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Inspectors go into Copeland


Government inspectors are being called in to a troubled council to help officers and staff to improve performance and deliver better services.

According to the local newspaper, four teams of advisors will consider every aspect of the way Copeland Borough Council is run.

In March 2009, the Audit Commission’s Comprehensive Performance Assessment scores showed Copeland was one of eight districts whose financial reporting did not meet minimum standards.

But council leader Elaine Woodburn denied suggestions the inspectors were being invited in because of concerns over council failings.

“That is bordering on a complete lie,” the Labour leader told the Whitehaven News.

“If you’ve got organisations who can come in with a fresh pair of eyes, with the right expertise, it would be pretty stupid of us not to take that opportunity.

“This council has an unsustainable budget, we’ve never hidden from that, and savings have to be made. We don’t know how much yet but I don’t want this driven by money but by the services the community wants and our performance.”

But the Conservative deputy leader Alistair Norwood said the council was “dysfunctional”.

“What’s happening makes me embarrassed to be a councillor for Copeland. These people are being brought in to make sure the people of Copeland get the services they deserve, evidently because we haven’t been able to provide them.”

UPDATE: The article is updated by one published on 18 August: read it here


Readers' comments (2)

  • External inspectors / auditors can provide independent commentary, point to obvious opportunities for improvment projects through their benchmarking and helpl in the short term by challenging strategic and operational management to change attitudes.

    However, this is an expensive fix that doesn't install continuous improvement. For that the council should look to become a process orientated organisation rather than one structured by function. In transforming its approach to be service quality focused on its customers, it should develop and train staff in methods such as six sigma and lean management. These and other methods ensure a continuous examination of service quality and business processes. Generally auditors and inspestors do not have sufficient skills themselves to go beyond strategic level criticism (how to fill in our checklists better to get green lights next time) and the council should seek better qualified organisations to provide change management support.

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  • The Audit Commission going in is akin to the Inquisition going in to extract a confession. The problems with inspection are multiple apart from it being an expensive way to get the wrong answer.

    1. Inspectors know what they 'think' good is - unfortunately what they know is wrong and so you will get no real improvement, just a reflection of what they think
    2. The inspectors never get a dynamic understanding of the systems they go and look at, but since many of them come from an accounting background (including most of the Audit Commission board and senior management) they will abstract the organisation and it will be forced to make the numbers
    3. There is never any real learning in an organisations that the inspectors go into, since they have a checklist in the head and they will recommend that the organsition adopts it
    4. No innovation takes place in organisations because the Audit Commission (at the best of times an old-fashioned top-down target driven, functional hierarchical organisation itself) checklists that outcome (nobody deviates from that because of fear of getting scored lower)
    5. The Audit Commission can never be seen to make a mistake, because if they do, then they will have to admit that thousands of organisations have been subject to their wrong-headed, conformist, target-led, top-down approach. So they demand unthinking compliance and openness and never display it themselves
    6. Every single organisations spends hundreds of thousands of pounds complying with their checklists, and preparing for inspection. there are entire teams that spend time preparing for an inspection
    7. They have been complicit in dictating what measurements are the right measures (except that they are the wrong measures mostly) and then enforcing organisations to comply against them. After this of course they can't admit to the mistake. The wrong measures that they have enforced don't give the real performance of the service from the customers perspective. it is why there is a gap between the measures and targets that look great and are almost 100% and the experience of services

    There's many more, i just don't have time to go through them.

    Any organisation expecting the Audit Commission should watch and record exactly what they do and then publish their method. Then everybody will be able to see and have that method open to everybody. It will be transparent.

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