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Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 500-519)



  500. But an appeal against your decision, for instance, to equally weight each of the services is not going to be possible?
  (Mr Kirby) Correct because we will have consulted on that and we will have formed a judgment and different people have different views as a matter of policy.

Mr Betts

  501. What is the point of trying to find one label to stick on all the services of an individual authority? You have inspections about its education services, about its social services and recommendations about how they should put it right and monitoring back as they put it in into practice. As someone said to us the other day, if a local authority has got an awful education service and awful social services and was having to take steps to put that right but they have got quite a good trading standards department but it gets labelled as failing as well because the local authority is labelled as failing, is that fair or is it needed?
  (Mr Kirby) There are no councils which have totally perfect services and there are no councils which have totally failing services. Everybody has the mix you suggest.

  502. Why the need to label everything as poor?
  (Mr Kirby) What we are intending to produce in early December is individual ratings for each of the services so people will be able to see in an overall judgment very clearly here is a star rating for education, a star rating for housing, and a star rating for environment. As well as that they will be able to see the council's judgment on corporate capacity to improve and a combination of those two things.

  503. Why combine those things at the end?
  (Mr Kirby) We are out to consultation on that.

  504. So you may not do that?
  (Mr Kirby) What we are saying in here is—

  505. There might be a possibility that you do not have an overall category for the authority as a whole? Yes or no, if you can do that?
  (Mr Kirby) What we are saying is you will end up with a description of how good each of the services is now and a description of the capacity to improve, and then there are different ways to combine that together.

  506. Do you need to combine it at all?
  (Mr Kirby) You could combine it by putting the two together in the same sentence.

  507. Do you need to combine it with one overall score for the authority?
  (Mr Kirby) What we are saying—

  508. Do you need to combine it in an overall score?
  (Mr Kirby) The option is there to do it.

  509. Do you need to do it? Is it of any use to anybody?
  (Mr Kirby) What we have found is that currently in most of our inspection work we give a two-dimensional judgment. We give a star rating for current service. If, for example, we are inspecting housing, we might say that the housing repairs service is currently one star on a naught, one, two three basis, but it has very positive prospects for improving, and we would say that is a two-dimensional judgment.

  510. Do you need to have an overall category?
  (Mr Kirby) At the moment that is what we have found—


  511. We are establishing something that you are not answering and that is—
  (Mr Kirby) I am going to answer it, which is that we have those two dimensions. What we have found is that often in the public reporting of that people report one or the other, so the message is often quite negative for local government, that this is a low rated service, and people forget the overall improvement judgment.

Mr Betts

  512. I am talking about an overall score for the whole—
  (Mr Kirby) The overall score is a matter of adding up the services.

  513. But do you need to do that?
  (Mr Kirby) We feel that having one overall category combining current performance with improvement is a useful way of describing the state of the authority.

  514. You do need it? It is in the Bill, is it not?
  (Mr Kirby) If you gave a judgment on capacity to improve—

  515. The requirement to have a category is in the Bill.
  (Mr Kirby) It could be two-dimensional.


  516. Let us have it two-dimensional. One bit of it is excellent and the other bit is not much good at all. Now then, they have the right to trade, do they not, as a result of that? If you have that two-dimensional process, are they still going to have the right to trade?
  (Mr Kirby) It depends how ministers are going to use those categorisations.

  517. So you are not putting the categories together but you expect ministers to put them together?
  (Mr Kirby) As I understand the draft Bill, the Audit Commission will assess and come to a view on categorisation which is based on our view about current capacity and prospects for improvement. Ministers will not be able to change those but they will decide on what the consequences are. They could decide the consequences are based on the capacity to improve. The earlier examples, for example, to use the labels "coasting" and "striving", which are around, were based on that.

Mr Betts

  518. They have gone now.
  (Mr Kirby) So there should be an improvement. You could just base it on current service level. What we have said is a combination of the two makes sense. For a council with a strong capacity to improve which is delivering rotten local services now, the public have a different sort of council, one that could turn around from one that currently has good services and could improve.

Mrs Dunwoody

  519. It is a series of subjective judgments managing to be reduced to numbers?
  (Mr Kirby) It is using numbers.

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