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LEADING LOCAL AUTHORITY LEGAL FIGURE 'SMASHES THE MYTH THAT 'INSPECTORS ARE INFALLIBLE''

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Bar Association for Local Government & the Public Service chairman and Birmingham City Council's chief legal office...
Bar Association for Local Government & the Public Service chairman and Birmingham City Council's chief legal officer, Mirza Ahmad, has 'tackled head on the failings of the current inspection services regime in local government'.

In an article published on the same day as Birmingham's legal department received two stars in an Audit Commission report (see LGCnet), Mr Ahmad says:

'Local government should wake up to the call and heed the advice of Professor John Stewart when he says, 'Inspectors are not infallible'. I am convinced that, based on two experiences of the best value inspection of legal services departments, local government needs to stand up and challenge the Best Value Inspection Service when it makes poor decisions/judgements on inspections.

'Inspectors are human beings and come from vastly different backgrounds. Some are 'old auditors turned inspectors', but they have not broken the habit of a lifetime of auditing.

'On the positive side, good inspectors not just apply the inspection model, but actually see the 'value added' that they can bring to local government and, therefore, go 'out-of-the-box' to assist and inform improvements in local government. They see the big picture and are not constrained by the rigid application of a model.

'Poor inspectors, however, fail to apply the model and fail to spot the innovation and creativity in local government. This is especially so, if the relevant inspectors do not have, or have little, understanding or experience of the service that they are inspecting. In other words, innovation and creativity just 'goes over their heads.

''Pictures speak louder than words'. Accordingly, I have created a diagram (see below) which can be used by local government officers to turn the table on inspectors and actually start judging them. Unless this informed and challenging debate takes place in local government, I fear that local government will remain at the receiving end of poor informed inspectors, poor judgements made by those inspectors and a poor relative to the Audit Commission.

'Poor inspectors or inspection models/processes should, of course, be worrying for the Audit Commission's Directorate of Inspection, as one of its stated aims of 'identifying and dissemination of best practice' will not be best served by inspectors who:

'(a) have little or no understanding of the service that they are inspecting, or

(b) do not apply out-of-the-box thinking with regard to the relevant inspection models.'

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