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CLOAK AND DAGGER TACTICS RAISE PERFORMANCE ANXIETY

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The Audit Commission has been criticised for failing to tell councils which performance indicators it will highligh...
The Audit Commission has been criticised for failing to tell councils which performance indicators it will highlight as bar charts, and when it intends to publish them.

Although the commission has received widespread praise for the extent of its consultation, some councils are still critical of the lack of information coming through as the publication date approaches.

With the first national publication of the indicators just two weeks away, there is growing trepidation about the reaction of national and local media and the public.

A letter from commission controller Andrew Foster has been sent this week to all local authority chief executives telling them that the PIs will come out on 30 March. This date has been almost definite for some weeks now, but the commission was reluctant to make it official to protect itself against last minute slip-ups.

But what authorities are particularly concerned about is which indicators the commission intends to highlight in bar chart form. These will inevitably create the biggest controversy in the press.

The commission finalised these last week, but has told councils it will only let them know when it sends the information out under embargo just before the publication date.

Association of Metropolitan Authorities finance undersecretary Martin Pilgrim said the Audit Commission had been 'a bit coy' about letting authorities know when the indicators would come out because it did not want to set itself a target it could not deliver.

But he said: 'I don't understand why they are being so coy about which indicators they are going to highlight. I don't understand the logic of that. They decided what they would be last Thursday.' 'Councils find it a bit strange that it is all cloak and daggerish,' said Local Government Information Unit policy information officer Clive Power. 'The Audit Commission does not seem to be very good at giving them as much information as it could.'

However, all three local authority associations have welcomed the extensive consultation process the commission has gone through.

Association of County Councils assistant secretary Roy Williams said: 'There is a great deal of interest and anxiety in what the commission might say.'

Concern has also been expressed over the extent to which the commission has had to change data supplied to it. In most cases this has been agreed with the council concerned, but in a few instances it has said it is unhappy with the figures supplied.

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