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LESSONS FROM TOP COUNCILS SHOULD HELP OTHERS DELIVER AMBITIOUS IMPROVEMENT

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Excellent local authorities stay focused on priorities based on local people's needs and work more in partnership, ...
Excellent local authorities stay focused on priorities based on local people's needs and work more in partnership, according to a report published today by the Audit Commission.

A Picture of Performance - early lessons from Comprehensive Performance Assessment* sets out some of the key findings to emerge from CPA, the new assessment regime for local government. It outlines why the best councils are the best; describes the typical features of the councils in each performance band; and profiles four councils that demonstrate aspects of top performance. It identifies some of the key factors for success to help all authorities improve.

Next week the commission will publish individual reports on 150 English councils - classing each as excellent, good, fair, weak or poor. Today's report is a precursor of the full results, highlighting key lessons for local government in driving improvement.

Today's report shows that most councils have high ambitions and can manage resources effectively, thus exploding the myth of cautious, ineffective local authorities. But only the top councils are properly harnessing resources to deliver their ambitions for a better quality of life for local people. Three factors make a clear difference:

-- Focus and priorities - staying focused on local priorities without being diverted by short term crises, the best councils choose their new initiatives carefully;

-- Partnerships - are beginning to pay real dividends in delivering better services for local people;

-- Managing performance - treating plans and targets not as ends in themselves, but as a way to get high-quality services.

To illustrate how some councils realise their ambitions, the bulletin profiles four:

Blackburn with Darwen BC - treats partnerships as crucial. Its Local Strategic Partnership, which co-ordinates the action of public, private and voluntary sector partners, is an example of national good practice. Its partners share a 20 year vision for the borough and view the council as credible, with high calibre staff and councillors.

Camden LBC - sees itself as a community leader, and is committed to involving and empowering the community. Against a background of economic extremes, it is ambitious about reducing inequalities.

Gateshead MBC - keen to improve quality of life for citizens in an area of high deprivation, the council radically transformed itself. It has achieved particularly well in regeneration, using landmark projects, such as the Millennium Bridge and the Angel of the North, to build confidence.

Hertfordshire CC - is driven by a focus on service users, providing integrated services that treat customers as people with a range of different needs, not recipients of one-off services. It shifted funds from non-priority areas to deliver this.

To support councils in their efforts to improve, the Commission is re-balancing its programme of inspection and audit. By next March a programme will be agreed that scales back inspection sharply in the best councils and focuses support more intensively on the weaker ones.

Audit Commission chairman James Strachan said:

'The whole point of CPA is to create a powerful tool for improving public services provided by local government. It celebrates and publicises the good and excellent work being done by many councils today. This must inspire others. It will also free up councils from unnecessary bureaucracy and over-inspection, so we can concentrate resources where the need for improvement is greatest. This is strategic regulation: attention and support where it is most needed. It's about improving people's lives, not just ticking boxes.'

Notes

CPA

In 2002, Comprehensive Performance Assessment has been carried out with the 150 single tier and county councils in England. The Commission is now consulting on how CPA should be extended to the 238 district councils in England.

CPA combines information from numerous sources to provide the most complete picture of local government performance. It brings together audits, inspection reports and performance indicator data from the Audit Commission, reports from Ofsted, the Social Services Inspectorate and Benefits Fraud Inspectorate, and government departments.

The commission has this year also carried out a new 'corporate assessment' inspection at these councils to examine overall management issues and how well placed they are to improve services and lead their communities.

On 12 December 2002 the Commission will publish local report cards giving councils an overall rating of either excellent, good, fair, weak or poor. They will also get a score from one (worst) to four (best) in key services: education, social services, housing, environment, leisure / libraries, benefits and use of resources (finance and HR).

Government measures

The government last week announced a wide-ranging package of freedoms and flexibilities that will be available to better councils as a result of CPA. This includes a reduction in the number of statutory plans required by government, reduced inspection with a three-year inspection holiday for the best councils, and a reduction in ring-fencing to give more local discretion on the use of money received from government.

The Audit Commission

The Audit Commission for local authorities and the NHS in England and Wales is an independent body established under the provisions of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 and the NHS and Community Care Act 1990. Its duties are to appoint auditors to all local and health authorities and to help them bring about improvements in economy, efficiency and effectiveness directly through the audit process and through value for money studies. The Audit Commission's inspection service was established by the 1999 Local Government Act to provide the public with an independent assessment of whether best value is being achieved by their local council.

See LGCnet.

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