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

Examination of Witness (Questions 540-548)



  540. So if you have got a fairly disadvantaged area where people are not all that good at writing letters and on the telephone and litter is a major problem, how do you know that exists other than possibly people writing in and complaining about it to the council?
  (Mr Kirby) Partly because at the moment there is measurement and performance indicators about the cleanliness of the streets.

  541. That is done by the local authority. How do you inspect to see that those figures are not fiddled?
  (Mr Kirby) We audit those figures.

  542. Does somebody walk down a street? I am interested because one of the local authorities I represent was alleged to have done extremely well in terms of its streets cleaning. I would say that as far as I am concerned it is utterly appalling. All I can conclude from that is that your inspectors, when they did that authority, did not go and look at what was happening on the ground. What I want from you is the assurance in all this that it is not your officers talking to the local authority which telling them what they think you want.
  (Mr Kirby) I thought I was answering a question about the corporate assessment not the street cleaning.

  543. The point is that in the end the corporate assessment builds up what is happening on the ground.
  (Mr Kirby) If we were inspecting street cleaning then we would have focus groups with users, we would go out and look at streets ourselves, take photographs, we would do trials where we would report fly tipping, and we would see how long it was dealt with.

  544. How does that work its way through into the corporate performance assessment?
  (Mr Kirby) If we have done a street cleaning inspection, then the outcome of that would be fed into the judgment on environmental services along with performance indicators, how well they have done in their local transport plan and other measures, and will be one aspect adding up to—

  545. So somebody has stood at the bus stop for the local transport plan and seen whether what is in the plan is actually delivered on the ground?
  (Mr Kirby) There is monitoring of local transport plans in terms of delivering against targets people were set. This year's monitoring—

  546. I am not asking you that. It seems to me it is fairly easy to fiddle the figures that you produce for your inspections. What I want to know is how far do your inspectors get down to looking on the ground as to whether the basis on which this corporate assessment is being done is based on reality or imagination?
  (Mr Kirby) When we do a service inspection we do a whole range of what we call reality checks—

Mrs Dunwoody

  547. That is not what you are doing. You are telling us in this instance you take the existing figures because, quite rightly, you are telling us the whole of this exercise is based on two assumptions, one that we must not do many more inspections and certainly must not add to the burden of local authorities and, two, when we get the assessments done in the various areas we then use those as a base on which we take all these subsequent, but tremendously important, subjective judgments because although you will say, and have said consistently, it is the councils that do this assessment, it is the councils that produce the inspection, and if they do not agree with the inspection they can object at any point in the first and second round, nevertheless the reality is that it is those figures, however they are applied, that you then take to make a subjective judgment.
  (Mr Kirby) What we are doing in each of the service areas like environment is, to use a piece of jargon, to triangulate the evidence so there will be performance indicators and we audit those. There are risks about using any of these. We have performance indicators. There will always be an inspection where we have carried out reality checks.

  548. On every single authority?
  (Mr Kirby) In each of the service areas that we are reporting on there will be an inspection around environment, housing, social services, education, benefits, so we will not report a judgment on a service area unless there are audited performance indicators and an inspection which has looked in some detail at the service and we would usually like to combine that with another judgment like, for example, progress on government plans and targets.

  Chairman: I am afraid we are going to have to close it at that. Thank you very much for your evidence.

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