Building on the principles laid out in the commission's paper, The Future of Regulation in the Public Sector, published in March 2006, it raises challenging questions about the future of local services regulation. It looks at how a new framework for performance assessment, assurance and accountability can continue to raise standards and deliver value for money. It also acknowledges that the primary responsibility for managing the performance of local services lies with those who deliver or commission those services.
The commission sets out the questions it believes must be answered to ensure that the future performance assessment framework achieves these goals and balances national, regional and local priorities. These include:
--How can a future approach reinforce the core responsibility of councils and their partners to manage their own performance?
--How will a future framework ensure that assessment activity is directly related to risk?
--How can the local government sector as a whole contribute to the success of a future performance assessment framework?
--How will the framework ensure an emphasis on value for money and the interests of taxpayers?
The commission explores the potential of area-based rather than institution-based assessment to reflect more effectively local citizens' perspective on service delivery. To inform this discussion, the paper looks at potential sources of information for assessing risk at area level, including audit reports, peer review, citizens', service users' and taxpayers' views and performance information. The commission suggests that rolling programmes of inspection should not feature in a future approach, with inspection focused on areas of risk.
Michael Lyons, acting chairman of the Audit Commission, said: 'Comprehensive performance assessment has gone a long way in promoting improvement to local services and it will provide a baseline for a new approach. But everyone accepts that a new, more risk-based, assessment approach will be needed to reflect both national and local priorities.
'We should not underestimate the huge challenges that lie ahead, and the discussions we have now will be key in delivering a carefully considered, robust and flexible new assessment framework. With this report we hope to stimulate debate between local service providers and central government, so that the resulting framework continues to promote improvement and value for money in public services long into the future.'