Headlines: March 5th, 2007



Councils where scrutiny is strong are more likely to perform well in the Audit Commission’s corporate assessments that are part of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment, according to the latest research from the Centre for Public Scrutiny. It has produced a report, “Scrutiny, performance and improvement: the road to excellence”, which is available online at www.cfps.org.uk/cpa

The study found that those councils where the scrutiny function was praised in the corporate assessment were generally awarded higher overall ratings. This applied to both district councils and the first round of county and single-tier authorities that were assessed under the new harder test system. CfPS accepts that the link may not be causal, but it believes the research sends important messages about the role scrutiny plays in local authorities self-improvement.

Executive Director, Jessica Crowe, said that as all councils set out on the next stage of their journey to improvement it was essential that they considered the contribution that could be made by scrutiny. “At a time of change in local government, scrutiny’s potential to improve performance is being increasingly recognised. Councils should take an “invest to save” approach to developing their scrutiny function, ensuring its power is harnessed and properly supported,” she said, adding that such investment in the function paid dividends in assessments and, more importantly, in supporting councils’ everyday effectiveness.

The research showed that where the scrutiny function was underdeveloped, this was mainly due to lack of capacity, so CfPS is urging chief executives to pay more attention to the role scrutiny can play in performance and improvement. Jessica Crowe continued, “There is a ‘Catch 22’ situation of weak councils lacking the capacity to invest in supporting scrutiny, which therefore lacks the capacity to contribute to improvement. Councils who break out of this can potentially make a step-change in improving their performance.”