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Commission calls time on area assessment regime

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The Audit Commission has been dealt a double blow after its flagship inspection regime was ended and ministers ruled out paying its new chief executive £240,000.

The watchdog told council chiefs to stop work on the comprehensive area assessment (CAA) organisational and area components and said it was in talks with the Local Government Association and ministers about a new arrangement.  

A letter to councils said: “Work on updating the area assessment and organisational assessment will not be updated. We will not be reporting new red or green flags in the area assessment nor updating the text around existing flags.” 

Appointed auditors will continue to assess value for money and a limited programme of risk-based inspections will remain.

A version of the letter sent to unitary and top-tier council chiefs added that the Care Quality Commission and Department of Health would discuss the implications with adult services directors but stressed that the children’s services assessment for 2010 would go ahead as planned.

The LGA said it was discussing with the commission what role the inspectorates could play in its proposals for a CAA replacement.

The LGA’s model would place a far greater emphasis on self-regulation while maintaining a robust regime for high risk areas such as children’s services.

LGA Liberal Democrat group leader, Richard Kemp, suggested the commission’s army of field workers could “develop an early warning system that would allow self-regulation, peer review and peer support to work”.

If peer support failed to achieve improvements, the inspectorates or central government would need to be drafted in.

Dennis Skinner, the Improvement & Development Agency lead on inspection, said: “We would like the sector to be given the first chance to address problems.”

He added that Ofsted’s annual performance assessment should also be scrapped. 

Meanwhile, communities secretary Eric Pickles said he had “vetoed” a £239,800 salary and pension package for the commission’s new chief. However, a commission spokesman told LGC that “nobody has or will be offered £240,000” to take the job.

Commission chairman Michael O’Higgins added: “The board will consider these issues further at its next meeting on Thursday 10 June, and will make a statement following that meeting.”

The Audit Commission declined to comment on a replacement for the CAA.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Once we've all gotten over our euphoria at the removal of this inspection burden, let's think carefully how things will be prevented from slipping back to the ‘good old, bad old days’.
    Unlike the commercial world, where competition sorts the wheat from the chaff by giving the customer the opportunity to take their business elsewhere, the taxpayer has no such luxury.
    This local government monopoly of certain types of service provision is one of the major reasons for the public sector’s complacency when it comes to complaints and one of the reasons central government felt they had good reason to impose the onerous and cumbersome inspection processes we have all suffered in recent years.
    Onerous, cumbersome and time consuming as it was, it was better than the alternative – unaccountability. Elected members are very fond of quoting the ballot box as the place council’s are judged, trouble is that only judges those who generally at the least able at dealing with systemic lethargy and long term poor performance.
    Even with the best will in the world, elected members might think they run a council, but they are only on the leash the officers give them and if officers don’t want it to happen, nine times out of ten it won’t. Under such circumstance a set of externally set targets that are then judge by outsiders with insider knowledge doesn’t seem as bad a deal on behalf of the taxpayer!

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  • I agree. Perhaps it's a case of 'be careful what you wish for'. I think those of us in local government might come to lament the lack of external scrutiny and validation. The regional media is littered with officers and members singing the praises of their councils, with reference to their latest 'star rating', 'green flag' or encouraging words from the Audit Commission or other inspectorate. What will they refer to now? Thier own self-assessment? And will the public believe them? No.

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  • davy jones

    The only realistic alternative to external inspection and regulation is a SERIOUS commitment to giving citizens and service users a real say over local services and budgets - getting citizens to sign off the LAA and the LSP-led self assessment of progress against the LAA; participatory budgeting as the norm not the exception; and the LGA/IDeA helping to set up "Amazon-style" public ratings of local services.

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