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FRONT LINE FIRST - EMBRACING INSPECTION

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It would seem the Audit Commission, and indeed the minister for local government Nick Raynsford have been telling t...
It would seem the Audit Commission, and indeed the minister for local government Nick Raynsford have been telling the truth.

In talking about comprehensive performance assessment they have repeatedly said they are open to argument and change. As proof of this the pejorative phrase 'coasting' is on its way out, in order to make the system less demeaning. Now another word is needed, which will maintain the core idea of trying to drive up performance.

It will be a shame if this change is couched in the language of the battlefield or indeed the playground. This is not an issue where one side has 'won or lost'. There are already those who would say this concession from ministers is a weakness not a strength, when perhaps the truth is that everybody is trying to get the system right.

The fact is improvement is much needed in local government and we all know there are councils who have not strived to maximise their effectiveness and efficiency. James Hehir, chief executive of Ipswich BC, coined probably the best phrase for the CPA process when he said the acronym stood for, 'can't pretend anymore'.

There ought to be many in local government who welcome an annual health check, but many seem not to. Central government would be justified in thinking local government was being slightly disingenuous. After all, it was local government that complained there were too many inspectorates taking up too much time. Now the same people say comprehensive assessment is too difficult and the Audit Commission is not spending enough time on inspection work. A cynical central government could take the view local government did not want to be inspected at all.

Those who support local government in Whitehall and Westminster - and they do exist as a small but honourable band - have a problem. On the one hand, they appear to be coercing local government into doing something it does not want to do. On the other, they have to defend local government to various departments of state that believe local government is past its sell by date and simply getting in the way of good service provision.

Those in local government who believe we are part of the solution not part of the problem, need to support the idea that inspection in itself is not wrong. Improvement should be seen as something we can achieve.

This means our task is not to say we do not like fragmented inspection or centralised inspection or that it cannot be done like this. Our task is to show how we are going to improve and then to further demonstrate how we can prove to others that we have improved.

Both the Audit Commission and the local government minister have shown they are willing to listen to constructive arguments for change.

Many of the problems of running a council are linked directly to problems imposed by the government itself. Nevertheless, we ought to help the friends we have in government show that local government is deeply committed to improving itself.

David Clark

Director general, SOLACE

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