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Local Government Services: Assessments

Volume 473: debated on Monday 17 March 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with what frequency each local authority will be assessed under the new comprehensive area assessment; and what effect (a) the previous inspection rating of the authority and (b) the type of authority will have on the frequency of assessment. (193861)

This is an operational matter for the Audit Commission and I have asked the Chief Executive of the Audit Commission to write to the hon. Member directly.

Letter from Steve Bundred, dated 17 March 2008:

Your Parliamentary Question which asks with what frequency each local authority will be assessed under the new comprehensive area assessment and how those frequencies will vary according to (a) the previous inspection rating of the authority and (b) the type of authority has been passed to me to reply.

The Audit Commission is working in partnership with Ofsted, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Healthcare Commission, HMI Constabulary, HMI Probation and HMI Prisons to develop the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) framework. The first CAA reports are planned for the autumn of 2009.

Outline proposals for the CAA framework were set out by the inspectorates in our joint consultation paper of November 2007. This explained that the three-yearly rolling programmes of corporate assessments of all single tier and county councils and joint area reviews of children’s services would both end in 2008/09. The annual service assessments of adult social care, children and young people, housing, environment, culture and benefits will also end with the final set of Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) scores in 2008/09. The CPA framework for district councils, which does not involve annual service assessments or a rolling programme of corporate assessments, will also end in 2008/09.

In place of CPA, CAA will require fewer major inspection events and will shift the focus of the inspectorates from detailed service management issues to the outcomes being achieved in partnership by the public bodies in each area. Greater reliance will be placed on self assessment and the improvement activity of local authorities themselves, and the volume of inspection will reduce significantly.

The government’s policy priorities for CAA were set out in a joint ministerial commissioning letter to the inspectorates in April 2007. That letter stated that:

The CAA will comprise:

annual publication of the performance of all areas against all the measures in the single set of around 200 national indicators;

an Annual Risk Assessment for every area—to be delivered jointly by the Audit Commission working with other inspectorates;

an annual scored Direction of Travel judgement for every local authority which assesses the effectiveness of each local authority in driving continuous improvement; and

an annual scored Use of Resources judgement for all local authorities, Primary Care Trusts, Fire & Rescue Authorities and Police Authorities by the Audit Commission, building on the current such judgements to provide public, independent assurance about the organisational effectiveness of these key local partners.

The November joint inspectorate consultation document set out a proposed approach to delivering these elements of CAA. Although each element is proposed to be reported annually, the inspection work required will be heavily influenced by the performance of the local authority and, where relevant, its partners and the inspectorates’ assessment of risk. In this way, high performing local authorities and partnerships will experience significantly less inspection activity than their lower performing peers, and the total volume of inspection activity will be significantly less than at present.

The inspectorates are currently evaluating the 327 responses to the November consultation, which closed on 15 February 2008, and will be considering changes to the proposed CAA framework both in the light of those responses and their early field testing of different elements. Any proposed changes will be subject to thorough discussion with all stakeholders, including local and central government, other local public services and the third sector.

A further joint consultation paper due in July 2008 will present the revised proposals and will include a more detailed explanation of how the inspectorates will ensure that the CAA framework reduces the burden of assessment on local authorities, and their partners, and reflects a proportionate approach to risk and performance. After a further round of pilots in the summer and autumn, the final CAA framework will be published in December 2008.

I trust that this reply is helpful and I would be happy to provide further details or meet to discuss the development of CAA at any time.

The text of this letter will be placed in Hansard.