News from the Solace conference

24 Oct 02
CPA is too inflexible, IDA admits The Comprehensive Performance Assessment is too inflexible, according to the acting executive director of the Improvement and Development Agency. John O'Brien told delegates that the CPA had the potential t

25 October 2002

CPA is too inflexible, IDA admits

The Comprehensive Performance Assessment is too inflexible, according to the acting executive director of the Improvement and Development Agency.

John O'Brien told delegates that the CPA had the potential to help councils come to a better understanding of their performance, but he admitted to concerns about its implementation.

'It [the CPA] has been too narrowly defined and I think the Audit Commission would acknowledge that in terms of the first year,' he said.

O'Brien was responding to a question from Katherine Kerswell, the chief executive of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. Kerswell asked the IDA to help persuade the Audit Commission to acknowledge creativity and individuality.

'The experience we had in Solihull is that if we didn't fit the box of the CPA process, they couldn't audit us. That is really sad,' she said.

O'Brien concurred: 'Whether it be about the wider benefits that you secure for your localities or in terms of energy, creativity and innovation, I don't think we have done anything like enough to recognise that in terms of how the CPA is currently structured,' he said.

Hackney finally gets to grips with its problems

The London Borough of Hackney is starting to get a grip on its numerous problems and within three years could be a middle-ranking authority, according to Max Caller, the borough's chief executive.

Caller said at the conference that polls showed a fundamental transformation in public satisfaction with Hackney. There was greater political stability and an improvement in staff morale.

'On the streets it feels better; at the front line it feels better. That's why we talk about quietly getting better,' he told delegates.

But Caller warned that some employees remained hostile to the changes he had introduced since taking up the post in June 2000.

'Part of the feedback that we got from our CPA is that not all of the staff are on board. And that's not surprising. It's going to be a long, long, long slog.'

Caller paid tribute to the courage of local politicians who had continued to argue for necessary but unpopular policies, despite widespread intimidation. He particularly praised Jules Pipe, the former leader of the council who has just been elected as Hackney's mayor.

Both Caller and Pipe were complimented by Nick Raynsford, the local government minister. The fire dispute prevented Raynsford from attending the conference, but his speech was read out.

In it, he said: 'The key to success in driving through an improvement programme is committed leadership. If you have any doubt about this, go and talk to Jules Pipe and Max Caller in Hackney, or Tom Ansell and Michael Frater in Walsall.'

Walsall chief attacks intervention

The interim chief executive at Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has launched a remarkable attack on the 'national bodies' involved in the intervention process at the troubled authority.

Speaking at the Solace conference in Bournemouth, Michael Frater singled out the Audit Commission, District Audit and the Improvement and Development Agency (IDA) for particular criticism. He complained that he had not received adequate briefing or support and that Walsall's problem signs should have been spotted earlier.

'I still haven't heard from the Audit Commission, and I have been in there three months,' he said. 'I had to phone up and pester the IDA to tell me what was going on. I think I had a right to expect some briefing from the people who have been in there over the previous three months and I didn't get it.'

Frater was appointed interim chief executive in July after Walsall's senior management team was sacked. This followed a series of damning reports from the Audit Commission highlighting political bullying and poor services.

In an impassioned speech, Frater told delegates that he was shocked that the Audit Commission had called for the sacking of a new director at the authority, even though that person had only been in the post two days. 'I think that was just stupid and gratuitous. Something like that is just crass,' he added.

District Audit, Frater suggested, should have been more aware of Walsall's problems before it collapsed. 'It's taken Walsall 20 years to get into this mess – where's the DA been all that time?'

Frater, who also retains his main job as chief executive of Telford & Wrekin Council, called for the national bodies to establish a protocol to clarify their relationships, roles and responsibilities. Otherwise they will carry on 'making it up as they go along'.

The interim head later traded differing versions of his appointment with Patricia Coleman, representing the IDA. He stressed that he had not fallen out with the IDA, but added: 'All the national bodies have got to get their acts together.'


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