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By political correspondent Varya Shaw...
By political correspondent Varya Shaw

The best and worst councils have been revealed amid heavy criticism of the way the comprehensive performance assessment was carried out.

Regionally, the north-east emerged at the top with just one poor council, no weak ones and a quarter ranked excellent. The region with the least good scores was the west Midlands, followed by Yorkshire. In terms of council types, counties scored best. London councils were the most polarised.

Sixty-seven councils changed position from a draft table leaked by LGC last week and scores have been overwhelmingly shuffled upwards. The Audit Commission refused to communicate with LGC following the leak and would not explain why the scores had changed from its earlier document.

But senior local government figures were quick to question the credibility of the regime. While there is some praise for the idea, the execution was widely condemned as rushed, unscientific and lacking transparency.

Chris Duffield, chief executive of 'excellent' Bexley LBC, said: 'We're delighted with the final results. But we have had concerns. There are still worries about the way anecdote and assertion can weigh heavily under the inspection processes.'

Sir Michael Lyons, director of the Institute of Local Government Studies, said: 'Anyone who believes this is the last word on the relative performance of our biggest local authorities needs counselling.'

Next year's table might be 'dramatically different' showing 'this is not a perfect process', he stressed, adding: 'Of course it would be open to the Audit Commission to manage the process so that these changes are less obvious. That's what we have to guard against.'

Chief executive of 'excellent' Westminster LBC Peter Rogers said: 'The interference is there, freedoms aren't and I don't believe the intervention support is either. We will start to see fall out at the bottom of the table, fall out for chief executives and difficulties recruiting and retaining staff. Private sector companies dealing with the intervention agenda will poach staff from good authorities. It will shake public confidence.'

Westminster's result was predictable and the money invested in CPA should have been targeted at poor councils, he added: 'I think we've wasted nine months.'

Steve Gallagher, chief executive of 'good' Knowsley MBC said: 'The idea is good, the execution flawed. It is not yet a robust process.'

Gareth Daniel, chief executive of 'fair' Brent LBC, said: 'The outcome as far as we were concerned and the way the inspection was conducted were positive experiences.'

Ben Page, director of government research at MORI, said: 'There is a broad correlation between public perceptions of authorities and their CPA results. But most people can't tell you much about education or social services because they don't use them. The public think more about visible signs than how well services are managed.'

There are concerns poor councils will suffer even more because they are denied freedoms. Jane Roberts (Lab), leader of 'excellent' Camden LBC, said: 'We believe all authorities need greater autonomy and freedom to make their own decisions.'

Even Local Government Association chair Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab) admitted there was no clear way forward for councils dubbed 'poor': 'To turn around a poorly performing authority at the same time as continuing to deliver day-to-day services and respond to a barrage of new legislation and government guidance is a remarkable achievement.'

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