Examination of Witness (Questions 480-499)|
THURSDAY 11 JULY 2002
480. We are hearing on the one hand a chief
executive telling us that this process will paralyse an authority
for a month and you are saying "We are trying to be terribly
light handed and not too much pressure on them". There is
a disfunctionality between those answers.
(Mr Kirby) I think it is definition of an authority.
Clearly most of the authorities we are looking at will have 10
to 15,000 staff. This is not something which affects the great
majority of staff. I think it would be true that in the month
in which we are inspecting the corporate capacity, this issue
will dominate the agenda of the chief executive. I think there
is no doubting that. If we were doing this month in month out
or if we were planning to do it every year in the future I think
that would be very regrettable. It is a one-off exercise. Personally
I cannot see any other way to get to the other side of all this
regulation. Something has to happen when we get an agreed view
of how people perform and once we have got that then some people
can get freed up, others can get the help they need and everybody
knows the system can be reformed.
481. But the template will not be fixed there
forever, will it? There must be some ability, if somebody comes
back to you and says, "You are not really judging this aspect
(Mr Kirby) Absolutely. We have maximised the use of
existing methods so that we do not increase the burden. The new
things that we have done we have consulted on. I do not believe
there is anything we are doing this year that we would want to
automatically repeat. If I demonstrated that, Chairman, it would
be our approach to district councils where perhaps the earlier
thinking was to do what we have done in upper tier councils and
we have said it is not the right thing to do because it will not
work in district councils and we want to do something really quite
different. I think we are doing a one-off task and then reflecting
482. Can you tell the Committee how the Audit
Commission carries out Comprehensive Performance Assessment of
a local authority?
(Mr Kirby) If I can distinguish between the Comprehensive
Performance Assessment and the Corporate Assessment. Often those
two terms have become confused by people watching the debate in
local government. The Comprehensive Performance Assessment, which
we will publish in early December, will give a judgement on each
of the key service areas, so there will be a judgment on social
services, education, housing, environment, and out to consultation
at the moment on whether it includes leisure and culture and/or
benefits, but those five or six key services, and that will bring
together, for example, existing OFSTED reports and education performance
indicators and performance against key targets for things like
exam result improvements. Most of that comes out of existing work.
Over and above that we decided that a lot of that information
tells you how things are and how people have performed, but if
you are looking to make a new judgment about the changing relationship
between central and local government, the key question is this
council may not be doing well in all its services but can it work
them out itself?
483. Are you working to a set formula?
(Mr Kirby) No, what we have then done is to say the
only way to learn that is to go and do a new piece of inspection
replacing what we were going to do, and that is a corporate assessment.
What we do in the corporate assessment is to say the best councils
already corporately assess themselves, they have got a particular
way of doing it, it is how we have seen people improve themselves.
The approach then has been to ask people to start with self-assessment
and they answer the four questions I mentioned, essentially what
are you trying to achieve and are you achieving it, for themselves,
and from the universal feedback we have had from local government
that has been a very positive experience in the new cabinets,
taking stock in an honest way. By and large, they have been very
honest appraisals and people see that to be very developmental.
We then go on site for a two-week period with an inspection period.
We are conscious as an Audit Commission that although we have
grown significantly we lacked some of the key things to make that
judgment. We have learned a lot from how IDEA have done reviews
and therefore each team has a councillor on it and an officer
from local government. That team then looks at self-assessment
and forms a view on how well the council is doing.
484. Perhaps one or two specific questions.
Who decides upon the weighting given to a particular service?
How do you assess the authority's central management performance?
(Mr Kirby) On the weighting issues, Chair, that is
the subject of our current consultation so there is a consultation
document out at the moment suggesting the approach which we intend
to take, saying, for example, what weight goes to inspection,
what weight goes to performance indicators within a service area,
and then which service areas get weighting over another. We have
set out our proposals for consultation over the summer and we
would look to make a judgment in the autumn in a very explicit
way so it will be entirely transparent. Our pathfinder councils
next week, the ten of them will sit down with all the information
about their councils in a very open way and they will take these
models and work it through what it means for them together. The
Local Government Association is involved in that debate as well.
485. I am a bit confused. I tried to ask a simple
question to get a simple answer. How should councils balance the
importance placed on functions by their auditors against the priorities
of the local population? Who audits yourselves?
