52. The White Paper proposed the introduction of
a Comprehensive Performance Assessment of each authority. The
assessment of a council's performance draws on existing performance
indicators, existing inspections and audits and a corporate governance
assessment of the whole authority. Comprehensive Performance Assessments
are currently being undertaken in unitary and county councils,
with the aim to complete the assessment of all upper tier authorities
by December 2002.
Local authorities are not satisfied with the methods being used
to undertake Comprehensive Performance Assessments. A key concern
is the lack of transparency about the methodology that will be
used to combine service and corporate performance assessments
to generate the Comprehensive Performance Assessment for the authority
as a whole. Councillor Bruce-Lockhart, Vice Chair of the LGA said:
"We know the blocks which make up the Comprehensive
Performance Assessment and they cover the main services, such
as education, social services and so on, and they cover a quarterly
assessment, they cover performance indicators, satisfaction ratings
and so on, but we do not know how those are added together to
judge where authorities will eventually come. It is very important
for this to have any credibility that the process is fully transparent.
You could, of course, devise a methodology of drawing these facts
together which would favour one particular type of authority above
another and, therefore, absolute transparency about the methodology,
which we have not yet been allowed to see, is extremely important."
In his evidence to the Committee, Professor Steve
Martin, Director of the Local and Regional Government Research
Unit at Cardiff University Business School, commented that:
"The proposal to judge an authority's overall
performance therefore requires a weighting system and the resulting
categorisations will depend crucially on the weightings attached
to different service areas."
53. Local authorities also question the balance between
local, democratic agreement of priorities and a centrally imposed
methodology which applies a national weighting to the relative
importance of different services in the Comprehensive Performance
Assessment. Councillor Bruce-Lockhart said:
"The places that cause particular concern
are where local priorities, which are the priorities of the electorate,
are not necessarily judged as being right because they do not
sign up to Government priorities and that causes us a major concern."
54. Another concern relates to authorities who find
themselves close to the boundary of a performance category. Tony
"I think the real difficulty will be if there
are significant rewards particularly for those in the top rank
or penalties for those in the bottom then being on the margin
and just in or just out, that will be very, very important. The
question of how that is calibrated, if it is not done properly,
will lead to legal challenges, there is no question."
55. SOLACE questioned the effect of a poor Comprehensive
Performance Assessment on those officers within the council whose
services are good:
"It is not really very fair on a rather good
trading standards officer and a very good trading standards department
to be damned for all time merely because something went wrong
in social services. I think one has to be a little bit cautious
about making overall judgements like that could demoralise very,
very good people for reasons well beyond their control."
56. Local authorities are also concerned that no
account is taken of their ability to carry out their 'community
leadership' role, which councils have been encouraged to develop
following the Local Government Act 2000:
"As an example, in the last couple of weeks
when this was going on, Coventry was trying to protect jobs, and
still is, at Marconi; and Massey Ferguson had closed and we were
trying to sort out staff there. We have a very diverse, multi-ethnic
community, with Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Kashmiri. We were talking
to them to try to take the tensions out following what had happened
on the Asian sub-continent. At the same time we had the young
second generation Irish theatre group that was performing in Cork,
doing a marvellous play. None of that would be taken into account,
as far as we can seethe fact
that our community leadership is leadership is strong and is expected
to be strong, We have the feeling that whatever else the CPA is,
comprehensive it is not; and there is this awful feeling that
the situation is pre-judged even before anybody arrives on the
scene; and yet we have spent literally months going through what
we do, item by item."
57. Councils' concerns about the methodology are
compounded by the fact that it is still being developed whilst
inspections are being undertaken. The Audit Commission told us
it is now consulting on the methodology for weighting the results
of the inspections of various services and authorities' corporate
capacities which will be used to combine the judgements on individual
elements into a Comprehensive Performance Assessment.
The Audit Commission told us that its proposal to give equal weighting
to education, social services and environmental services, would
not be the same as deciding the weighting nationally.
The Minister suggested that giving equal weighting to services
would avoid controversy.
However, the decision to give equal weighting is still a subjective
decision and the Commission told us that the Comprehensive Performance
Assessment was a way of "using numbers to add up subjective
58. Local authorities are clearly not yet happy
with the methodology for Comprehensive Performance Assessment.
A high quality, transparent, trusted mechanism is needed, particularly
at the margin of each category. Concerns about the methodology
are compounded by the fact that it is being developed whilst inspections
are being undertaken. It is not yet clear how assessments can
be made comprehensively across the council and there is a risk
that good officers providing decent services will be demotivated
by poor performance ratings for their authority as a whole.
59. We were frustrated by the difficulty in getting
a straight answer from the Audit Commission about the necessity
and value of a single Comprehensive Performance Assessment as
opposed to the publication of service ratings and the corporate
assessment. We recommend the Minister reads the transcript
of our evidence session with the Audit Commission and hope that
councils find it easier than we did to get clear, concise, straightforward
advice from the Commission.
60. In its evidence to the Committee, the Audit Commission
also commented that inspections showed that 60% of councils were
classified as weak or failing in relation to all services in except
60% of councils are classified as weak or failing in relation
to all services except education, this raises concerns about the
calibration of inspection results and the incorporation of these
into the overall performance assessments.
61. Clause 105 requires the Audit Commission to categorise
English local authorities on the basis of their performance. Under
Clause 105(5), the Secretary of State cannot change the Audit
Commission's categorisation of an authority. The Audit Commission
appears to have only internal procedures available for appeal
but as we heard from the Local Government Information Unit and
"The Government needs to acknowledge that
councillors might disagree with an Audit Commission assessment
that might also be rejected by the local community. It must put
in place a mechanism whereby councils can challenge or appeal
against their classification. The Bill as drafted specifically
excludes appeal to the Secretary of State."
Mr Travers added:
"It would be surprising if there were not
some form of appeal mechanism built into the arrangements and,
indeed, one would hope that the Audit Commission and the Government
will build such a mechanism in because if they do not there is
the risk that it will go to court."
The Bill must include a mechanism for external
appeals against categorisation by the Audit Commission.
Clause 113: Overview and scrutiny
committees: voting rights of co-opted members
62. Clause 113 gives local authorities the power
to allow co-opted members of overview and scrutiny committees
to vote at meetings of those committees. We heard from the County
Councils Network (CCN) that this "may be regarded as a step
away from the democratic principles of elected local government
representation. The CCN is concerned at the potential precedent
this may set."
We believe that Clause 113 is unnecessary and undemocratic.
61 Q599 Back
Paragraph 3.40, Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services,
Chapter 3, Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services Back