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Extending Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) to the fire service could deliver real benefits, pilot work in...
Extending Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) to the fire service could deliver real benefits, pilot work in four fire authorities has indicated.

The Audit Commission is now considering how CPA can be applied to all fire authorities in England, drawing on the lessons from the pilots, as detailed in a consultation paper* published today.

In late 2003, commission CPA review teams visited four fire authorities which had volunteered as pilots: Cheshire Fire Authority, Cumbria County Fire and Rescue Service, Merseyside Fire Authority and Nottinghamshire and City of Nottingham Fire Authority.

The consultation paper outlines the approach used and the themes and evidence analysed by the commission's pilot CPA teams. These help frame a corporate assessment which judges how well an individual service is led and managed - and how likely it is to improve.

The paper says that it is likely the final system will adopt the same classification as for councils. This would place fire authorities in one of five bandings from 'excellent' to 'poor'. However no rankings were given to the pilot schemes.

Other issues addressed in the paper include the levels of experience and expertise required in the CPA teams and how CPA of county fire services can be linked to county council CPA.

The commission's director of fire services, Mollie Bickerstaff, said:

'The draft methodology we used in the pilot authorities worked well and we are now looking to pin down all the detail and to refine our method. We don't think we need to make any radical changes but we are open to all imaginative and thoughtful suggestions.'

In the consultation paper the commission acknowledges that, like the bodies it assesses, it must deliver value for money. The commission recognises the demands it make on authorities' resources and aims to minimise this burden.

* Consultation paper.


The government invited the Audit Commission to create and implement a modified form of CPA for the fire and rescue service in England. Similar arrangements are set to be introduced in the rest of the UK. CPA was first applied to single tier local authorities in England in 2002 and district councils are now involved in a rolling CPA programme.

Our work on adapting CPA for the fire service is quite separate from the study being carried out by the Audit Commission known as the 'verification audit'. The verification audit is a study of the progress of modernisation in the fire and rescue service in England and Wales.

Responses to the CPA consultation paper should be sent to or by mail to Mollie Bickerstaff, Audit Commission, 1st Floor Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4HQ by 20 May 2004.

The Audit Commission for local authorities and the NHS in England and Wales is an independent body constituted under the Audit Commission Act 1998. The Audit Commission aims to be a driving force in the improvement of public services, promoting proper stewardship and governance, and helping those responsible for public services to achieve effective outcomes for users and the public.

As well as conducting national studies on the performance of local authorities, health services and the criminal justice system, the Commission appoints external auditors to all local authorities, health authorities and health trusts. Their local presence enables them to build an understanding of the challenges facing individual organisations, and they are uniquely placed to provide an independent overview of performance.

The Audit Commission's remit covers more than 15,000 organisations in the National Health Service, local government and the police in England and Wales, which spend nearly£125bn annually. It operates independently, reporting its findings without fear or favour based on evid ence. Most of its income comes from audit fees charged to local authorities and NHS bodies.

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