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Kingston is tired of playing along with the CPA's ever-moving goalposts, says Bruce McDonald ...
Kingston is tired of playing along with the CPA's ever-moving goalposts, says Bruce McDonald

I was impressed when the then local government secretary Stephen Byers told us about Strong local leadership, quality public services. Local government had become local administration. He wanted to return to councils the freedoms and flexibilities he had enjoyed as a councillor. Oh, and by the way, councils would have to pass an assessment threshold to gain the freedoms.

Before long his afterthought was all we were talking about - comprehensive performance assessment. Freedoms and flexibilities receded over the horizon.

But we threw ourselves into CPA, wanting the best possible result for our residents and ourselves, and, in particular, freedom from inspection.

In December 2002, Kingston upon Thames LBC was delighted to be recognised as 'excellent', although, as we said at the time, the judgment

that matters most is that of our residents.

We saw the Innovation Forum as being the best chance in years to recast central/local government relations, not just for the 22, but for all of local government. If the mantra was 'delivery, delivery, delivery', then it was local government and its partners that were going to do the delivering. A dismantling of the panoply of controls and targets was the aim, so that less energy was diverted to servicing the various accountability regimes imposed upon us and our partners. Everybody has a story about a£50,000 grant that took£15,000 of officer time to gain. Progress was slow, but there were encouraging signs the ODPM and the Treasury had grasped the vision.

And then, the government moved the goalposts again. Suddenly, 'excellent' and 'good' councils lost the freedom from capping they had never actually enjoyed. Against all previous statements, 'excellent' councils could now be recategorised without warning.

We thought we had won the freedom to focus on our three-year improvement programme, but we knew a few environmental performance indicat ors could have a disproportionate impact.

We are not the only council worried about the environment block of CPA. It's the only area where more councils have declined than improved, 29 against 24. The number scoring one, which now includes us, has increased by seven or eight.

We were bemused to be recategorised 'good'. Our social services and education are both three star 'excellent services' which is splendid. However, our environment score has gone from two to one, principally because of four transport performance indicators over which we have little control.

This does not provide a rational basis for a public statement that our performance has deteriorated from 'excellent' to 'good'. But I guess there are many councils with a heartfelt grievance about how they have been treated by CPA.

My key message to our staff is that we are an outstanding council with much of which to be proud. We should be confident about our future.

But it would help if they would stop moving the goalposts . . . will they never learn?

Bruce McDonald

Chief executive, Kingston upon Thames LBC

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