(Mr Kirby) What we have done on the corporate assessment,
looking at their capacityyour question about what is their
overall management capacityis we have simply said what
are your priorities and how well do you do on them? It is not
for us to say what people's priorities should be, it is entirely
for the councils. People have chosen different priorities. For
some people it is about tackling crime; for others it is about
improving tourism. It is for them to say. Our question is if you
have chosen that, how well can you demonstrate you are delivering
it? In that new piece of work that is quite open. On the individual
services we have made the proposal in here that between education,
social services, housing and environment we think it is invidious
to weight one of those higher than another so we would suggest
equal weighting. They need to get separate judgment. The public
will see, for example, that an authority may not do as well on
environment as education but clearly the local politicians will
say, "Our priorities are in education so that is how we have
done it." The reason we have suggested it is unweighted is
that education is a big spender but local government has a more
limited role these days around what happens in schools. Social
services is a very big spender but 98 per cent of the population
do not use it therefore it is not the biggest issue potentially
amongst local voters. We know that housing is again a very big
spender but, the same as with social services, eight out of ten
people do not live in social housing and therefore it may not
be a big issue. Environment, which is not necessarily a huge spender,
continually comes out across the country as the top issue of local
concern. Therefore, we are suggesting it is equally weighted so
that people locally can articulate which of those things are their
486. The Committee is being informed that the
need to weight these services may well be decided nationally.
(Mr Kirby) That would be true if we had chosen to
do it. If we had chosen to say, for example, social services should
have a great deal more weighting than another service, there would
be that risk. Our proposal is not to do that and to play it in
a very flat way and tell the public how services do
487. Should there be an appeal against the decision
you make on a local authority?
(Mr Kirby) I will take this one carefully to explain
it. Most of the judgments which go into this have already been
the subject of a potential appeal process, so there will have
been an OFSTED score and if people did not like that they could
appeal against it. All inspections have a process for dealing
with disputed judgments.
488. There is no political input, is there?
(Mr Kirby) On the evidence that goes into the corporate
assessments people have lots of opportunities to dispute the judgment
and to have that resolved.
489. In OFSTED there are not many elected councillors
involved with opinions or questions and they are the ones that
have to answer to the electorate.
(Mr Kirby) Our line is firstly to say on the individual
bits of evidence people have the chance to choose that.
490. Who are the people? When do the people
have a chance to choose?
(Mr Kirby) The politicians in the local authority.
491. Should they have a right of appeal if they
(Mr Kirby) In all of the cases of inspections they
492. They do? So what you are saying then is
it would be possible, if the appeal is strong, to change the decision
taken by the inspector and to move that authority out of one category
into the other?
(Mr Kirby) If I could make a distinction. There is
the evidence that goes into individual inspections and people
can dispute that in their own terms, and they do and judgements
get changed as a result of those disputes. The second issue is
how all that evidence is combined together and how much weight
is given to education, for example, over housing, and how much
weight is given to inspection over performance indicators. People
have strong views about, that sometimes for principle reasons
and sometimes because it helps the balance of their judgment.
Our position on that is that we are completely open in our consultation
about what the options are.
493. Should there be an appeal against?
(Mr Kirby) Our position is that we are completely
open about the consultation, we hear all the views and then we
will make a decision as a matter of policy that will be totally
transparent and every person's judgment will be transparent, and
after that people would be appealing on a matter of principle
about Comprehensive Performance Assessment and the approach we
have taken is we do not think that is something that people should
494. You refer to principle, but if the representations
that have been made by the councillors are ignored by the Commission,
should they have an appeal to a higher body?
(Mr Kirby) At the moment people have the ability to
complain to the relevant inspectorate.
495. Not complain, to appeal so there could
be a judgment made as to whether a local authority is to be taken
out of a lower category and put into a higher category?
(Mr Kirby) I did not explain very well, I am sorry.
496. I am getting quite conscious about the
time, so if we could have fairly short answers.
(Mr Kirby) I realised why I was taking so long. On
that point when it comes to placing people in categories, that
will be done automatically.
497. By whom, by you?
(Mr Kirby) On the basis of a mathematical model so
that everybody can see they got a certain set of scores in this
inspection. They can then see how those things are added together
and it will be done by pressing a button on a computer. There
will not be a further stage of judgment about
498. If there is strong disagreement should
there be a right of appeal?
(Mr Kirby) At that final stage our view at the moment
is that we will have fully consulted on how we were going to do
499. What you are saying is there is not going
to be a right of appeal?
(Mr Kirby) What I am saying is there is a right of
appeal about any of the judgments.