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A MIXED REPORT FOR WELSH COUNCILS, WITH SOME GOOD SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT

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Wales Programme for Improvement Annual Report 2004/2005...
Wales Programme for Improvement Annual Report 2004/2005

Auditor General for Wales recommends improvements to WPI assessment framework

One of the advantages of the current system for assessing local authority performance in Wales is flexibility. But that makes it difficult to demonstrate improvement consistently, according to the Auditor General, Jeremy Colman. His Wales Programme for Improvement Annual Report 2004/2005, published today, notes there are some good signs of improvement but paints a mixed picture of how authorities are operating and delivering services.

The report, which examines the overall success of the Wales Programme for Improvement (WPI) framework, found that its flexibility has been instrumental in securing commitment to it. However, because local authorities develop and use methods of risk assessment that best suit their individual needs, it is difficult to assess them in the same way and nearly impossible to compare them with each other on a consistent basis.

A number of recommendations are made to improve the system, including calls for the Welsh Assembly Government and Welsh Local Government to introduce a framework for 'minimum service standards' - to help ensure that all key issues in services and functions are considered in the same way.

The Wales Audit Office expects to contribute to the development of these minimum service standards. It will also further develop its approach for identifying and sharing good practice across local government.

Overall, the report concludes that the WPI framework, as it stands, is being implemented appropriately. It found that most authorities had improved their Joint Risk Assessments further, although ownership and engagement with the risk assessment process remains an issue at some.

The report also concludes that the risks associated with a number of activities have reduced overall. This is particularly the case in relation to:

* the political arrangements in place to support democratic accountability which have bedded in following the 2004 local elections

* the arrangements for managing service performance

However, some key areas are higher risk than in previous years including:

* e-Government: where authorities are increasing the number of services delivered electronically.

* Partnership working: as authorities look for more innovative and collaborative ways of working with other organisations to improve their services.

* The extent to which services are focused on the needs of customers.

Overall, service risks are reducing and performance is improving. Some areas of specific concern include:

Social services: Adult provision is considered a medium risk in most authorities, although performance on delayed transfers of care has improved significantly. Children's Social Services were mainly high risk across the board.

Waste management: One of the highest risk areas - with targets from the National Waste Strategy and the Landfill Directive posing challenges.

Regeneration: Most authorities are leading or participating in a wide range of projects which is stretching their skills and capacity to deliver.

Housing: An area of high risk for most authorities, particularly with meeting the Welsh Housing Quality Standard by 2012 and the revised Homelessness Strategy.

National Parks: Services have improved or have been maintained, but there is scope for all three to improve the quality and timeliness of their services.

Auditor General for Wales, Jeremy Colman said today:

'It is encouraging to see most authorities actively engaged in the Wales Programme for Improvement and that they are committed to improving services for citizens. But the effectiveness of WPI is limited by the lack of standardised measurement. The report's recommendations seek to address this.'

The full report is available here.

Notes

The Wales Programme for Improvement was established in April 2002 by the Welsh Assembly Government and is the vehicle through which it, along with the Wales Audit Office and Welsh local government itself, stimulates and supports change and improvement in Welsh councils.

WPI is based on a risk assessment of service areas and corporate functions developed jointly by the authority and its regulators that, in turn, informs an authority's Improvement Plan.

The Wales Audit Office, with other regulators, considers annually, the question of whether the outcomes of the WPI process demonstrates that local authorities are achieving continuous improvement and whether they are applying the WPI framework appropriately.

The Wales Audit Office is independent of government and is responsible for the annual audit of some£19 billion of annual public expenditure.

The Wales Audit Office was created in April 2005 through the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004, which expanded the functions of the Auditor General for Wales and enabled the transfer of staff from the Audit Commission in Wales and National Audit Office in Wales to his employment.

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