Thursday, December 15, 2005

Local Authority Value For Money

Much justifiable outrage today at the Audit Commission's report CPA-The Harder Test. Under its Comparative Performance Assessment, the Commission finds that nearly half of local authorities are failing to deliver adequate value for money. Appalling, as the Cameroonian and others proclaim.

But what's even more extraordinary is that when you delve into the bumpf you find this assessment is based on what the councils themselves say.

The poor old Audit Commission were ordered by Tony and Gordon to get tough with those bloated backsliding local authorities, and have therefore been trying to beef up their inspection regime. So as per, last year they launched a massive consultation exercise with "stakeholders". And guess what- their original proposals have been watered down so much you can hardly taste them anymore.

Thus under the general heading of "Use of Resources", you find that value for money is only one of five indicators, the others being mainly concerned with how well an authority's officials fill in the reams of forms they manufacture. These items were apparently introduced into the scoring, not because the Commission thought them important, but because of pressure from "professional bodies" (ie local authority accountants), and because the authorities thought the Commission's original proposals were "too tough".

But the real cruncher is para 27 in the CPA explanatory handbook:

"27 For the value for money theme, councils produce a self-assessment. This allows them to explain how their costs and performance relate to the local context and their own priorities."

In other words, the test is pretty well meaningless: any self-repecting weasel could come up with any number of fabulous "explanations" which would be more than enough to get four stars.

Couldn't they?

Obviously not. In the case of nearly half our local authorities, even the weasels are failing to give value for money.

We need real fiscal decentralisation, and we need it soon.

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