Headlines: February 11th, 2009

Local government leaders are seeking assurances about the Comprehensive Area Assessment scheme, due to come into force in April, as they fear it will not help to improve standards. The framework for the new system has been published but the Local Government Association said unless a number of issues were addressed the Assessment would not support councils in delivering continuous improvements.

The new system replaces the former Comprehensive Performance Assessment and means that for the first time public bodies, including councils, health organisations, the police, fire and rescue services and other agencies will be held to account collectively for their performance. This is seen as a reflection of the way that services are increasingly provided by a range of agencies together.

The LGA said councils were aware of the importance of inspection and review in ensuring taxpayers were given value for money but it said it was sceptical that the new framework would help. The Association has called for a process that not only reduces the burden of assessment on councils but also puts the views of local people at its centre.

David Parsons, Chairman of the LGA Improvement Board, said CAA could be a missed opportunity. “In the current economic climate, when we are fighting to focus all our resources on the frontline, we need something that recognises councils’ improvement, that focuses on what is important and that delivers a real reduction in the overall burden of inspection and assessment on councils and their partners,” he said. Inspection and assessment needed to be properly co-ordinated, he said, and added, “There is little evidence as yet that the inspectorates are fully signed up to this new approach and we will be looking to the Audit Commission to adopt a robust approach to its gate-keeping activity.”