Central and local government officials are sharing information on council performance through a mechanism known as the Information Sharing Network, following the abolition of formal inspections, LGC has learned.
Documents released to LGC under a Freedom of Information request revealed details of the network, established as part of efforts to move from a system of top-down regulation to sector-led improvement.
Made up of representatives from the LGA and 10 Whitehall departments and inspectorates, the network has met three times so far and is due to meet again this autumn.
Officials from the LGA have been quick to stress that the forum does not discuss the performance of individual councils but focuses on issues affecting the sector as a whole.
Under the previous system of formal government inspections, the Audit Commission collected information on councils with specific performance issues. This was collated by the Department for Communities & Local Government as a ‘RADAR’ list of councils of concern.
As part of the new system of sector-led improvement, the LGA’s network of advisers, peer members and officials look out for indicators of councils experiencing performance problems.
LGA officials have previously stated that there are “regular meetings and updates” between the association and DCLG.
The papers obtained by LGC confirm that the network provides an opportunity for government departments and inspectorates to raise concerns, provide the LGA with intelligence and receive assurances from the LGA about the effectiveness of support.
Officials at the network’s inaugural meeting, held in July 2011, questioned whether the network should “focus on general trend data about performance or … share specific information about particular councils”.
Questions were also asked about the “rules around sharing … intelligence, given the political sensitivities at local level”.
Dennis Skinner, the LGA’s head of leadership and productivity, told LGC the performance of individual councils was not discussed within the network meetings, which he described as “a high level, strategic forum” which took place “infrequently”.
“This is not a meeting where we discuss individual councils,” he said.
“It is more a strategic meeting established to get government on board with the sector-led approach.”
Mr Skinner said the expectation was for government to raise concerns about performance issues such as adoption rates, with the LGA’s network of principal and senior advisers and the councils themselves.
The papers confirmed that DCLG had put its network of area directors and localities partners in its 14 local area teams in contact with the relevant LGA advisers “so that the LGA was able to respond quickly to evidence of poor performance/failure”.