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Doing the CPA would do the government good, says Sir Jeremy Beecham...
Doing the CPA would do the government good, says Sir Jeremy Beecham

I would like to throw down a challenge to all central government departments and their many national and regional agencies. Why not try the comprehensive performance assessment for size?

Since the Audit Commission embarked upon the first CPA exercise, councils have endured 12 months of form-filling and inspections. We have settled arguments over category listing - let's not the mourn the loss of the appalling labels 'coasting' and 'striving' - and learned lessons from the courageous councils that took the challenge of being pilot areas.

We could say CPA has been a valuable experience. Many councils would admit they have learned a lot, particularly from self-assessment. But the burdensome and frustrating inspection visits often seemed less useful. In most cases, CPA does show what we know already to be true - councils are mostly doing a good job. And where they are not, they are working very hard to improve.

The process will be valuable because, after much lobbying by the LGA, the government has agreed significant freedoms for top-performing councils with the promise of less regulation and less inspection in the future.

The LGA will continue to fight for more freedoms for all councils in the future. We want all councils to be able to address the real needs of their communities all the time, instead of having to answer the latest call of central government's newest initiatives in order to win more funds.

There is a clear argument to give some of the councils who need to improve more freedoms. It will enable them to spend more time addressing their communities' needs and improving services, instead of writing plans which often no one reads.

The LGA has worked hard to ensure the process has been as fair and as sensible as possible. The government will portray this exercise as a comprehensive and independent look at the effectiveness of councils. We hope that will be the view of the first councils participating. There will be some that feel it has not given them a fair outcome, due to methodology.

Local government has co-operated, offered itself up for further scrutiny and enabled a set of public facts and figures to be communicated to the wider world.

The final outcomes of this first round of CPA will not be without pain for some councils. The LGA is here to support them, whether they feel aggrieved at or have to face up to their need to improve, or both.

The next round of CPA will cover district councils. I urge the Audit Commission to listen carefully to the concerns being strongly expressed about the complex nature of their assessment proposals. Let's have something simple, clear and in proportion to the more modest resources available to these smaller councils.

Meanwhile, I believe it would be interesting for a number of government departments and agencies to undergo a similar exercise. They might find some self-examination, independent inspection and publication of findings would be a useful experience for them too. The LGA would be happy to nominate a team of experienced councillors and officers to join the inspection teams.

Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab)

Chair, Local Government Association

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