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COMMENT - WHY WE EXPOSED THIS SIMPLISTIC EXPERIMENT

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last week, LGC published a draft version of the results of the comprehensive performance assessment, causing instan...
last week, LGC published a draft version of the results of the comprehensive performance assessment, causing instant controversy.

The Audit Commission sought to block councils from seeing this information by threatening an injunction. Unfortunately for the commission, the issues were already in the post.

Why did LGC publish the table? We believe there is public interest in exposing how a good idea became flawed during a rushed implementation.

We must stress that the table is a real Audit Commission document. The fact it is different from the final version - around 67 councils have changed position - is merely symptomatic of the difficulty of putting organisations as complex and varied as councils into simplistic categories.

In a sense, the so-called final results are little more than a draft themselves. Comprehensive inspection is the way the world is going but it is not refined enough to produce credible league tables.

Huge amounts of data have been synthesised in a way that no one, probably not even the Audit Commission, can logically explain.

Recognition is rare in local government and councils at the top end of the scale deserve all the praise they get.

Councils at the bottom end of the scale also need attention. They are likely to be afflicted by low morale and difficulties recruiting staff, so five star support is vital.

Yet five star support is in too short supply. The government would have done better to wait until enough support was in place before it dumped these labels on councils. Not everyone can rely on Telford and Wrekin Council chief executive Mick Frater dashing up the motorway every week, as he is doing for Walsall MBC.

The leaked table exposes the subjective and fluid nature of the CPA classifications. LGC stands by its decision to publish.

Next year, there should be substantial changes to the methodology. The commission should dedicate resources to making sure the process is truly transparent and councils get proper explanations of how the judgments are made. Government commitments to providing more support must be followed through.

Finally, the question of freedoms needs to be addressed. While those for the high performers are substantial, it is likely the restrictions that continue to ring poor performers will hold them back from the improvement everyone wants to see.

Freedoms need to be given to all councils, not just an elite.

LGC

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