Examination of Witness (Questions 520-539)|
THURSDAY 11 JULY 2002
(Mr Kirby) It is using numbers to add up subjective
Sir Paul Beresford
521. Subjective judgments are in the process?
(Mr Kirby) And they are not
522. Can we move on to the Comprehensive Performance
Assessment. Do you believe the Comprehensive Performance Assessment
process represents the developmental approach called for by the
Treasury in their report into the Role of External Review in Improving
(Mr Kirby) That is a report by Byatt and Lyons of
the Public Services Productivity Panel. It is almost exactly what
Sir Ian Byatt and Sir Michael Lyons were proposing, which is that
there should be a baseline assessment, which is what we are doing
currently, and from that baseline there should be a three to five-year
new regulation plan for that authority.
523. So you support that?
(Mr Kirby) What is currently happening is exactly
in line with the Productivity of Services Panel report.
524. You support that, do you?
(Mr Kirby) I started my comments by saying the current
regulation system needs to be substantially reformed in both scale
525. How does the Comprehensive Performance
Assessment support local leadership and local accountability?
(Mr Kirby) In two ways. One is the reports we issue
in December will give the local electorate information about the
quality of services in their local area. For the first time ever
it will give people who only have one vote as an elector an overall
view of the council. It will come together at the same time rather
than the bitty, fragmented way it currently comes out, so we think
it informs the local electorate. Secondly, on the local leadership
side we focused the corporate assessment we are doingthe
two-week inspection I have been talking aboutentirely on
the quality of leadership.
526. How might a classification of "weak"
or "failing" by itself prompt an improvement?
(Mr Kirby) Clearly in some cases labelling does have
527. It could make people give up and think
that is a rotten system and they go away and take not a blind
bit of notice.
(Mr Kirby) The answer is it will have different impacts
in different circumstances. There is a whole range of councils
who have been shocked into doing things differently by having
a very negative inspection judgment and a label and that can have
an impact. It has less of an impact in councils who have previously
been labelled as "poor" or "failing".
528. What about morale on staff and people who
are working hard?
(Mr Kirby) I think two things. Firstly, what we see
is large numbers of staff working very hard in nearly all the
councils we visit. What we also see is a large amount of wasted
efforts over things that do not make any difference whatsoever.
A phrase that increasingly comes to our mind is a significant
number of councils are revving away in neutral, burning lots of
fuel, making lots of noise, wearing themselves out in a car that
does not move anywhere at all.
529. How will classifying them as weak or failing
help to improve that?
(Mr Kirby) It helps by giving an external view on
whether things are moving forward. We have started with self assessment.
Many people have said self-assessment has made them realise they
are working very hard but not making the impact they thought and
they are re-assessing. That is them thinking it through themselves.
530. The Audit Commission says that is a weak
authority or failing authority; how will that improve things?
(Mr Kirby) Firstly, it is what the council decides
to do itself. Secondly, it is what follows as a consequence. In
poor authorities we would say that one of the things that should
happen is reduced inspection and
Mr O'Brien: So you would refer to them as "poor"
authorities rather than "weak" or "failing"?
531. Reduced inspection and then what?
(Mr Kirby) In poor authorities what we have seen is
the need to reduce regulation to give people the space to improve
and to take things forward.
Chairman: We need to move forward. Clive Betts?
532. Have you taken any legal advice about whether
the CPA assessment process contravenes Article 8 of the European
Charter of Local Self Government?
(Mr Kirby) That has not been brought to our attention
as an issue.
533. So as far as you are concerned it is compliant
with the Charter?
(Mr Kirby) We are clear on the legal powers that we
have to undertake the CPA which are currently rooted in the 1999
Local Government Act under the best value powers. Councils have
a general duty to improve continuously in all of their functions
and we have a general power to inspect how they undertake that
534. Could I raise one specific issue that is
obviously of concern to a lot of people and that is the issue
of social services joint inspections, which show that 60 per cent
of councils are weak or failing. Instead of trying to add up social
services scores to education scores to housing scores and to get
some figure that the local papers can use as a headline, ought
we not be engaged in a national look at the whole problem of social
services departments and how we address those on a national basis
when you get 60 per cent weak or failing?
(Mr Kirby) If you take that on the star ratings, that
is naught and one star, that is the 60 per cent, then exactly
the same percentage looks likely to apply to nearly all other
services areas apart from education. Education is the only service
which comes out with a positive overall score. Housing scores
will be lower than social services and environment.
535. The key issue is the problems we have had
with certain children's departments. Should we not be addressing
it on a national basis and not trying to complicate things with
these global scores for individual authorities?
(Mr Kirby) The point I am trying to make is, with
the exception of education, the performance in other areas is
no better, and in some cases worse, than social services.
536. You are defeating your own argument. This
is like the lovely man who said on the radio during the week that
you had to know what the parameters were because you could say
100 per cent of the British fleet in the Pacific was stuck on
a rock. I just think it is terribly important. If you are really
saying to us that because of the way the schools are done and
because of the difficulties, there is only one section that is
going to come out not appearing to be a failing service, then,
frankly, what is the point of everything that you are doing because
you are really saying you have got the funding and the organisation
and the whole set-up of local government so wrong that it is only
one service that works?
(Mr Kirby) Those are on average. What we have seen
here is that something like a quarter to a third of councils who
through really strong leadership and very strong management
537. Strong leadership does not supply care
home beds and it does not supply care workers and it does not
supply people who go round and wash Mrs so-and-so's feet.
(Mr Kirby) One of the positive things that will come
out in the reporting in December is a quarter to a third of councils,
many of which used to perform quite poorly, through strong leadership
and effective management have greatly turned around their services
in social services, housing and other areas.
538. Can I press you on one or two issues finally.
How much time do your inspectors spend talking to individual electors
or householders in the areas you inspect?
(Mr Kirby) All of our inspections involve some contact
539. What sort of proportion?
(Mr Kirby) It will be a small proportion in that what
our focus is it is not our job to find out what local electors
want. What we will be inspecting is how councils themselves engage
with local people and how they find out.