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

Examination of Witness (Questions 520-539)



Mr Betts

  520. Yes.
  (Mr Kirby) It is using numbers to add up subjective judgments.

Sir Paul Beresford

  521. Subjective judgments are in the process?
  (Mr Kirby) And they are not—

Mr O'Brien

  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 Performance?
  (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 and fragmentation.

  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 doing—the two-week inspection I have been talking about—entirely 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 an impact.


  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".

Mr O'Brien

  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"?

Mrs Dunwoody

  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?

Mr 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 duty.

  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.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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 with—

  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 30 August 2002