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Watchdog seeks to save CAA from Tory axe

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The Audit Commission is preparing a last-ditch attempt to prevent the comprehensive area assessment (CAA) from being abolished under a Conservative government.

The watchdog has commissioned consultants to conduct a rapid evaluation of the first annual cycle of the new performance framework and to publish the findings before the general election.

In a move that will  be viewed as an effort to demonstrate CAA’s value to an incoming government, a consortium of the consultancy Shared Intelligence, Cardiff University and pollsters Ipsos MORI will publish a first evaluation in the spring, with more planned for later dates.

An Audit Commission spokesman confirmed that data gathered by CAA leads will also be used to publish a series of national reports designed to assess how councils are coping with various pressures.

Decisions have yet to be taken on what areas the reports will cover, but they could include issues such as the recession and obesity.

LGC understands the commission hopes to replicate the success of its August report into the effects of the recession on councils, which was well received by ministers.

With David Cameron’s party having pledged to scrap the regime, the Local Government Association and Conservative council leaders are also lining up alternative models of inspection.

However, the mood among chief executives and senior officers at last month’s LGC Summit suggested many chiefs did not want to see CAA scrapped.

Barnsley MBC’s chief executive Phil Coppard, left, made a plea for patience. “What we don’t want is for government to scrap it and then bring in something else.

“I have a few concerns about the value that it will add this year but if they stick with it, it will get better.”

Hertfordshire CC’s head of improvement performance, Chris Badger, said: “It’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The methodology is fundamentally a good one.

“There have been issues around implementation and interpretation but the Audit Commission and authorities need to continue to work at it together and learn from this first year.”

Critics have pointed to a perceived lack of joined-up working between the inspectorates involved in CAA, with one unitary chief executive accusing the watchdogs of a “cut-and-paste” approach.

Another county council chief executive said: “What we have been given so far has huge gaps in it because the different inspectorates have not supplied their text. We have seen what the Audit Commission has said but not what Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission has.”

Another area that has attracted significant criticism was the extent to which district councils were engaged.

Concerns have also been expressed that CAA was not nuanced sufficiently to deal with differences across large counties.

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