outcomes for all members of the community will be central to CAA. The new regime will be developed and delivered jointly by all the watchdogs responsible for assessing the organisations and services. It will also be tailored to the priorities for each area, focusing on those outcomes most in need of improvement.
The plan recognises the importance of effective local partnership working, the enhanced role of Sustainable Communities Strategies and Local Area Agreements and the importance of councils in leading and shaping the communities they serve. This focus on outcomes for local people requires CAA to look across the functions of the organisations which are increasingly expected to work in partnership to tackle the challenges facing their communities in delivering seamless public services.
The CAA will significantly reduce the number of inspections of local public services. Where these are required, they will be proportionate and will draw on fewer national performance indicators. The watchdogs will aim to draw on the information
already used by local public services to manage their activities and minimise requests for information only for assessment purposes.
Most inspection activity will be targeted according to risk and will be coordinated between watchdogs. This minimal inspection will be balanced by a more integrated and challenging judgment on the overall quality of services.
The plan has been welcomed by the Local Government Association which said that the new Comprehensive Area Assessment offers a real opportunity to reduce the burden of regulation and help councils to provide the right services to the right people at the right time.